The first cultural center in Union City opened to the public last Saturday at 1 p.m. on Fifteenth Street. Named in honor of former Union City Mayor and State Sen. William V Musto, the center will house the Union City Museum of Art, the Union City Police Museum, the Union City Art Gallery & Concert Hall, the Union City Museum of History, and a senior citizen center.
There was some controversy, as Musto went to federal prison on racketeering charges in 1982. Still, he was re-elected mayor on the day he was convicted. (He was forced to step down.)
Several of those present said that Musto did so much good in his 16 years as mayor and 16 years as state senator that he deserved to be honored. Musto served as Union City mayor from 1962 to 1970 and 1974 to 1982, and the New Jersey Senate from 1966 to 1982. He is considered the father of NJ lottery, since he pushed for the lottery and gambling in New Jersey.
“To have a facility like this not only for the artist but the children, really strengthens you” – Benjamin Roman
“He cared more about the community,” said an emotional Frank Guarini, a former New Jersey legislator in the state Senate and House of Representatives. “I learned a lot from Bill. He gave all of himself.”
“This is an historic event where we not only open a cultural center, but a day where we honor [Musto],” said Lucio Fernandez, Union City commissioner of public affairs.
What to expect
The museum has three levels, with the ground floor dedicated to the Senior Citizen Center. The second floor contains the Museum of Art, the Police Museum, and an Art Gallery and Concert Hall. The top level is the location of the Museum of History.
Art curator for Union City Amado Mora said, “The collective of artists in Union City are content, because we have a new place to exhibit out art. In reality we have been waiting five years since the beginning of the mayorship of Brian Stack. At the beginning we were only a few artists. Now we are over 100 and many of them were made aware of this exhibit and are present here today.”
“Aside from an artist I am also an actor and playwright. I have always enjoyed fine arts as a little [kid],” said Fernandez. “The idea of the concert hall is to do an art gallery every month with classical concerts. We aim to enrich the community. A gift store down the line will be opened to help raise funds also for the Museum.”
“I have been drawing since a little kid and painting more in the last two and a half years. I do a lot of portraits for children,” said art exhibitor Benjamin Roman Jr. “To have a facility like this not only for the artists, but for the children, really strengthens you.”
The Police Museum is dedicated to remembering the contributions of the Union City Police Department past and present. According to Police Officer Chris Scardino, the current displays at the museum were built by detectives and officers from the department.
The Union City Museum of History houses displays such as a current memorial to William Musto with many of the awards he received. There’s also a section dedicated to a local theatre troupe has performed The Passion Play of Jesus Christ for many decades. The play was viewed by Pope Pius XI in 1967 In Union City.
William Musto, the grandson of late William V. Musto, was present for the ceremony.
“This is particularly special to me to be here at this building because I spent a large part of my life as a child in this building with my brother in the library,” he said. “The librarians would always notice my name when I check out an item and would go out of their way to say nice things about my grandfather. [My grandfather] lost his mom at 6 and worked in a box factory to put his way through law school. Once he was done with law school he volunteered in the Army during World War II, earning a bronze star for his efforts. His office and home were always open.”
“One of the life changing events of my life was in 1970, when Bill Musto lost, it was a shattering event, because he never lost,” said former Union City Mayor Arthur Weichert. “He was commissioner, and then mayor. My life completely changed from that day forward. One day he said to me, call me Bill, and from that day forward we were friends.”
Musto was convicted of racketeering in 1982, but maintained he was innocent. He allegedly helped mobsters take funds from an expansion project for the high schools.
Musto served three years in prison. He died in 2006 at the age of 88.
Santo Sanabria may be reached at SSanabria@hudsonreporter.com.