6. The Nautical Murals Were Added Later
Encircling the Guastavino rotunda, spread across 2,300 square feet of space, are giant murals by Reginald Marsh. These murals were not part of the original design for the building. When the interior of the Custom House was completed in 1909, the panels where the murals are located now were bare. The murals were commissioned as part of the Treasury Relief Art Project, an offspring of the W.P.A. 1937. It took a team of eight people only three months to complete the pieces. Marsh paid his assistants $1.50 an hour and took only ninety cents an hour for himself. The entire project cost $3,000, surely much less then just one of the paintings is worth today. The murals depict port scenes of various ships arriving and departing. In between these scenes are Marsh’s interpretation of famous early explorers like Henry Hudson and Giovanni da Verrazzano.
In the 1990s, an attempt was made to clean the murals and bring back the vibrancy of their color. Over time, much like other historic interiors around the city, smoke from cigarettes and cigars created layers of grime. However, the process proved to be too expensive and all that was cleaned were two small corners of two of the murals.
Another fun fact, one of the ships featured in the murals, the Lightship Ambrose, can be seen at the South Street Seaport.