History bites the dust

History bites the dust


The value of historic properties should be on the rise since there are so few of them left. Sadly, that’s becoming the reality in the Town of Islip. As the fate of Idle Hour, the former Vanderbilt estate in Oakdale, hangs in the balance, another valuable historic building could eventually end up on the chopping block: the former Hewlett School building in East Islip. The town needs to get serious about preserving these diminishing icons of our past.

 It hasn’t always been that way, though. In 1976, Islip implemented a unique code providing special designation for historic places as a way of preserving buildings and sites. The Planned Landmark Preservation Overlay District allows for the development of property while maintaining the historic integrity of buildings on-site. It has worked out well for a number of locations, such as the Artist Colony and Bourne Estate, both in Oakdale, Sagtikos Manor in West Bay Shore and the Arnold Estate in West Islip. However, at a planning board meeting last month, the PLP for Idle Hour was inexplicably tabled and was not on the agenda of the most recent planning board meeting. What was on the board’s agenda last week was an item that involved the Hewlett School, a more recent PLP. 

The former private school, which closed more than a decade ago, had been the 1909 neoclassical home of Bradish Johnson Jr. known as Woodland, which was designed by famed architect Isaac Henry Greene Jr. Among its storied past, during WWII the mansion was occupied for a time by the exiled king and queen of Norway.  

According to the organization Preservation Long Island (formerly SPLIA), the property is listed on a database for possible designation on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the local ordinance, PLP, is safer protection, or so it would seem.

The new owner(s) of the property had promised to maintain the historic integrity of the building while developing around it. Since the property was not properly secured and maintained over the years, it has been vandalized and supposedly is no longer “historic” because many of the architectural details of the building are now gone, which sets the stage for demolition by neglect. And that is exactly what the current owner wants to do. Fortunately, the planning board did not acquiesce, holding the owner to the original agreement.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. The former Hollins Estate, also in East Islip, fell into the hands of neglectful owners as well. The question is: why is Islip allowing real estate developers to get away with neglecting property they have promised to maintain? 

The town needs to hold these new property owners accountable for the historic buildings they buy, strictly enforcing their historic codes before these structures are allowed to deteriorate. And they should also begin assigning the PLP code to historic property such as Idle Hour. If not, it’ll just end up another piece of our history, biting the dust.