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Nyack People & Places

Welcome to Nyack – Student Mural Depicts Bygone Nyack

Even many long-term village residents have no memory of a large iconic mural in downtown Nyack. “Welcome to Nyack” was painted by Nyack High School art students in the summer of 1977 on two west facing brick walls on Main Street including the Nyack 5 and 10. The mural had a short life. We are fortunate to have a photo of the mural taken by Brad Hess, currently on display at the Historical Society of the Nyack’s exhibit, 82 Pieces of ‘84– Photos of Nyack’s Main Street by Brad Hess

Welcome to Nyack mural, photograph by Brad Hess, 1982

The story of the location of the mural, the planning and painting of the mural, and photograph itself provide an interesting commentary on our changing village. In addition, the story of the mural raises the issue, why do we have so little public art in our village?

Mural Upgrades a Declining Downtown

Downtown Nyack was on edge in 1977. The Tappan Zee Bridge and the NYS Thruway brought a boom in new housing in Rockland County. Ranch homes blossomed among the old Rockland County farmland. Along with the Boomers came malls. E. J. Korvette opened in 1962 followed by the Nanuet Mall in 1969. As a result, Nyack stores, once the shopping center of Rockland County, lost much of their customer base. The malls had parking after all.

A local businessman came up with an answer for Nyack’s downtown. A new mural that became the Welcome to Nyack mural was the brainchild of Rick Feldman, owner of The Framemaker Shop on Main St.

“We must do something that the malls in Nanuet can’t do. People come to Nyack because it is a funky town.” 

Rick Feldman

Eagle Confectionery

The Main Street fire that destroyed Eagle Confectionery

The location for a mural came about as a result of tragedy. In January, 1971, a fire destroyed the Eagle Confectionery at 106 Main Street and severely damaged its neighboring shops to the west, Peterzell’s Card and Toy Shop, National Shoes, and Mae Moon, a dress shop. The Eagle Confectionery had an important place in Nyack history. Tom and Chris Vasilow , Greek emigrants, opened the store in 1908.

Chris Vasilow also ran the Cascadian Spring water company in Grand View until he died in 1947. Tom carried on until the fire when he was 96 years old. Even at that age he would walk two miles from his home in Upper Nyack to the store. Vasilow died at the age of 105.

Photo in the Journal News of Vasilow gazing at his burning store.

The interior of the Eagle Confectionery Store was a sweet-lover’s paradise.  A long soda fountain and lunch counter on one side faced a retail chocolate counter on the other side. Small tables filled the back of the store. 

The Candy Man

Tom Vasilow was known locally as the Candy Man. He built chocolate models of famous buildings in Nyack or other cities each spring like the Nyack High School or the George Washington Bridge. Chocolate models appeared in the weeks before Easter. Then they were broken up on Good Friday and served to customers and orphanages in the area.  In 1965, for example, he spent 35 hours and used 200 pounds of chocolate (mostly white) to create a 2½ foot high, 250-pound reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial.

An Empty Space Begging for Art

The destroyed buildings opened a space at 104 Main Street that remained open for many years. The fire did not spread to the single-floor Nyack 5 and 10 building just to the east of Eagle Confectionery. A three-story brick building occupied the space just east of the Nyack 5 and 10. Both buildings remain today. The exposed brick walls provided a perfect canvas for a work of art that could be seen by anyone heading east on Main Street.

2023 view of the old Eagle Confectionery location in its current incarnation. The mural was painted on the building with the green wall.

Teenagers Rule

The idea for the mural was to represent Nyack in 1900. Feldman enlisted the help of six of Nyack’s best art students. They each completed a design and Craig Moffet, age 14, combined them into a final design. One of the students, Sheldon Whitley, 18, and a track star for Nyack, was one of the mural designers and worked on its execution.

“I had a summer job lined up, but I’d rather do this.”   

Shulton Whitley

The students worked for free. In fact, funds were tight. Sandblasting the walls and paint cost $1,500. The Circus Wagon Restaurant across Main Street at 3 Nyack Plaza donated lunches. The short-lived Circus Wagon was known for its hamburgers, hot dogs, and clown, puppet, and magic shows on the weekend.  Herb Lack Paints, itself a Nyack institution, provided the paint at cost. Feldman sought and presumably obtained a $700 grant from the Nyack Urban Renewal Agency. Urban Renewal was still underway in Nyack at the time.

The students were thrilled at the opportunity.

“I love painting. We’re all going to get into art in college.”

Elizabeth Schultz, 16

“It’s a good idea that helps Nyack and besides, there’s not much else to do.”  

Ann Moon, 15

The Mural

Students priming the walls. Journal News photo.

Students primed the building walls. Sky and clouds formed the backdrop for the cityscape on the top two floors of the building east of the Nyack 5 and 10. The main mural depicted Main Street looking east to the intersection of Broadway. It mimicked the actual view of Main Street running beside it. The mural wasn’t planned to be an exact depiction of Nyack in 1900.

A banner across the street announced Welcome to Nyack. A millinery store occupies the front right. We see a barber shop among the other shops along Main Street. On the left side is an antiques shop. It is a nod to the prevalence of antique shops in Nyack at the time.

Short-Life Span

By 1984 a new brick building filled the space covering up the mural on the west side of the old Nyack 5 and 10.  A cursory look at the building will show that its style is not that of its neighboring buildings. Habebe, a middle eastern restaurant that had live music and belly dancers on weekend was the first tenant. Later Casa Del Sol, a Mexican restaurant also with live music occupied the new building. The new building covered up the key part of the mural. 

A view of the mural space in 2023. Imagine that the building on the left was an open space in 1978.

One-Mural Village

It seems as if Nyack is a one-mural town (the WPA Nyack Post Office indoor murals excepted). About the same time as Welcome to Nyack disappeared, John T. Elliot with the help of his children, Faith, Hope, and Gilbert reproduced his painting Yesteryear on the Hudson on a south facing wall of a brick building at the corner of Burd Street and S. Broadway. Restored in 1998, the mural is fast fading on these of the building now housing Soul Flyte yoga studio. The image is a nostalgic scene of the Tappan Zee with a steamboat and sailing boats.

1986 photo of Yesteryear on the Hudson on Burd Street from the Journal News.
Yesteryear on the Hudson in 2020. Some will recognize the ad just above the painting for the old River Club at the foot of Burd St.

Why So Few Murals?

The fading mural begs the question, why is our village with such an artistic heritage including the Edward Hopper House Museum have so little public art? Murals provide more than just aesthetics for a community; they help build an identity. They attract people to local business. We get excited by the store window Halloween art done by local high school students. Maybe our youngsters have something to teach us about our public spaces? Bring back the public art! Paint the town!

Michael Hays is a 36-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. He is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. Hays has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike

See Current Exhibit 82 Pieces of ’82 Main Street Nyack

The Historical Society of the Nyacks 50 Piermont Avenue

The exhibit will be open Saturdays from 1 – 4 through April 15th

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.

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