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Arts and Culture

Hotel Syracuse mural uncovered, after almost 40 years in the dark

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Ellen Abbott
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WRVO News

As workers begin the job of demolishing much of the dated interior of the Hotel Syracuse, the historic parts of the hotel are being preserved -- including one piece of artwork that once dominated the lobby of the landmark hotel.

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Credit Onondaga Historical Association
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In 1948, during the centennial celebration of the City of Syracuse, a mural was unveiled. Painted by a Syracuse University art professor, it depicted historic events that have come to define Syracuse and central New York. There are pictures of Native Americans; the salt industry that grew along the shores of Onondaga Lake; The Erie Canal; and the Jerry rescue, a story of a slave rescued from a Syracuse jail before the Civil War.

Hotel owner Ed Riley knew it was there, covered up by mirrored panels that were the design fashion of the early 80s, but he didn’t know what kind of shape it was in until those mirrors were removed.

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Credit Jon Zella / Onondaga Historical Association
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Onondaga Historical Association
The mural in it's current state.

"We were concerned that they may have put the mirrored panels directly on it and similar to some of the other areas that we have painted ceilings and murals … when you take off the paint or the wall covering, it would have taken of the painting. This was not the case. We were lucky on this one,” Riley says.

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Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
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WRVO News
A portion of the Hotel Syracuse mural.

The mural is in good shape, according to Riley. The colors are muted and the only damage is a tan timbre; the result of years of tobacco smoke wafting up from the front desk area.

"It needs a light cleaning,” Riley said. “It’s all painted on wood. The wood panels have a soft joint between them, so we’ll do some maintenance on the soft joints. Clean it up, light it, back light it, and it’ll be our feature right over the check in desk.”

Riley says other artwork is being restored from the hotel and there will be an in-house museum exhibit featuring the history of the hotel (once it’s opened).  A $57 million restoration of the hotel, which has been closed for 12 years, is expected to be finished next year, with a target opening date of March 17.