by Bill Batson
Nyack Yoga Center has a direct link to the man who popularized Yoga in America. Paula Heitzner studied with Blanche DeVries, the wife and business partner of Pierre Bernard, America’s first Yogi . Bernard founded an ashram on the grounds of what is now Nyack College in the 1930s. On Sunday, September 7, Heitzner celebrated her 40th year as the owner and instructor at Nyack Yoga Center at the corner of Broadway and Main Street.
“Yoga has withstood the test time. When the flash in the pans peter out, we will still have the solid and the sacred studies given to us by the ancient sages-the systems that nourish every aspect of life,” said Heitzner on the longevity of the practice of Yoga. Heitzner’s confidence is rooted in her connection to a family that established the study of yoga in the US in an atmosphere of skepticism and suspicion. A path that began in India and stretched through Lincoln, Nebraska, New York City and Nyack connects Heitzner to the rebirth of Yoga in America.
A midwesterner with a flair for marketing and business savvy, Bernard was the nation’s first spokesperson for yoga, a practice first mentioned in the Hindu Vedas written 3,500 years ago. As his teaching captured the imagination of enlightened European and American elites, he became a victim of his own success. The newspapers of the Hearst organization, fueling a xenophobic reaction to a wave of immigration, led a campaign to destroy Bernard’s reputation.
Despite a sensationalized trial that reeked of prosecutorial misconduct and well-funded private investigations and smear campaigns, Bernard never relented. He continued to promote and teach a regime of physical and mental conditioning that consisted of a set of specific postures, deep breathing techniques and meditation. Over time, his position prevailed. Hearst headlines went from describing his practice of yoga as an attempt to seduce “Young Girls with Hypnotic Powers” in 1910 to “Helpful to Mental, Physical Powers” in 1935.
The man the nation came to know as Oom was born Perry Arnold Baker in 1876 in Leon, Iowa. In 1889, Baker moved to Lincoln, Nebraska next door to a Syrian Indian named Sylvais Hamati. Hamati taught Baker the physical and spiritual practice of yoga and it was said the student kept a picture of his teacher near him for the rest of his life.
Bernard parlayed the teachings of his guru into an empire of schools, clubs and publications that would make him millions of dollars and introduce America to yoga. But controversy accompanied each step of his steep ascent.
Most of the complaints from the public against Bernard reflected the anxiety Protestant America felt when confronted with the odd and revealing exercise costumes his students wore, and with co-ed classes, ethnic music and chanting that were a part of yoga. There were also constant rumors of orgies. Governments and religious institutions of the period were either hostile or suspicious of the foreign origins of his eastern philosophy. He was literally driven from San Francisco, Seattle and New York City by overzealous moralists using the media and public prosecutors’ offices to protect conservative western values from the threat of the popular alternative teaching.
With two streams of attention converging around Bernard — muckracking journalists and affluent truth seekers — The Omnipotent Oom arrived in Nyack. The sustained harassment after his 1910 trial made Manhattan unbearable and the patronage of Anne Vanderbilt allowed him to obtain the lease for an estate in Nyack. The Hudson Valley village offered a secluded destination that was still accessible by car, train and ferry.
Bernard’s Local Developments
- The Clarkstown Country Club, a sprawling network of lodges, bungalows, recreation facilities, art studios, classrooms, sports fields and animal enclosures that attracted celebrities and wealthy yoga enthusiasts.
- The Clarkstown Country Club Sport Centre including a baseball stadium that would host sellout games with 3,500 spectators. He installed lights for the night games in 1932 that could be seen from as far away as Sing Sing prison.
- Rockland County Airport, which opened on Memorial Day 1928. A crowd of 2,500 witnessed aerial stunts and took turns taking their first flights. Even though the United States Department of Commerce leased the field, the airport project never took off as a commercial venture.
- The Clarkstown Country Club Menagerie (Zoo) was home to four elephants, ten ring-tailed monkeys (one of which escaped and startled CCC neighbor Rose Fruauf by climbing in her bedroom window), two mandrills, a Ilama, a lioness, peacocks, pea hens, a bull chimpanzee and a Canadian golden Eagle.
- Projects that failed to launch included a dog racing track and a yoga-based training camp for heavy weight boxers.
Even though he was welcomed to Nyack by a state police raid shortly after his arrival, eventually, Bernard became a prominent citizen and a successful, albeit eclectic, entrepreneur.
Nyack resident and star of stage and screen Helen Hayes MacArthur recalled “During World War II we had a number of war relief benefits together, shows and sports events that scrambled local talent and Broadway greats into a tasty dish.”
Despite the substance of his economic, civic and philanthropic activity, the gossip pages never left Bernard alone. But the target of the negative press coverage was learning the irony of infamy in America. “Everytime they rehash the old junk about the club, its membership increases from one to two dozen members,” Bernard observed.
Pierre Bernard left his estate to his wife and business partner Blanche DeVries when he died in 1955. DeVries, who taught side by side with her husband for decades, left Nyack after his death to open a successful yoga studio in New York City. DeVries taught into her nineties and is considered by some the First Lady of American Yoga.
DeVries and Bernard would be pleased that one of their students, Paula Heitzner was continuing their tradition in Nyack. According to their biographer Robert Love, author of The Great Oom, “the real business was training the next generation of teachers.” Established in 1974, Heitzner’s studio, Nyack Yoga Center, is the longest running yoga studio in Nyack.
After the birth of her fourth child, Heitzner knew she needed to find a good yoga teacher. That’s when she found Blanche DeVries. What Heitzner learned from Devires and fellow student Elizabeth Spohn were “intangible things, like how to carry oneself with intention and grace.” Simply by watching them and keeping a record of each class in her notebook, Heitzner built the foundation that would lead to an esteemed career as a yoga instructor’s instructor.
In 1956, DeVries sold 19 acres to what was then called the Missionary Training Institute and is now Nyack College. The parcel, that fetched $250,0000, included a theater, assembly room, music room, bell tower, garages and the building in this week’s sketch, the clubhouse, where Bernard spent his last days. The structure is now a mens dorm called Moseley Hall, this week’s featured sketch.
