New Rochelle Armory Mural Restoration Project: Part I

Written By: Robert Cox

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In 2010, the City of New Rochelle selected a local company, Artistic F/X, to store and restore the 3 remaining murals from the New Rochelle Armory. The company is owned by Don Geyra, a member of the New Rochelle Municipal Arts Commission.

Talk of the Sound has had an opportunity to view the paintings which are being meticulously restored by Geyra. Some photos were provided by Geyra with others taken by Talk of the Sound contributor Jen Parente.

“The murals were coated in what appears to be spar varnish”, said Geyra who has been removing tiny sections with solvents dabbed on q-tips. The largest mural, a tug boat with signal lights, is about 40 square feet and the work so far on just the one painting has taken over 9 months. Spar varnish is intended to use on a ship to protect wood from the effects of sea and weather. It is not typically used on paintings.

Removing the wood frame area around the edge of the Tug Boat mural (above) revealed the vibrant blue color underneath the spar varnish.

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Geyra has high hopes for restoring the Tug Boat mural to something close to its original glory. He has already identified a company that will repair the electrical system building in the mural so that the signal lights will work once the project is completed. The mural was used to teach signaling to members of the Naval Militia and Sea Cadets.

The New Rochelle Armory became the permanent home of the 31st Fleet Division of the New York Naval Militia when it was completed in 1933. It served as a military training ground and meeting place for recruits. Thousands of members of the armed services were inducted at the New Rochelle Armory including 300 who died in combat.

In 1997, the City of New Rochelle bought the New Rochelle Armory from New York State for $1 with the provision that the property would be maintained as a public recreation and municipal space. In 2008, the City agreed to a project by Forest City Residential which has left the future of the facility in doubt. The slow economy has put any development plans on hold.

In 2008, a police report was filed with the New Rochelle Police Department after 3 of the six murals went missing. The other three were carefully removed and are now being kept at an undisclosed location where the restoration work proceeds.

Geyra’s work is focused on the Tug Boat mural and work will be the subject of this series on the New Rochelle Armory Murals.

“The person who painted this mural”, said Geyra referring to the Tug Boat mural, “really knew what they were doing. Some of the detail is reminiscent of a Dutch master.”

The two remaining murals, which are of a lower artistic quality, depict Navel parades with New York Naval Militia sailors cheering. The murals celebrate victories of the New York Naval Militia in the New York Interstate Naval Militia and Naval Reserve Matches in 1937 and 1938. Such militia trophy matches were competitions organized by the New York State militia to foster a completive spirit and improve marksmanship at a time when the United States national defense strategy called for a “small peace-time force trained and organized to lead a large war-time organization in a short period of time.”

The 1938 mural is in particularly poor condition.

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This article is the first in a series which will reveal the progress made so far.