West Poplar locksmith’s faded sign gets repainted

As part of their reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods and PlanPhilly, Tasia N. Morgan, Angela M. Mayo, and Samantha Ortiz are sharing dispatches from East and West Poplar. They recently paid a visit to a locksmithing institution on North 13th Street which is looking more fresh-faced in old age thanks to a newly restored sign. 

With the 115th anniversary of the Hermann Henssler Locksmith came the repainting of its faded business sign at 13th and Cambridge streets.

Fifth-generation locksmith John Henssler was in disbelief when a stranger in bright-colored clothing, riding a bright bicycle, strolled into the shop asking if he wanted his sign repainted for free. Henssler said, “I didn’t think he was for real and it turned out he was.”

The stranger was Robert Blackson, director of Temple Contemporary, and he helped set up a partnership to repaint the sign with Tyler School of Art students and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

“I bike past this sign everyday on my way to work. I thought it could use a face lift that would brighten the block and hopefully bring recognition to this small-family business,” Blackson said.

Prior to Blackson’s visit, Henssler had looked into sprucing up the sign but had turned down several offers. “I had priced it out and one company had told me $3,200 or $3,300. Another company wanted to just cover it up and put plastic boards in front of it and paint that, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to try to keep it original,” Henssler said.

Although the project focused on providing a new sign for Henssler, it was also a learning experience for Tyler students. In preparation for the restoration project, sign painter Gibbs Connors gave a talk at Temple Contemporary to students and other guests about his own techniques for signmaking.

Not only did Henssler not have to contribute any money towards the repainting, even though he offered, he also thought the revitalized sign may have increased profits. “I kind of, in my mind, think it might have because business has been picking up in the last two weeks. The scaffolding has only been down maybe a month at tops,” Henssler said.

Fifth-generation locksmith John Henssler inside his shop at 926 North 13th Street.
Fifth-generation locksmith John Henssler inside his shop at 926 North 13th Street.

— Tasia N. Morgan, Angela M. Mayo and Samantha OrtizPhiladelphia Neighborhoods

This summer Tasia N. Morgan, Angela M. Mayo and Samantha Ortiz will bring Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from East and West Poplar as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal