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North Tonawanda History Museum makes last-ditch effort to avoid foreclosure

Supporters of the North Tonawanda History Museum appealed for contributions from the public Tuesday in hopes of avoiding foreclosure on the museum's mortgage.

A judge signed a foreclosure order last week, saying the property at 54 Webster St. can be auctioned off as soon as the artifacts in the museum's collection are relocated in line with State Education Department policies.

This is a last-ditch effort, because the court will be asked next month to schedule the auction, said Audrey Monkiewicz, one of the museum's volunteers.

The goal of the fund drive is the principal owed on the mortgage: $289,275.

"We've raised about $18,000. It's very upsetting. People who have supported us in the past just haven't stepped forward," Monkiewicz said.

The museum is located in the former G.C. Murphy Co. department store, which the late Donna Zellner Neal, the museum's longtime executive director, purchased on the organization's behalf for $675,000 in March 2009.

The seller, Regent Properties, a California company, holds the mortgage, on which the museum never has made a single payment, according to a previous ruling in the case from State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.

The $289,275 was what was left after Regent paid off its previous mortgage and closing costs.

"The judge was kind of putting things off for a little bit," said Regent's attorney, Alex M. Neurohr. He said he intends to ask Kloch on Aug. 10 to appoint a referee to conduct the auction.

Kloch previously suggested that it would be a good idea for the museum to find a smaller, less-expensive location. Monkiewicz said the museum volunteers haven't been able to find any location they could afford or whose owners were interested in letting the museum move in.

Sites they tried included the former Ascension Catholic Church, a former auto parts store on Manhattan Street and a former National Grid building on Robinson Street.

"I'm just stunned. There are people in the business community who could come up with $300,000, but they won't do it," Monkiewicz said.

She also complained that city officials haven't helped.

"No one on the City Council has donated even $10," Monkiewicz said. "I feel that if it comes to that, since the city hasn't helped us at all, I'm just giving my keys to John (Neal, the former director's son) and he can just drop them on the mayor's desk."

Mayor Arthur G. Pappas did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Its collection, gathered by the former director, includes a large assortment of old city directories and photos, as well as examples of the work of some of North Tonawanda's defunct industries.

Monkiewicz said the museum has 23 Wurlitzer organs and several Wurlitzer pianos and jukeboxes, and a 25-foot boat someone donated that was constructed at the Richardson Boat Co.

"What's going to happen if all this ends up in the street or in the trash?" Monkiewicz asked.

Donations may be sent to the North Tonawanda History Museum at 54 Webster St., North Tonawanda, N.Y. 14120. Donations of $100 or more will be refunded if the drive fails, Monkiewicz said.

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