Saturday, June 18, 2016

Local Saturday - The Mystery of the Murals

Today, as part of the weekend-long Pathways of History celebration in New York State, I visited a local landmark.

Johnson City, New York historian Janet Ottman (formerly the library director of our own Your Home Library) gave us, and others, a tour of a bank which used to be the house of a local businessman, Charles F Johnson.  (Johnson City was named after his uncle).

Built in 1919, this house was a wedding gift to Charles Johnson and wife, and was occupied by their family until 1964.  It is built in Colonial Revival style. The house is symmetrical.  The porch is rebuilt, and on the right, you will see the handicapped access - which was made to blend into the architecture. 

Unlike many Colonial Revival houses, it has three stories.  The third story has not been restored.  Within, the floors (which I did not photograph) are original.

Ironically, after the death of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson (1959 and 1960), it became the headquarters of a carpenter's union. The Johnson's were famously anti-union.  The bank has occupied the building, which was vacant for years, since 2010.

Because the first floor is occupied by a bank, picture taken is not allowed on the first floor as per Federal law.  But it is permitted on the second floor, and that is where we found the mystery murals. 

They are original to the house.

The Johnson City historian does not know if the sights depicted in the murals are of an actual place, or if they are simply a fantasy.  She puts the era depicted as the late 1700's or early 1800's, given the dress of the people, the fact that the architecture incorporated what were then called Oriental elements, and the hot air balloon just to the left of the main building.
What do you think? 

Here is a view of the staircase from the second to the third floor, with more of the murals visible.

And, another view.

Cleverly, a light switch hides in the mural.

Mrs. Johnson was famous for her flower gardens.  Alas, they are long gone (the people who bought the house after her death did not keep them up) and now, they are turned into a bank parking lot.

But wait!  There's more.

Look at that drive up building in the back where the gardens used to be.  Doesn't the architecture remind you of something?

In honor of the main bank building, the drive up was constructed with Doric columns.

Now, if only I could get those gardens restored.  I wonder if anyone else is thinking about this? Maybe, a project for my retirement years? (I'm not promising.)

Historian Janet Ottman, incidentally, is available to give tours of the building whenever the bank is open.  She welcomes phone calls. Her love of Johnson City shone through every minute of the tour.

I've met several town and village historians over the years, and I've rarely seen happier people on the job.

Do you have any guesses about the subject matter of those murals?


  1. What a generous wedding gift! I think the murals are pure whimsy and are used instead of wallpaper to make a staircase wall more interesting.

  2. Those are so nice! I wonder if the art was part of the gift, done or commissioned by the giver?


Your comments sustain me, as long as they are civil, are on topic, and do not contain profanity, advertising of any kind, links or spam. Any messages not meeting these criteria will immediately be composted, and my flowers will enjoy their contents.