by Bill Batson
In London, the jewels are in the tower. In Nyack, the towers are the jewels. The evidence of our architectural opulence is on display in “Towers of Nyack,” a photo exhibit by Bob Goldberg that runs through June 1 on Saturdays from 1-4p, at the Museum of the Historical Society of the Nyacks located at 50 Piermont Avenue. If you haven’t experienced Bob’s love for local architecture and history during one of his walking tours or lectures during the last three decades, this show gives a hint of what you’ve been missing.
Goldberg can trace his interest in Nyack’s iconic housing stock to a talk at the Edward Hopper House Arts Center by architectural historian Leontine Temsky that he attended 25 years ago. “She got me fascinated in the details of Victorian architecture: the porch balustrades, the bargeboards and the towers,” Goldberg said. This week’s sketch captures a design feature that Goldberg learned about from Temsky and is particularly fond of recording; Hudson Valley brackets. The ornately carved wooden brackets can be seen supporting roof overhangs and are always placed in pairs.
Temsky and Goldberg form an interesting pair of Hudson valley brackets themselves as colleagues on the trustee board of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. The transplant Brooklynites attended the same Sunday school, high school and college in the borough before independently arriving in Nyack, where they have become two of our most ardent preservationists.
Once ignited by the Temsky lecture, Goldberg was eager to share his interest in local architecture with others. An opportunity emerged when the Friends of the Nyacks were looking for someone to guide their popular walking tours because of the departure of architect Joe Cunin. Goldberg provided colorful and compelling commentary for walking tour participants for the next 25 years. The annual guided tours are now conducted by others, and can always be taken through a self-guided version.
In order to accommodate year-round interest, Goldberg created a tour that could be conducted without walking. The John Scott Armchair Walking Tour started 18 years ago and are well attended at both the Nyack and Valley Cottage Libraries. The lectures are named for preeminent Rockland County historian John Scott. This year’s series, which starts in September, features Rockland Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan and retired naturalist and educator from Sterling Forest, Doc Bayne.
Goldberg’s favorite armchair lecture topic is downtown Nyack. And his favorite place to direct the attention of his audience is up. “If you walk downtown, what you see at street level is the village as it is now,” Goldberg observes, “but looking up at the second and third floor is like looking into a time capsule. The buildings at that level are pretty much the exact way that they were when they were built 150 years old.”
Towers are not the only treasures that hide in plain sight that Goldberg celebrates. One of Goldberg’s lectures tells the story of the legacy of the retailer Smith and Quidor, captured in the time machine of a fading advertisement, known as a ghost sign. The sign that advertised the haberdashery is only a faint stain on the south-facing second story brick face above the Lockesmith across from Village Hall.
In his lecture, Goldberg follows the linage of Smith and Quidor back nearly a century. The business survived through a cycle of succession where owners would leave the business to employees that started as apprentices. The business was ultimately passed down to Mike Condello, a respected civic leader, whose widow, Pat, is a current member of the Historical Society Trustee Board.
Goldberg’s current exhibit at the Historical Society contains 35 color prints. Bob’s favorite tower, pictured here, is a beige lava lamp-shaped beauty with fish scale shingles. This building, which is on Washington and Piermont, is the first tower that Goldberg shot, in black and white, 25 years ago. The show contains a broad range of examples from the classical clock tower of the old high school to a post-modern wispy stone spiral chimney on Catherine Street.
There is a sense of all consuming passion and purpose in Goldberg’s lectures and tours. He honed his presentation skills in the chemical industry where he would “put facts into story form.” But don’t call him a historian, “that implies research,” he protests. “I like to tell the stories that have already been put together.”
But through the impressive archive that Goldberg has assembled, future historians, who will be able to tackle topics that his lectures have chronicled or scour a landscape that he has documented with his camera, may beg to differ.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Towering Treasures” © 2013 Bill Batson.