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Brookhaven Town declares Tesla site historic

Scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla's last remaining laboratory, known as Wardenclyffe, was designed by architect Stanford White and built in 1901. Photo by Erika Karp

May 29, 2014 | 10:28 AM
Nikola Tesla's last remaining laboratory in Shoreham is now a historic landmark in the Town of Brookhaven, more than 40 years after the designation was first recommended to town officials.

The Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously to designate the nearly 16-acre property, located off Route 25A in Shoreham between Randall Road and Tesla Street, as a historic landmark, following a public hearing on May 22. However, it wasn't the first time it had been considered.

In 1967, a councilman from Shoreham recommended the town declare the property as such, but the application didn't move forward, according to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell.

Russell added that the historic landmark recommendation was one of the first the town has on record.

"I just think that this recognition is long overdue for Nikola Tesla," Russell said in a phone interview Tuesday.

During the public hearing on May 22, Russell said she wholeheartedly endorsed the designation, as the 1901 laboratory, on a site that is also known as the Wardenclyffe property, is the only remaining Tesla laboratory in the world and was designed by famous architect Stanford White.

White was also the architect behind the Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village and the second Madison Square Garden in New York City, located at the time on Madison Avenue and East 26th Street.

Nikola Tesla worked on the Shoreham property in the early 1900s. File photo
Friends of Science East Inc., the not-for-profit that owns and operates the property as The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, brought forth the application to designate the site as a historic landmark in the town. The group purchased the property in May 2013, after an intense online fundraising campaign, from Agfa-Gevaert Group, a digital imaging systems developer based in Belgium. The not-for-profit had been trying to purchase the site for more than 18 years with the hope of creating a museum there in honor of Tesla, who is credited as a pioneer in radio technology and electricity.

In August 2012, the group raised nearly $1.4 million in an online crowdfunding campaign that went viral after they partnered with artist Matthew Inman, who published a comic titled "Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum," on his blog and comics website "The Oatmeal."

During the public hearing, Jane Alcorn, president of The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, said 33,000 people from more than 100 countries donated to the fund.

"Tesla's contributions to our modern world are deserving of acknowledgement and recognition, and designating his laboratory as a historic site is one way of doing that," Alcorn said.

The group's Secretary Neil Baggett, Treasurer Mary Daum and Directors David Madigan and Margaret Foster also spoke in support of the designation at the hearing. The board members said they believe the status would help them when it comes to future state and federal historic designation applications and when applying for grants, as the group does need a lot more money — an estimated $10 million — to create the museum.

The members also say the museum, coupled with a planned walking and biking trail project from the county, would help attract visitors to the eastern end of Brookhaven.

"This 16-acre site will go from a somewhat sad and desolate former factory that was abandoned for some years, to a place that the town can be proud of," Baggett said. "A beautiful place for science and education."

And while the museum may seem like a far-off goal, just a week before the public hearing, Inman was at it again. On the one-year anniversary of when the property was purchased, he published a review of Tesla Motors' new Model S electric car, which utilizes an AC induction motor that Nikola Tesla invented. At the end of his review, he asked Tesla Motors Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk for a favor.

"This is not a demand or an accusation or a plea," Inman wrote. "It's a polite request from a humongous fan. During our initial Tesla Museum fundraiser, you supported the project and donated $2,500. I'm asking you to donate again, but this time donate the full $8 million. I'm asking you to help finish what we started and finally, gracefully, and with unfettered awesomeness, help us build a goddamn Tesla museum."

The next day, Musk responded via Twitter, "@Oatmeal I would be happy to help."

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