Alissa Scott/Recorder staff
Jody Zakrevsky, left, the executive director of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, and Pat Baia, chairman of the agency’s Building and Grounds Committee, stand next to a mural Thursday in a property on Main Street in Amsterdam, of which there has been opposition to remove it.
Alissa Scott/Recorder staff
A mural in a building in down town Amsterdam, shown above, is in poor shape and has been lifting in places, and has spray paint markings from an old tenant. Mayor Ann Thane said she received a quote of $19,000 to restore it. The mural is located in a building owned by the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, which is trying to convert it into apartments.
By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
A crumbling probable 19th century mural filling in the 16-foot walls of a property on Main Street in Amsterdam has created a division between those who want to preserve it and its history and those who doubt it has any value.
The painting, on the third floor of the old United Way building at 44 Main St., depicts a landscape area on a river setting with several tepees, Native American figures, and a large house surrounded by trees.
Mayor Ann Thane has been adamant about preserving what's left of the city's history, but members of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, which owns the building think it's more trouble than it's worth.
Recently, Peter Betz, former historian of Fulton County and native of the city, said he may have discovered who is responsible for the mural -- Worley Moat, a famed 19th century "chicken artist" from Amsterdam.
"Some research done by Peter Betz indicates a high degree of probability that this is done by Moat," city Historian Robert von Hasseln said. "It's the right time period, it's the right style. But, I can't absolutely confirm it."
There is a complication with the theory, von Hasseln said. The article Betz wrote states a mural was created in the Morris Hall block building, the current location of Sharpshooters, located across the street.
"We don't know," von Hasseln said. "They could have moved it. Moat could have done another one. It's very likely [it is Moat's work,] but I can't say for sure."
Thane has stood firm in her remarks that the piece serves historic value. She believes there is little left of historic Amsterdam, with the Chalmers knitting mills and much of the downtown gone, so she said it's imperative to preserve what's left.
"People still lament 40 years later that we knocked most of downtown down," Thane said. "It is a loud cry. We have an irreplaceable resource and they want to rip it out or they want to cover it up."
Pat Baia, chairman of AIDA's Building and Grounds Committee, said his panel has met to discuss what to do, and it is their recommendation to layer sheetrock over it.
"By sheetrocking, you don't destroy what's there," Baia said. "It can be preserved for some other future artist."
AIDA Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky said it is also largely the opinion of the board that they cover up the mural and continue construction.
"It's kind of an awkward situation to be in," Zakrevsky said. "My board wants it removed, they mayor wants it saved, and I'm just trying to make them both happy."
But, Zakrevsky also said putting up sheetrock would probably be their cheapest and quickest answer.
"At this juncture, the city has been working on this for three years," Zakrevsky said. "We initially said we would like a decision by July 1st. July 1st has come and gone. I can't justify spending public monies on restoring a mural that is in a private ownership."
From conversations she's had with Zakrevsky and AIDA, Thane said she believes the agency don't have any interest in the building or economic development.
Zakrevsky, cognizant of the mayor's feelings towards the board's opinion, said it's quite the contrary.
"If we didn't believe in historic preservation, we wouldn't have taken this project on at all," Zakrevsky said.
In fact, in two other rooms next door, AIDA has worked to restore the decorative ceilings and Zakrevsky said the agency has redesigned those rooms as well as the room with the mural in it to avoid creating partitions, respecting the mayor's wishes.
Zakrevsky said he doesn't think those who are fighting so strongly to preserve the building understand what it entails. On top of the mural severely lifting in places and large areas completely missing from the painting, the last tenant used the room to spray paint furniture and there are outlines of that work along the walls.
"I think everyone believes it's a quick fix," Zakrevsky said. "Like we'll just go patch it and put the wallpaper back up with wallpaper paint and that's going to preserve it. With all the spray paint on it, I don't even know if anyone is going to want to live here."
Thane said a large safe was found in the building, of which crews were going to put on the curb for whoever wanted it. Upon further research, Thane said she found the safe to be worth $10,000. The city has received a quote of $19,000 to restore the mural.
"There's $10,000 of the $19,000," Thane said. "I told them, I can have an event there and raise the money. I will raise you the money and then some. But they don't want my help."
Thane said she has requested several times to bring a group of people interested in the project and in marketing the building into the room, but AIDA has turned her down.
Baia said it doesn't make sense to market the building if there hasn't been a decision made as to what to do with it.
Von Hasseln has laid out several options for both parties, including restoration and documentation, in which photographs would be taken of the mural and then it could be covered. Of those options, one has been ruled out -- taking the mural off the wall. Zakrevsky said it would be impossible to remove without destroying the painting.
"I have listed all the options for the mayor and AIDA," von Hasseln said. "What the mayor and AIDA decide to do is their business."
Zakrevsky said he hopes to have the building, which will be an apartment building, ready by September or October.