Historic challenges ahead

Historic challenges ahead

Story By: STAFF WRITER
12/6/2018


On the anniversary of the day the land that would become Islip Town was purchased in 1683, and the day the town’s year-long 335th birthday celebration was kicked off, an important step was taken to save another piece of Islip’s history. The town board voted to designate the former Vanderbilt estate, known as Idle Hour, and later the home of the now defunct Dowling College, as a Planned Landmark Preservation District.

Good work Islip Town! It’s about time.

The road to preservation for this property was rather long and arduous ever since the college closed, leaving that history up for grabs. Kudos goes to the Oakdale Historical Society for their hard work and determination that no doubt played an important role in the outcome. However, that work isn’t over yet. There will be more challenges ahead.

The fact that the property is now a PLP provides protection from demolition in its current state. And that designation has held up well for a number of other PLP properties in the town, such as the Arnold estate in West Islip, Sagtikos Manor in West Bay Shore and the Artists Colony, also in Oakdale. Unfortunately, historic designation didn’t hold up for the Hewlett School in East Islip. The 1909 neoclassical mansion, which was designed by famed local architect Isaac Henry Green Jr., was once part of the estate belonging to wealthy financier Bradish Johnson Jr. It was donated to become a private girls school in 1941. The mansion was included in the Islip Town database of historic properties that was created in 1976 by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, now Preservation Long Island. Still, that building was recently slated for demolition. 

How could that be? 

After the school closed in 2002, the property was sold to a developer with the covenants and restrictions of a PLP. But it seems the new owner didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect the historic integrity of the structure, and so it fell into severe disrepair. That set up a perfect argument for demolition by neglect. Another East Islip property, the old Hollins estate, suffered a similar fate. 

So here’s the thing: just because a property has a PLP doesn’t mean it will always be protected. It will now be up to those who fought for the designation to keep a watchful eye on what is going on at these sites, and for Islip Town to enforce the PLP code by making sure the owners follow through on their promises to protect these historic places. 

Maybe now is the time for Islip to implement a more in-depth historic ordinance.