History is saved
The former Idle Hour Vanderbilt mansion in Oakdale, once the home of the now defunct Dowling College, recently received preservation status from Islip Town.

File photo

History is saved

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
12/6/2018


ISLIP TOWN—Since Dowling College closed its doors in 2016, the fate of the historic Idle Hour property in Oakdale that had once been the college campus remained uncertain. However, last Thursday at an Islip Town change of zone meeting, the Islip Town Board rendered a unanimous decision to rezone the property to a Planned Landmark Preservation District, which protects a number of structures that had once been part of the Vanderbilt estate, including the mansion, power house, the original well and a weeping bush known as the “love tree.”

Mercury International, LLC, the new owner of the property, filed a request earlier this year for the PLP zone change for structures and property located on the southwest corner of Idle Hour Boulevard and Chateau Drive and on the west side of Central Boulevard, approximately 330 feet north of Connetquot Drive. Environmental impact studies were done in the process. The company is a subsidiary of NCF Capital, an educational institution based in Beijing, China.

In an article that appeared in this newspaper (“Dowling’s new owners hold meeting,” Feb. 8, 2018), Thomas Wassel, an attorney for the applicant, said that he expected preservation to be a “long, tedious process,” but added that the new owners were committed to it. He went on the say, “It’s a jewel of the community and we intend to polish that jewel to the benefit of community members.”

The item had been discussed at several Islip Town Planning Board meetings without success, much to the dismay of Oakdale Historical Society members that had been working to save the buildings and other historic landmarks on the property. Since the college had not filed for state or local designation in due time, the property did not have any protection against future development. However, the PLP that is now in place allows the new owner to develop around the property, but must maintain the historic integrity of the structures within.

“I feel relieved,” said OHS president Maryann Almes, who went on to say that the society had sought to preserve the community’s history since it was founded. “Vanderbilt’s Idle Hour mansion is a huge part of that history, and it was imperative that it be protected. With the sale of Dowling College, OHS feared what would become [of the property].

“This protection took a very long time,” said Almes. “We ultimately managed to get it done.”

Although Mercury International has not indicated definitively how the property will be used in the future, Almes, an educator, said she’d like to see another small school on that site. “Possibly a cooking school,” she added.