Before his death, in a gesture that united his belief in physical fitness and his fondness for his home of 27 years, Bernard bequeathed the lights that illuminated the night games at his Clarkstown Country Club to the old Nyack High School sports field.
With dozens of buildings that housed his classes and followers still standing, his stadium lighting piercing the night sky and a veritable yoga district stretching across downtown including a studio operated by one of his widow’s students, Oom survives: not omnipotent, but in Nyack, through the limbs of his legacy, omnipresent.
Nyack Yoga Center is located at 1 South Broadway.
Special thanks to Win and Betty Perry of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. The Historical Society has published a facsimile of the original 1935 publication of Life at the Clarkstown Country Club. Copies are available at the society’s museum in the Depew House behind the Nyack Library.
Robert Love’s biography of Pierre Bernard, The Great Oom, is a masterful portrait of the man and his times. Copies are available at Pickwick Book Shop.
Map photo: this mural, once located in the main club house lounge of the Clarkstown Country Club, was painted by Olle Nordmark via omnipotentoom.com
Portions of list Nyack Sketch Log were originally published on September 13, 2013.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Yoga Center’s link to America’s First Yogi” “ © 2014 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com
by Bill Batson
It’s a three-peat for the cheesecake at Nyack’s Best Western, West Gate Restaurant. This August, Lisa Parseghian Dosch has brought home a 1st place ribbon from the New Jersey State Fair for the third consecutive year. West Gate Lounge was already recognized as one of the finest Latin music and dancing venues in the region. As they prepare to celebrate their 50th year in 2015 as a family-owned and operated hospitality business, sweets for the stomach and salsa for the feet have made Best Western a culinary and cultural landmark.
The dynasty that has made desserts and dancing twin pillars of their business model started in 1963 when Masis Parseghian bought the land known as the Nyack Ice Pond. Parseghian, a homebuilder, selected the land because of its proximity to a major highway and oversaw the construction of the original building and several expansions. America’s car culture fueled a demand for roadside motels to meet the basic needs of the traveling public, but in 1969, West Gate became more than a stopover. It was a destination.
This motor lodge was named West Gate because of its location on the western approach to the village. Three generations of labor have made this complex of buildings a popular center for resting, eating and dancing. In 1989, the West Gate became a Best Western franchise, but the superlative “best” is more frequently used to describe their award winning cheesecake and the salsa party they have thrown every Saturday night for more than 30 years.
In that year, the West Gate Restaurant and Lounge began serving and entertaining visitors. It started as a Polynesian restaurant and piano bar. In the early 1970’s, it was called the Boom Boom Room. The club was located on the New York State Thruway, equidistant between Theater-Go-Rounds in Westchester and Rockland counties. Many of the A-list celebrities that played these massive venues used the Boom Boom Room as their after-hour hangout.
According to Sales Manager and Parseghian’s daughter Lisa Dosch, Steve and Eydie Gorme, Marlo Thomas, Steve Allen, and Ernie Kovacs would arrive after their local gigs had ended. “ Stars like Sonny Bono would show up in their chauffeur-driven limos” Parseghian recalled. “There were long lines for our lounge seven nights a week,” she continued.
After a renovation in 1981, the elder Parseghian invited his friend and Rockland County resident Tito Puente to perform. The sold out appearance launched a major Latin music nightspot. For fifteen years, Puente performed several times a year. For the last 30 years, West Gate Lounge has been one of the most important night clubs for Salsa dancers and musicians in the tri-state area.
Lisa Dosch’s award-winning cheesecake is available at the West Gate Restaurant during their normal hours of operation.
- Mon. through Fri. from 7a until 11p
- Sat. from 7a until 4a
- Sun. 7a until 3p
Visit West Gate Restaurant for more info.
Dance Floor Details
West Gate Lounge is open on Friday for Disco dancing and Saturday for Salsa.
Doors open on Saturday at 8pm starting with Salsa dance lessons for both beginners and advanced. The lessons are followed by the house DJ and a Salsa band.
Friday evening Disco nights:
Visit West Gate Lounge for more info.
For info. about accommodations, meetings or events contact the Best Western Nyack on Hudson
On any given Saturday night, Grace and John DePaola of New Jersey leave their home for the almost one hour ride to the West Gate Lounge. Their date night tradition goes back for more than a decade. “As a lady, I like to dress up and go out. The clientele at West Gate is extremely diverse and up-scale. Everything about the club is professional and we love the music, which is usually performed by a ten or twelve piece band.”
Lisa describes several couples that fly in from Canada for a weekend getaway built around the dance club. The international talent featured at the West Gate Lounge might explain the international patrons. The greatest names in Salsa music have taken the West Gate stage including, Eddie Palmerie, Johnny Pacheco, Jose Alberto, Eddie Torres, Tony Vega, and Eddie Santiago.
The dance floor is not Best Western’s only recent claim to fame. Lisa Dosch’s cheesecake has won 1st place in the New Jersey State Fair for three years in a row. Lisa learned her way around the kitchen from her mother and grandmother, but it was a customer’s request for a new dessert menu item that led to her baking and serving her first cheesecake.
Lisa’s plain cheesecake has won three years in a row at the New Jersey State Fair. Her other winning flavors are Key Lime, Pumpkin, Coconut, Blueberry and Plain with a Mixed Berry Topping. Her pumpkin cheesecake was inspired by a customer.
Lisa served her first guest at age 12 as a waitress at the hotel’s coffee shop. She remembers her siblings and cousins painting the entire exterior of the motor lodge in the 70s. All four of Masis Parseghian’s children now work side-by-side at West Gate. Her older brother, Gregory is the General Manager; her brother Jimmy is the Food and Beverage Manager; and her sister Donna Maccaro manages the front desk operations. The hotel’s founding father, who is 85, arrives at work almost daily at an establishment that now boasts 80 rooms, meeting spaces and a banquet hall in addition to the popular lounge and restaurant. “It feels like we are entertaining our guests from our home,” says Lisa. “When you visit, it’s our family meeting your family.”
A portrait of the Parseghians is painted on one of the wood-paneled walls of the West Gate Lounge. The artist portrayed the family in the period dress of the mid-19th century Hudson River School. The patriarch sits to the right, embellished with handle bar mustache and bowler hat.
The oil painting is a fitting tribute for a family that has preserved the historic Hudson Valley tradition of inn keeping. With homemade desserts and a dance floor that are always in demand, keeping the half-century-year-old hotel relevant, West Gate has become more than a roadside lounge. It is a regional landmark.
See Eddie Torres and Eddie Torres Jr. pay musical tribute to Tito Puente at the West Gate Lodge here.
Portions of this Nyack Sketch Log were originally published on September 17, 2013.
An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Best Western, a Culinary and Cultural Landmark“ © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.
by Bill Batson
When printmaker Sylvia Roth moved into her home in South Nyack in 1977, she had no idea it was the birthplace of a major figure in American art, Joseph Cornell. This house on Piermont Avenue seems to have its own designs, selecting artistic occupants for over a century.
b. Nyack, NY 1903
d. Flushing, NY 1972
This house on Piermont Avenue was the childhood home of Joseph Cornell. His father, Joseph, was a well to do designer and his mother, Helen TenBroeck Storms Cornell, was a kindergarten teacher. He had two sisters, Elizabeth and Helen and one brother, Robert.
When his father died in 1917, Cornell’s family moved to Queens, NY. He lived for most of his life in a small, wooden-frame house on Utopia Parkway with his mother and his brother Robert. Cornell devoted much of his life to the care of Robert, who had cerebral palsy. Cornell became a recluse and other than a few years at Philips Academy in Andover Massachusetts, he never left the metropolitan New York City area.
His art work, however, became internationally recognized, collected and exhibited.
According to the artist and writer Lee Mamunes, who is also a docent at the Edward Hopper House Art Center, “Cornell was a true eccentric and completely self-taught. He was not a sculptor or painter. He was a collector. In his late 20s, he began to assemble fragments of everyday life, including memories of his happy childhood in Nyack, placing them in glass-fronted shadow boxes resembling tiny stage sets.”
Here is how Pultizer Prize winning poet John Ashberry described Cornell: “The genius of Cornell is that he sees and enables us to see with the eyes of childhood, before our vision got clouded by experience, when objects like a rubber ball or a pocket mirror seem charged with meaning, and a marble rolling across a wooden floor could be as portentous as a passing comet.”
Emily Dickinson, Cornell’s enduring muse, wrote that “nature is a haunted house, but art is a house that tries to be haunted.” As Roth describes the creative output of subsequent generations of her family, one begins to suspect that this is a house haunted by art.
So you really didn’t know that Joseph Cornell lived here before you moved in?
No. I did not know. I was a Cornell fan. I had a poster here from a gallery that I had bought. It was a beautiful blue and white collage with a French title. I had it hanging on the door going into the kitchen. Then one day, there was a knock on the door. It was Alan Gussow.
Gussow was devoted to the arts community in Rockland County. Nervously, he told us that this was the childhood home of Joseph Cornell. He didn’t think that whoever lived inside would care to know.
He showed us a photo of Joseph and his sister from 1908.
Alan said that people wanted to place a plaque on the house, and we said we wanted to have a party.
My daughter, Susan Roth-Beerman was 17 when the party was held to honor Cornell. Mayor Cross came, and Cornell’s sister Elizabeth, who was in the photo.
Michael Minard and Frankie D, who were living here at the time, performed a song about Cornell. That is when the plaque was installed.
I understand that you are an artist as well. What kind of art do you make?
For many many years, I was a printmaker. I had my own studio, Hudson River Editions. I was making my own art, etchings and paintings, ever since I was ten.
My mother, Faye, painted. As an immigrant, she never had a chance to get an art education. But she loved to paint flowers and birds.
I would go to the Museum of Natural History and draw the dioramas. My librarian at PS87, Aaron Suskind, encouraged me. He always praised the holiday decorations I made in 7th grade. He said I should go to Music and Art. I passed the test and got in. That was it.
My printmaking started in Rockland County. I studied with Roberto Delamonica at the Rockland Center for the Arts. I then became his assistant. Wherever he taught, he took me. We worked together at ROCA and the Art Students’ League. When he left his position at the New School for a while, I substituted for him.
The art world became aware of my work through local artists here in Rockland like Steven Green and Annie Poor, daughter of Henry Varnum Poor. One day at an opening at the Museum of Modern Art, Knox Martin leaned over the table and said, “Sylvia, I have been thinking about you. You are working with great artists and you should be doing your own publishing and making money. You really are a master printer. You should start your own print studio.” I borrowed money from my brother, ordered a press, and started Hudson River Editions. It was 1981.
I am now a member of the Chelsea Art Group. After a heart attack in 2002 I stopped printmaking and started working as an art adviser. Don Christensen taught me all about the business of art and now I work with him. Don is the president of Chelsea Art Group. We educate our clients, help them build art collections and find great art to live with. We also conduct museum and gallery tours and take clients to art fairs.
Any other artists in the family?
My daughter Susie is a therapist and bereavement counselor at United Hospice of Rockland and she also has a private practice. And she still makes art. She studied with one of the founders of the New York School of Painting, Richard Pousette-Dart. She was studying at ROCA, the year the Cornell knock came at the door.
Susan’s twin, Anna Hays, is a writer and my son SJ, is a screenwriter.
My granddaughter Hannah Faye, is at Bard. She is going to make painting her life. She studied this summer at the Studio School in the Village, with her professor from Bard, Joe Santore.
Susie’s son, Joey, is a musician and plays bass at the conservatory at SUNY Purchase. His first teacher was Rob Stoner of West Nyack. He then started on the upright bass at the Lagond music school in Elmsford. Charlie Lagond performed with King Creole and the Coconuts.
Now tell me about the second knock at the door?
A woman was in town for her 37th Nyack High School reunion and wanted to visit the home where she grew up. She wanted to see the backyard where she had also been married. That is when we learned that Ralph Pearson had lived here and that was just the beginning of the coincidences.
Her father Ralph Pearson was a well known printmaker, who wrote the book “How to Look at Modern Pictures.” Pearson was so committed to making art accessible that he became a printmaker.
As we walked with her through the house, she pointed at one room as the place where he did his printmaking. I had just had the floor in that very room reinforced to install a 2000 pound etching press.
She then asked to go upstairs to see what she called the apricot room. My daughter and I were startled. I had just painted that room apricot. We had no idea that one room had been a print shop and the other painted apricot.
Is there anything else you would like to share about living in the childhood home of Joseph Cornell?
We’ve read a great deal about Cornell. He experienced a great deal of alienation and isolation in his life, but his memories of his childhood in Nyack were pleasant and peaceful.
There is a photo of hime with his disabled brother in front of this house. He was devoted to his brother and would incorporate his brother’s drawings into some of his works.
But for me, my favorite pieces are the ones with movie stars from the 30s and the 40s.
Sylvia Roth is a Master Printer and has collaborated with world renown artists including John Chamberlain, April Gornick, Alfonso Ossorio, and Karen Finley. Works produced from her press, Hudson River Editions appear in numerous collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, The Smithsonian Institute, and The Brooklyn Museum. Roth’s own paintings and prints have been exhibited in galleries around her native New York and across the country including Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Boston.
For more information visit Chelsea Art Group
Thanks to Myra Starr, Susan Roth-Beerman and Pam Moskowitz. A special thanks to Lee Mamunes for presenting some of the facts that I have incorporated in my sketch log in her excellent article for the Historical Society of the Nyacks’ most recent newsletter, “Joseph Cornell and Emily Dickinson: Kindred Spirits.”
by Bill Batson
Imagine the stories that would be told if houses wrote autobiographies.
This stately structure on South Highland Avenue could tell us if slaves were hidden here during the abolition movement. We would know about the political maneuverings and legal strategies of the successive generations of lawyers who called this place home. Or learn the downside of having a neighbor who owns a private zoo. The garden could share the secrets of what makes her bloom. But alas, buildings and garden beds don’t write books.
Fortunately for us, this house has a biographer, and her name is Judy Martin.
1855 – 1967
by Judy Martin
- 1855 – John W. (atty) and Susan Towt and children Elizabeth, Mary and Charles move into this house on South Highland
- 1856 c. – Non-owning Tenant: Marcena Menson Dickinson (atty) Orangetown Supervisor 1856, 1857; Rockland County District Attorney 1862-1868 and 1875-1878
- 1873 – 1927 Elizabeth A. Towt Robbins and Louis Leland Robbins (atty) and children Nathaniel, Louise Robbins Ward and Louis Leland Robbins Jr. are occupants, with ownership going to Elizabeth in 1892 on the death of her father, John W. Towt
- 1927 – Louis Leland Robbins (Jr.)(atty) and wife Sarah Gesner Robbins (no children) inherit from his mother, Elizabeth Robbins
- 1934 – Sarah Gesner Robbins purchases from husband for $1
- 1942 – John H and Anna H Fruauf purchase the Towt home from the Robbins estate
- 1946 – Peter and Edna M. McVicar
- 1948 – Daniel T. (atty) and Mildred G. Brucker. Daniel was a founder of Rockland Community College, a benefactor and on its board and many other Boards in Rockland County. The Bruckers left here to move to a new house on Deer Track Lane in Valley Cottage, with fewer stairs.
- 1957- Newsmaker Productions, Inc. rents the house to Jerome (atty) and Lee Johnson. Jerome was Chairman of Nyack Hospital Board and a noted benefactor
- 1958 – Henry F and Rafaela Blazek and son
- 1967 – Malcolm E. (atty) and Judith H. Martin and children Jennifer, Elizabeth Christina and Katherine
Judy has served Grace Church as treasurer and vestryman; the village as the manager of the Housing Authority, and is currently a dedicated volunteer at Grace’s Thrift Shop. She and her husband, Mac moved into the Towt house in 1967.
If someone wanted to create a biography of their house, where would they start?
I think you start with the land; its earliest ownership records, and historical maps. I went to the county clerk’s office and researched the deeds as far as I could go. Deeds follow the actual ownership of the land and show changes, liens and court records.
If it’s a recent building, then the municipal building department has pertinent records. And once you have the deeds, then you can check the names to see who those people were.
The earliest owner that you documented was John Towt, who helped establish St. Philip’s AME Zion Church in Nyack. Towt was rumored to have been active in the Underground Railroad. Did you find any evidence of cavities in the home where escaping slaves could have hidden?
There were several places to hide a runaway slave in the old house, and there may have been more that were lost when spaces were taken for the indoor plumbing installation.
On the 4th floor there was a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe and a walk-in cedar closet. On the 3rd floor there was a three-part bay window seat that opened, and a hallway between rooms with doors opening out on each side.
Connecting the 2nd floor and the bottom floor kitchen there was a dumbwaiter, controlled entirely by ropes and pulleys inside the shaft, and located right next to an exit door on the second floor. And on the bottom floor there was a closet/exit door leading to the coal bin and a highly unusual small window leading from the underground root/fruit cellar to the space under the porch.
If it were my choice, I’d have chosen only the 2nd or 1st floor spaces, since all of them were within inches of the outside if a dash to escape were needed.
Have you ever seen a picture of John Towt?
I’ve never seen a picture of John Towt; and I’m not sure there is one. But when we worked on the master bedroom, we found a picture that had fallen down behind that fireplace mantel. It was labeled “first trousers.” It turned out to be Louis Leland Robbins, Jr., one of John Towt’s grandsons.
Who are some of the other families that have lived under this roof?
As is seen in the 1870 census, Elizabeth was the eldest child of John W Towt (1803-1891) and Susan Towt. The Towt land is delineated on the 1876 Atlas of Rockland County, showing two residential homes. The parcel extended all the way to what is now Route 303 and included Buttermilk falls.
In 1821, as a 19 year old, John Towt was exposed to the cruel perversion of slavery while traveling through the American south. Towt settled in Nyack in 1855 after a successful career in New York City where he amassed a fortune.
Towt would help establish St. Philip’s, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church that is still located at the corner of North Mill and Burd Street. The A.M.E. Zion Church was founded in New York in 1796. From its inception the church was an active participant in the Underground Railroad and counted Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth as members.
Although Towt played many roles in the congregation in Nyack, including superintendent of the Sunday School, the day to day operation and religious activities of the church were led by pastors of African descent.
According to Dr. F.B Green’s contemporaneous history of Rockland County written in 1886, “Towt was called upon to lend personal assistance to a fugitive negro. On that occasion, he concealed the runaway in his house, until he was able to travel further, and then saw him safely off, on his way to freedom.”
The 1876 Atlas of Rockland County shows that Towt owned a parcel of land to the south of where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River. Nyack is widely considered to have been the mid-point between Underground Railroad locations in Jersey City, NJ and Newburgh, NY. The Nyack Brook is thought to have been a navigation landmark leading escaping slaves to the Hudson, a natural conduit to Canada.
Towt’s neighboring land owner was Cynthia Hesdra. An African American, Hesdra (1808-1879) was enslaved at one point, yet died a wealthy woman, accumulating properties and businesses in New York City and Nyack.
Cynthia Hesdra is listed in Mary Ellen’s Snodgrass’ Underground Railroad Encyclopedia as a conductor.
One of the homes is identified on that map as the residence of M. M. Dickinson. Although the Dickinson family later owned the land north of the Towt land, and, in fact, sold a piece of it to Elizabeth in 1892, the Dickinson referred to here is Marcena Menson Dickinson, (1823-1890) who served as Orangetown Supervisor in 1856 and 1857, and two terms as Rockland County District Attorney, 1862-1868 and 1875-1878.
The land where the Nyack Middle School now stands was once owned by Pierre Bernard and operated as an Ashram called the Clarkstown Country Club. Apparently some of the guests in his menagerie made an impromptu house call once?
From 1942 – 1949, this home was owned and occupied by John and Anna Fruauf, and their daughter Doris Fruauf Rose. Their granddaughter, Tracey Rose Cummings, remembers that one afternoon, the monkeys belonging to Oom the Omnipotent (next door to the south) got loose, came down the hill, climbed the rose trellis and went into Doris’ third floor bedroom.
What drew you to this house?
We grew up outside Buffalo, NY, and wanted to live in a small community, not just a commuters’ suburb. When we walked on Main Street in Nyack, people we did not know greeted us, just as in our upstate village.
The first time we saw the house was on a foggy evening. We put in an offer and it was accepted, without ever knowing the house had a 12 month Hudson River view. The house was one of a kind, which appealed to us, and finally, we could afford it. It had 12 rooms, and every one of those and every inch outside needed help!
Today it would be called a handyman’s special. But we were young, energetic, and willing to learn whether the paste went on the wall or on the wallpaper!
What’s your favorite room in the house?
I love to cook and I love to eat, so of course, the kitchen is my favorite place, but for a quiet time with a good book, the house has lots of cozy corners and window seats and bay windows, and if it’s a really good thunder and lightning storm, you’ll find us outside on the porch, loving it!
It seems that you put as much effort into the grounds as you do the building. What is your favorite feature in your garden?
Up by the house, the hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons create lovely living walls against which annuals smile at the house. And we are continually planting forsythia to create anti-deer fencing, and fruit trees to replace the tall maples as they topple.
But the private place is the terrace – totally surrounded by green, and supporting perennials changing with the seasons.
What is your current garden project?
I’ve just finished harvesting the mint to make mint jelly for lamb and curry dinners all winter.
- Nyack Sketch Log: St. Philip’s AME Zion
- Nyack Sketch Log: Scholar Puts Local History on the Map
- Nyack Sketch Log: Underground Railroad
- Nyack Sketch Log: Yoga Reborn Here
Special thanks to Myra Starr
Judy Martin portrait photo by Dr. Arnold Roufa.
by Bill Batson
Through marriage, barbers Diane and Steve Zuccato combine two families with over 170 years of hair cutting history. For three months, a sign announcing the opening of D.S.Z. Barbers and brown paper have shrouded activity behind the picture windows at the corner of Franklin Street and Main Street. In a joint interview, Diane and Steve describe the evolution of a family business as they prepare to plant their barber pole in Nyack.
Families with Deep Roots in Hair Care
Diane’s father, Adrian Wood, owns Paul Mole, the oldest barbershop in Manhattan. The illustrious men’s grooming establishment is located at 73rd and Lexington Avenue and was established in 1913. Wood used his scissor skills to travel the world cutting hair in London, NYC, New Zealand, and Bermuda. Since he acquired Paul Mole in 1970, the barbershop has consistently been ranked one of the best in New York City.
Like Diane, Wood’s daughter Kim and his son Michael are Master Barbers. A fourth sibling, Christine, is a Special Education teacher but worked weekends at Paul Mole as a receptionist. So all 4 of the Wood children have been in the barber business.
Steve’s great grandfather, Lelio Fioravanti, came from northern Italy and opened a barbershop on 8th Street in Union City in the 1930s with his brother August.
Steve’s maternal aunt, Anna Casalaspro, spent 40 years styling hair. Casalaspro worked at a salon, but also turned her basement into an at-home hair dressing venue. She provided this accommodation for her older clients who could not travel far and for people who had busy schedules and needed late night appointments.
Aunt Anna taught her three sons how to cut hair. Steve learned from his cousins and was soon cutting hair for his friends. Every Friday afternoon before kick-off at Don Bosco Prep, Steve would cut his football teammates’ hair. Steve continued to cut hair in college at Towson University, where he graduated with a degree in Communications.
Why did you decide to start your joint careers in Nyack?
We felt it would be a great place to start a family and the perfect place to start a family business. When we were looking for a new location we just fell in love with Nyack and the surrounding area.
