by Bill Batson
When Ray Wright was selling real estate, he would tell people trying to find his office to look for the prettiest house in Nyack. When those prospective buyers arrived at Wright Bros. Real Estate on the corner of Depew Avenue and South Broadway, they were relieved that their broker was as honest as he was bold. This stunning example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture, that was the basis of Wright’s boast, stands as a symbol to the longest continually operating real estate company in Rockland County.
The home was built in 1889 for the Depew family and was adjacent to their wholesale flower business. The Wrights were continuing a tradition of family run businesses operating from this corner, when they bought the house from Pierre Depew in 1955.
Brothers Joseph and Raymond Wright founded Wright Bros in 1929. When Ray Jr. was a student at Liberty Elementary, he remembers racing his twin brother Joseph Jr. up what felt like an infinite flight of stairs to his father’s office, which was then located above F. W. Woolworth on Main Street. Their father, Joseph Sr., graduated from Liberty when it was a K-12 school and sold the first electric icebox in Rockland County before going into the real estate business with his brother.
Ray joined the Wright Bros in 1962 at age 21 after graduating from Syracuse University. His brother signed on a year later, creating the second set of Wright brothers named Joseph and Raymond. In a decision that would foreshadow his future, Ray used an interest in cameras to become the firm’s staff photographer. He used a wide-angle lens to capture the exquisite architectural details of the properties his family was listing.
When Ray bought out his father in 1971 and became President of Wright Bros., the village was at a crossroads. The number of vacant storefronts was on the rise. Nyack was also still reeling from the devastation of several large-scale development projects that used eminent domain to condemn and demolish private properties that included the Tappan Zee Bridge, the New York State Thruway and a so-called downtown “slum clearance” project. While a student at Syracuse, Wright wrote a paper about urban renewal. His interest was not all academic. The Wright family home on Elysian Avenue had to be relocated, along with many others, to accommodate the thruway.
Wright’s greatest joy has been witnessing the resilience and revival of the village. As a realtor, he saw Nyack survive the turbulence and pessimism of the seventies and emerge as a viable and stable community. His greatest hope is to see the local retail sector rebound from this current economic downturn.
During our conversation, it was fascinating to see how art and culture was as important to Wright as real estate and development. Sitting in a room surrounded by Beverly Bozarth Colgan’s watercolors and a print of Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning, Wright invoked the memory of Helen Hayes. He described the Hayes Estate, Pretty Penny, as his sentimental favorite. His father sold the house to Hayes in 1934 and Wright’s sister, Helen Comar, took piano lessons with Hayes’ daughter.
Ray became most animated when describing his work as a Director of the Edward Hopper Arts Center. Along with Nyack High School Music Teacher Bert Hughes, Ray launched the Music in the Garden series in 1981. Ray sent personal letters to all the surrounding neighbors to win their approval for the outdoor evening concert series. Wright, who fell in love with jazz music in High School, influenced the Jazz focus of the popular concert series during his 15 year as one of the events organizers.
Wright’s role in the cultural affairs of the village would not be confined to being a patron of the arts. He’s now an avid and accomplished nature photographer. His photos have been published in Rivertown and Hook magazines and are currently on exhibit at Bee Alive on North Broadway.
One of Ray’s favorite shots is of a humming bird drinking the nectar of a Red Salvia in his wife’s garden at their cottage on Schroon Lake. Barbara Wright is an artist in her own right. Her medium is horticulture. She was the official gardener for all Wright Bros. properties during her husband’s tenure as company president.
Twelve years ago, Ray sold the family business to his then sales manager, Russell Woolley. He seems greatly comforted by the continued success of the Wright Bros. brand. Today, Woolley reports that the company commands a 40% share of the local real estate market.
Ray now spends as much time as he can behind the lens. These days you can find Ray precariously perched at the edge of the Lake De Forest reservoir in search of the elusive Bald Eagle, or playing a waiting game to snap a shot of a heron behind the Shop Rite in West Nyack. For a real estate man who loves the village, Ray saved his best deal for last. He traded his office in the prettiest house in Nyack for the vast expanse of nature and the quest to capture its beauty on film for the rest of us to share.