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Demolition reveals ghost sign in Schenectady

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Demolition reveals ghost sign in Schenectady

The demolition of a building on State Street uncovered something hidden in Schenectady for more than
Demolition reveals ghost sign in Schenectady
The Nicholaus Block ghost sign is revealed during the demolition of Olender Furniture store in Schenectady on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

The demolition of a building on State Street uncovered something hidden in Schenectady for more than 100 years.

Jackson Demolition of Schenectady finished tearing down the former Olender Mattress building at 254 State St., which revealed a ghost sign on the Nicholaus building next door.

The partial sign on the exterior of the building reads, “Nicholaus Headquarters, Evans Ales — Schlitz Milwaukee Lager” and “On Land or Sea Une Bis.” Une Bis was an advertisement for the former Uneeda Biscuit.

The sign has been hidden from public view for at least 100 years.

The Nicholaus building was built in 1820, according to Chris Hunter, director of collection and exhibitions at miSci.

The Olender building was actually two buildings. The Carl Company moved to the building on the right in 1906. The building on the left, next to Nicholaus, was occupied by the Empire Furniture Store.

The Carl Company, which had a chain of department stores, was in the building from 1906 to 1916, Hunter said. In 1916 the company moved to its downtown location where Proctors GE Theatre is today. The Carl Company closed there in 1991.

Olender Mattress closed in 2011. The building was blended as one with a green façade. That façade was taken down during the demolition to reveal the two separate buildings.

The Nicholaus building was not damaged during the demolition, according to Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.

“They carefully prepared the site and built an awning over Thai Thai Bistro and we were very careful,” Gillen said. “Jackson Demolition did a great job and they surgically sawed the building off and took it off piece by piece.”

The Nicholaus building is named after Louis Nicholaus, a German immigrant who came to Schenectady around 1870 to work for the Schenectady Locomotive Works, which later became the American Locomotive Company, Hunter said.

“He left for work as a railroad hand, was injured in an accident and returned to Schenectady,” Hunter said in an email. “Around 1895 he opened a tavern and bought the property at State and Erie and opened it as a men’s saloon and restaurant.”

The top part of the ghost sign, which is visible now from State Street, is an advertisement for the former restaurant, said Gloria Kishton, chairwoman of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation.

In 1901, Nicholaus remodeled the building in an old German style, which is why the date on the building reads 1902. The restaurant was family run until 1975, when it closed its doors, Hunter said.

Shortly after it closed, there was a gas leak in the basement that caused an explosion, which partially blew out one of the walls of the building, Hunter said. It was reopened as Maurice Readi-Foods in 1977.

“The sign at the top is the sign for the Nicholaus restaurant,” Kishton said. “The other one is a pretty common sign for Uneeda Biscuits. Those were very popular. They frequently had signs like that on buildings for those biscuits.”

National Biscuit Company’s Uneeda Biscuits were discontinued in 2009. Uneeda Biscuits were sold in packages that featured a little boy in a yellow rain coat and yellow hat. The price for the package in the early 1900s was 5 cents, according to advertisements.

The Nicholaus building is not on the National Register of Historic Places. Kishton said it should be because “it’s certainly worthy.”

Gillen said the ghost sign will again be covered once the Electric City Apartments are built, which are expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Highbridge Development of Schenectady and Prime Companies of Cohoes are building a 144,000-square-foot building there that will include 105 luxury apartments and 9,900 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

In addition to the Olender building, the BiMor Army & Navy building at 232 State St. and a red brick building at 236 State St. that was once occupied by Absolute Pest Control were also demolished.

Kishton said she doesn’t see “any hope” of keeping the ghost sign in the public’s view, but she said there are alternatives to preserving the history.

“They can do what Aperitivo has done and take a photograph and print it and use it as decoration in the new building,” she said. “They can’t really save the sign because they will build right up against it.”

Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, hviccaro@dailygazette.net or @HRViccaro on Twitter.

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