We looked at other available storefronts in New Jersey, Yonkers, White Plains and Tarrytown and nothing felt right. When we walked into 140 Main Street we knew we’d found the right location. The feel of the space was nostalgic – perfect for a true classic gentlemen’s barbershop.
We do love New York City, but having a family there isn’t what we wanted. Diane’s sisters, who have a total of 4 kids, live in Orangeburg and Westwood. Since Nyack is close to those towns we thought it would be nice to live and work here so when we do have kids of our own they can all see their cousins on a regular basis.
Diane’s mom is also close by in Leonia and Steve’s family is from Waldwick, which isn’t far either.
What is the biggest challenge of starting a small business?
Time management has been difficult. On top of building out the space, which has taken over 3 months, Steve worked full-time for my father at Paul Mole, until August 1. We spent a lot of nights, early mornings and weekends managing the construction of D.S.Z. Barbers Inc..
Diane also has a full-time job in commercial real estate, which she will keep, and will only work weekends and nights at D.S.Z. Barbers.
Not only did we have to build out the actual space but we also had to build our online presence, which takes a lot of time. You can now find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and more! Our informative website will be up in September which features monthly “tips and tricks” from our Master Barbers, which has taken a lot of time to get together and personally design.
Oh and funding hasn’t been easy either! As a new business, we didn’t qualify for small business loans. We have put our entire life’s savings into this project. Yikes!
Did your father want you to follow in his footsteps?
Diane: My father made all three of his barber children attend college before pursuing a career in the barbering business. He’s happy I was able to use my college degree (William Paterson Graduate – Communications major with a concentration in Marketing and PR) and barbering background to obtain a position with King of Shaves as their Marketing Director and official Master Barber. Before KoS, I worked in London for a PR company representing another British shaving line called Edwin Jagger.
What are the traditional tools of the trade that you are preserving in your grooming methods?
Scissors! We use a traditional technique called “Scissor-over -comb” and try to stay away from basic clipper cuts. We also take pride in our straight razor shaves, which is a time-honored service within the barbering industry.
What are some of the modern innovation that you are incorporating?
Steve: To me, innovations means trendy. That really short on the sides style accomplished with a machine and then drastically doing a long or short fade into a 2 to 5 inch difference in hair length. That’s what you are seeing on TV with rock stars and some actors. It’s the same thing you would find in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I can do that very well, but that’s not who we are.
We specialize in traditional men and children’s haircuts in a welcoming location that feels like home. We do not cut women’s hair. We do not do blowouts. We believe that men belong in a barbershop and women belong in salons. We play classic music and will even have an antique record player set up so our clients can BYOR (Bring your own record).
Our barbershop is filled with classic barbershop antiques – our 6 chairs and 2 barber poles are from the early 1900’s. We want people to walk into our shop and feel like they are taking a step back in time.
We take appointments for men who have busy schedules and cannot sit and wait 30 minutes for a haircut (walk-ins are always welcomed though!). We value our client’s time. We book appointments on the half hour. If you have an appointment you will never have to wait for a haircut. Period.
Our barbers will have a strict dress code to follow and must always act in a professional manner. Our clients can always expect freshly laundered towels and barber capes. Every client is welcome to a complimentary espresso while he gets his haircut.
I saw a clip of Diane on YouTube shaving David Letterman on national television. What was that like?
Footage of Diane Shaving David Letterman
Diane: VERY nerve-wracking! It was the first time I was on live television. My hands were shaking, the set was cold and being face to face with Dave was very intimidating… But it went very well! Being on Letterman opened a lot of doors for me. After my appearance, I was featured in major publications worldwide such as CRAINS, OK!, Cosmopolitan, Daily News, Marketing Week, First, Ladies Home Journal, Seventeen, Fitness, Men’s Health, and Men’s Fitness as a shaving/grooming expert.
Diane, how does your dad feel about the familial competition?
Diane: I was so nervous to tell him we wanted to open our own barbershop. Steve has been the manager at Paul Mole for 4 years, which means he opened and closed the shop 6 days a week for my father (6am open – 8:30pm close). We were worried how he would handle it considering we were the last of his kids to leave his business.
He handled it perfectly and is extremely happy for us. Out of his 4 kids, I will be the first to open my own shop.
Did he have any advice?
Build something special. Somewhere people would enjoy going to. Stay traditional. Find good barbers you can trust.
Who shaves Steve?
Steve shaves Steve. He likes to do it himself.
Who gives the better shave?
Ahhh. Really?? You have to know this is a tough one for us to answer!
Both are better in different ways. Diane gives a great facial massage after a shave while Steve is very talented at shaping beards and goatees.
Do you either of you have a dream client?
Steve: REX RYAN! Hey Rex, if you’re reading this come on by! Any service you want is always on the house for you.
D.S.Z. Barbers will open soon at 140 Main Street, the corner of Franklin Avenue and Main Street. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.
Today’s sketch is a depiction of an antique Emil J. Paider barber’s chair.
by Bill Batson
On June 26, 2014, Nyack Hospital and Montefiore Health System issued a joint press release announcing a merger. When the process is complete, Nyack will have a medical institution informed by over two centuries of history in health care. Will the philanthropic and progressive impulses that characterized the creation of nonprofit hospitals in nineteenth-century America endure? Will the services that we receive be enhanced or diminished?
“We see great opportunity in working with Nyack Hospital and enhancing its rich history of providing excellent care in the community,” said Steven M. Safyer, M.D., president and CEO, of Montefiore. In the same statement, his counterpart, David H. Freed, DHA, President & CEO, of Nyack Hospital said, “Montefiore has a long history of both clinical excellence and innovative care delivery. It will be an exemplary partner in developing the advanced models of care management and regional collaboration required to serve the Rockland community well under healthcare reform.”
Since the word “history” appears in the remarks of each of the CEOs that are party to the agreement, a moment of reflection seems to be in order. Here’s a snap shot of the origins and early days of each health care institution that may provide some prologue and set expectations for what will follow.
Nyack Hospital was incorporated in 1895. Initial funds were raised by an initiative called “Kirmess,” that drew inspiration from medieval festivals that used merrymaking to accomplish good.
