Posts Tagged ‘Storefront’

Travel pretty much anywhere in the western half of the United States and you’re sure to come across the iconic “false front” store. False front architecture is almost as synonymous with the Old West as the Colt Pistol and John Wayne- We see examples of the false front in nearly every vintage photo of the Old West, and any classic western film would be incomplete if it didn’t contain at least one false fronted store somewhere in the story.

But what is the reasoning behind this strange architectural style? There are several answers, and they are all based in practicality-

First, the false front was often added to impermanent structures such as large tents for stability. Tent colonies were commonplace in the early years of westward expansion and the gold rush era. People would flock to an area and the quickest, easiest and most affordable dwelling to put up was the tent. As prairie or mountain winds whipped, and the colder weather moved in, settlers would shore up the sides of the tent with logs, making somewhat of a “half-cabin.” Others, in many cases businesses being run out of tents, would add a false front with a formal door. This gave an impression of permanence, as well as providing additional security to the contents inside via the proper locking door on the front.

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As time went on, and the tent colonies grew into permanent log, brick, and milled lumber towns and cities, the false front carried on- This time the false front served both as advertising space, and as a decorative facade. The large flat surface was perfect for painting the name of your hotel, saloon, or general store. The wealthier and more prosperous you were, the fancier and more ornate your false front would be, featuring time consuming scrollwork, cornices, and gingerbread trim. The false front soon became the status symbol of the Old West, and merchants and hoteliers would engage in spirited attempts to one-up each other, much like men do today with their pickup trucks.

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Today, the false front hangs on across the West. Some retain their their glory, and for many others that glory has faded to a forlorn, splintered, black-brown-gray of rotted and neglected wood.

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