Endangered
The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has included the now-defunct Dowling College buildings on its 2017 list of Endangered Historic Places.

File photo

Endangered

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
8/17/2017


ISLIP TOWN—Every year since 2010, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) publishes a list of Long Island properties that are considered threatened by various situations, including demolition. This year, Idle Hour in Oakdale, the former home of the now-defunct Dowling College, was among five properties included on SPLIA’s Endangered Historic Places list for 2017. 

Sarah Kautz, preservation director of SPLIA, explained that nominations for the list are presented by the public, and reviewed and ultimately chosen by a committee comprised of experts in the fields of history, architecture and historic preservation. She said that Idle Hour was chosen not only for its significant history, landscaping, architectural details of the main mansion and several other buildings on site, but also for its importance to the community that was developed around it. 

Upon hearing the news, Maryann Almes, president of the Oakdale Historical Society, said, “I’m so very excited,” adding that making the list has provided some hope that the property could be saved.

Ever since the college closed, Almes and society members have been championing for preservation of the vulnerable buildings that once made up the former 19th-century estate of railroad tycoon, William K. Vanderbilt. Dowling College, which was chartered in 1948, shuttered its doors abruptly a few days after graduating the Class of 2016, leaving continuing students, faculty and the surrounding community stunned. The college lost its Middle States Accreditation and was also $54 million in debt.

Kautz met with society members last year to discuss their concerns. In an article that was published in this newspaper (“On a mission to preserve history,” Sept. 22, 2016), she advised the group that the best means to preserve the buildings would be local designation, such as the Islip Town Planned Landmark Preservation Overlay District, which had been used to protect several other historic locations in the town over the years.

Almes said the town has yet to make Idle Hour a PLP, even after pleading to the town board in letters and in person. She noted that the town indicated that they would prefer to discuss that process with the new owner(s) of the property. “I don’t understand why the town wants to wait,” Almes said. “That doesn’t make any sense. It’s better to have those restrictions in place. That would be fair to the new owner and to the community.”

The 25-acre property was sold at auction earlier this year. However, when the top bidder – Princeton Education Center LLC – backed out of the sale, the second highest bidder, NCF Capital LTD, stepped up. According to that company’s attorney, Matthew G. Roseman, the deal is set to close on Aug. 21. Roseman said the purchaser is a “multifaceted” Hong Kong-based company that intends to use the site as an educational facility offering master’s degree programs in business administration. He added that the company would still need to go through the process of applying for Middle States accreditation, though. Regarding the future of the historic structures, he said the intent of the purchaser is to “maintain the integrity of the historic buildings” on campus.

Still, without a PLP in place, Kautz said all of the buildings remain vulnerable, especially the mansion. “If the mansion goes, it would be a blow to the other buildings. The mansion is the beating heart of the estate,” she remarked. And that’s what Almes said she is fearful of as well. 

Islip Town planning commissioner Ron Meyer released the following statement regarding the property: “The Town of Islip is committed to preserving the exterior building facades of the Idle House, engineer’s house, performing arts/theater and recreation center, once a buyer closes on the property.  At this time, the town’s Planning Department has an administrative process that precludes demolition of these structures.” No specific details about the town’s “administrative process” were provided.

“What’s the purpose of the town dragging their feet on this?” Almes said.  “Put the restrictions in place and let everyone adjust.

“We’re trying so hard to [save this property], but our own town is frustrating us,” she added.

The four other properties listed on SPLIA’s list are: Cedarmere, built in 1787, located in Roslyn Harbor, home of American poet and 50-year editor of the New York Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant; York Hall, built in 1930, originally part of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center; Fowler House in East Hampton, a mid-to-late 19th-century building that provides glimpses into the lives of the Montaukett Indians; and Eato House in Setauket, a structure built in the early 20th century that is significant to the history of Native American and African-American residents of Long Island.

For more information about the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, go to the website:
www.splia.org.