The original edifice, depicted in this week’s sketch, was designed by Marshall B. Emery and erected in 1900. The structure still stands as one of the complex of buildings that occupy the land between Midland, Highland, Fifth and Sickles Avenues. The original building now houses physicians’ offices.
The first Nyack Hospital ambulance was a horse-drawn conyevance that was purchased in 1903 for $550. The carriage was described in press accounts as a “shiny new vehicle,” when the first patient was transported from West Haverstraw with acute appendicitis. Before this new “ambulance,” patients were “jolted to the institution on the floors of delivery wagons.”
In the 1920s, a county-wide effort raised $400,000 to build a new addition and a nurses residence. A photo from the 1930s shows elephant’s from Pierre Bernard’s Clarkstown Country Club entertaining patient in the hospitals Children Ward.
Nyack Branch NAACP President Frances Pratt began working at Nyack Hospital in 1959 after obtaining a degree in Nursing from Rockland Community College. During her 53 year career she held titles holding including Head Nurse of the Emergency Room and in the Office of Employee Health. This picture of her induction as a nurse includes George Celentano, center, the first male nurse at that institution.
The five story main hospital building was constructed in 1955. A sixth floor was added in 1983. The Union Bank Cancer Center was designed by local architect Jan Degeshien and built in 2000.
In April 2014, Nyack Hospital announced the creation of a Behavioral Health Center. The unit has 26 beds, that are bolted to the floor, recessed shelves and covered lighting to ensure the safety of patients on the locked-down ward.
What is now Montefiore Health System was founded in 1884 by Jewish philanthropists as a home for chronically ill members of their community that were excluded from other facilities. By 1890, Montefiore was among the first to test tuberculin for the diagnosis of tuberculosis and by 1901, Montefiore was the site of one of the earliest clinical uses of adrenalin, – asthma patients were treated with adrenalin chloride.
Other milestones include:
- 1912 – Montefiore expanded its services and built a new hospital in the Bronx.
- 1916 – first woman joined Montefiore’s house staff in 1916.
- 1930s – African American medical residents were accepted at Montefiore at a time when such integration was rare.
- 1959 – Montefiore became the first hospital to recognize a hospital workers union, 1199 SEIU. 1199 SEIU represents workers at both Nyack Hospital and Montefiore.
The tale of the tape
Monterfoire was founded in 1884.
Nyack Hospital was founded in 1895.
Montefiore Medical Center has 1,491 acute-care beds and treats the Bronx community, which has more than 1.4 million people.
Nyack Hospital is a 375-bed community acute care medical and surgical hospital located in Rockland County, which has 300,000 people.
Montefiore Medical Center has 17,600 employees.
Nyack Hospital has 1,600 employees.
Montefiore Medical Center had a profit of nearly $111 million with revenues of $2.3 billion in 2012, according to its most recent tax filings.
Nyack Hospital had a profit of nearly $4.5 million with revenues of $208 million during the same period.
The details of the agreement between Montefiore and Nyack, and the next chapter of health care in this village, are being written at the negotiating table. Although the final agreement between Montefiore and Nyack has to be approved by the state Department of Health, the industry trend is moving toward these mega health care systems.
In the last year, Montefiore has purchased New York Westchester Square Medical Center, and Mount Vernon Hospital and New Rochelle Hospital. Montefiore also operates 9 clinics in Westchester.
New York-Presbyterian Health, the system that Nyack Hospital had been affiliated with since 2004, has taken over Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. The North Shore-LIJ Health System is partnering with both Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow and Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco.
In January 2013, I spent a week in Nyack Hospital at my father’s bedside. His nearly $40,000 hospitalization was almost entirely covered by Medicare and his secondary insurer and he received excellent care. I counted our blessings that he had both good coverage and care and pondered whether future generations would be so fortunate.
How will this next round of consolidations affect the cost and quality of health care in Nyack? Will regional networks like New York-Presbyterian, Northshore-LIJ and Montefiore be responsive to local concerns? And in the most basic measure of the health of a hospital, will Montefiore keep all inpatient, outpatient, and emergency services at their current levels?
Sides seem to be forming in a giant game of chess in the health care industry. Let’s hope that our hospital is a castle on the side that prevails and that patients are not used as pawns by the winners or the losers.
Special thanks to Carol Weiss.
by Bill Batson
Maria Luisa Whittingham is a civic seamstress. She weaves business, social responsibility and family into a garment of retail longevity. From the durable and colorful threads of a matriarchal tradition and her own raw talent, she has created a popular business and brand: Maria Luisa.
Later this August or early September, a renovated ML by Maria Luisa boutique will open its doors at 75 South Broadway. Here is the global back story of a local fixture.
Where did you learn the merchant tradition?
My first experience with the merchant tradition was very early on in my life. My mother, Carmen Mercedes Colon de Perez, had a bazaar in Cayey, Puerto Rico. I grew up exploring the back rooms and looking under the cases of her general store.
She started the store when she was in her 20s. She had an eighth grade education. When her mother died, she had to go to work and help the family as the eldest. She worked for a department store as their bookkeeper and manager.
When she opened her own store, she carried everything from soap to thread to handbags to dresses.
So your mother was your mentor?
She was my hugest supporter. She was definitely my mentor. For someone with little opportunity, she really maximized what she had. Later in her life, as a stay-at-home mother, she sewed. She was also a great seamstress.
I would sit under her sewing machine and take her scraps and sew. No lessons. I would just get a needle and thread and sew clothes right onto my dolls.
When we moved to the states in 1967, I was in fifth grade. I started sewing my clothes and by middle school, classmates were paying me $15 dollars to embellish their jeans. There was no fashion program at Hillcrest High School in Queens, so they combined art and home economics for me. I was able to produce products as part of my program.
At the end of my senior year, one of my teachers, Mrs. Clara Steiner, was so supportive, he scheduled a fashion show with students as models. I went on to the Fashion Institute of Technology.
What was your first job in fashion?
The first job I had was with London Fog. I was doing rain coats. One of my professors, Marry Ann Ferro, worked there and recommended me. I went to work at 512 Seventh Avenue, the coat building.
The coat building?
Yes, it was the coat building, outerwear, coats and suits.
I was the first employee hired out of college. I was there for two or three years. I was the assistant designer. Two of the coats I worked on made it big in the line. One became a best seller, the Freddie. It is so cool when you are standing on the subway platform and you see the coat you designed. It is really exciting.
My next stop was an independent company that designed and produced ice skater outfits. It was interesting and fun. I met a lot of good people there.
Then I went to College Town, a company that was similar in scale to London Fog. It was a big company out of Baltimore. At around this time, I had my son Christopher, and my division at College Town folded so I started working freelance.
Around this time, I went for my physical. My doctor got very serious and he said, “I want you to go have this test, Its probably nothing at all I concerned about a lump on your ovaries. It’s probably nothing at all, but I am concerned.”
That was the first time I felt mortality, as such; not as a document that says I am going to live a long time, and I can turn in when I am old and it’s time to go. I saw that death can happen at any time. It turned out to be nothing. But it shook me to my core. I had a little baby.
So I went out and bought life insurance. I respected my parents, but I didn’t want to live their lives of always wanting more and having less than I needed. I realized I couldn’t wait.
Is this when you launched Maria Luisa?
I had been writing business plans that went nowhere. But after that appointment, I jumped at it. I saw a little spot when visiting Nyack from Monsey, where I lived at the time.
Where was you first store?
I started downstairs in the mall next to the YMCA in 1987. I started with $2k. I was 30 years old. Everything I sold, I made. I fashioned ribbons into belts, I made silk blouses, lace lingerie. It was half the size of my current back room. I had a friend who I used to ride the bus with. She had beautiful jewelry from France and fabrics that I bought to make my line.
After two moves inside of 37 the mall, I took the leap and opened on the corner of Burd and South Broadway where I stayed for 21 years, until I moved to my current locations at 77 and 75 South Broadway.
What was the business climate like in Nyack in 1987?
I started at the bottom of a business cycle, right after a market crash. I had no major money to lose. I still had a job. At the time, I was freelancing for Putumayo. I was doing all of their technical specifications for India.
Talk the talk
Walk the walk
Bag the bag
Maria Whittingham serves on the boards of Nyack Center, Rockland Country Day School, Arts, Crafts and Antique Dealers Association, the Nyack Marketing Association, and has co-chaired the annual dinner for the Nyack Branch of the NAACP for the last 8 years.
When it comes to social responsibility, Maria not only walks the talk, she also engages her customers, employees and fellow merchants in collaborative action.
Last year, Maria stated the “Say No To The Bag Campaign.”
Here is the pledge she invites us to join:
If you agree with me about the need to reduce our disposable-bag consumption, will you join me to “Say No to the Bag”? By choosing to, as a consumer to bring a bag with you not just when at the food market but when heading out for supplies, take-out food or fashion shopping. Please go to our ‘SAY NO TO THE BAG’ and take the pledge.
-As a merchant, employee or volunteer in a retail setting, I pledge that I will always ask “Did you bring your own bag today?” If the answer is no, I will then ask “Will you need a bag today?”
-As a consumer, I pledge to bring a bag when shopping.
Since I started at the bottom, I have always enjoyed growth. I had growth through a good number of years. Then came 9/11. It was a wake up call.
How did things change?
After that tragedy, I had to become smarter about how I bought, how I did business. When things are good you can afford to do a little of this, and a little of that. Today, there is no margin of error. You are already leaning on the negative. You can’t make mistakes.
In the business climate of the last five years, you have to be constantly on the go, on the move. It’s like being on an obstacle course. Everything is in flux.
I hear that you are participating in trade delegations to other countries.
I went to Peru last year for the first time. A representative of the Peruvian govermnet walked into the store and invited me to join a trade delegation.
There have been two trips to Peru. My work is with communities in Lima and Ayacucho. I will be going back again soon. I have developed a group of bags that were well received that will be in September. They look like pillows, but are interpreted as bags. I use one all of the time.
Tell me about Maria Luisa Global/Local?
ML G/L is something that has been stirring in my mind for a few years. It has always been important for me to maintain a commitment to trade fairness and to the environment.
Through ML G/L we provide merchandise that empowers globally and locally. I purchase items that empower women in a village in Africa, or Latin America, or Asia, or a community here in the United States. If you ask us about an item, we should be able to tell you everything about it. Not just what it’s made from and where it was made, but also about the integrity of the labor and the materials that went into it.
Some of my vendors are not-for-profit companies like Malia Designs, that use the profits from their sales to reduce human trafficking around the world. The products that they make use already existing materials that are made by communities that are getting empowered also by crafting the product. One example is a bag made from recycled cement bags made in Cambodia.
Eventually, when you purchase a product from ML G/L on our website, you will be abe to direct a portion of the proceeds to a local non-profit like Nyack Center or the Martin Luther King Center. Collaborative. ML G/L is a way to give back locally, while supporting communities globally.
For the last two years, you have sponsored the weekly Local Arts Index column on NyackNewsAndViews. How important are the visual arts to your business?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been arranging colors and textures. I remember my older sister was teaching religions instruction and she had this package of religious images that fascinated me. My mother was so ecstatic because she thought I was going to be a nun. But I didn’t see them as religious images, I just saw them as incredible works of art.
Visual arts and aesthetic are critical to everything I do. They are the air I breathe and the substance of who I am.
What is next for Maria Luisa?
We are fine tuning and simplifying. We have an opening coming soon. In late August or early September, when 75 South Broadway is unveiled, it will be an invitation for the community to share their ideas about design and their ideals about commerce. I want to secure a sustainable global importing business that promotes an approach to local philanthropy that is supported by an engaged community.
Maria Luisa Boutique and ML by Maria Luisa are located at 77 and 75 South Broadway in Nyack. You can learn more by visiting marialuisaboutique.com
Each Saturday, Marai Luisa sponsors Local Arts Index on NyackNewsAndViews.