The Brooks Park property on Neck Path in Springs is well on its way to becoming East Hampton Town’s next cultural attraction.
At a Town Board meeting last Thursday night, August 7, the parcel, which the town bought with Community Preservation Fund money in 2013 as preserved open space, was redesignated as a CPF purchase for historical preservation.
This was the second step the Town Board needed to take to save mid-century buildings and artist studios that belonged to abstract expressionists James Brooks and Charlotte Park. Last month, board members agreed to deem the site and its buildings historic in order to legally be able to save them with CPF money. Last week’s resolution completed that action.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Town Board gets a gold star,” said John Mullen, a member of the Brooks Park Heritage Project, a group of people working to save the property. Mr. Mullen was the man who started the effort. “They were open to its consideration … and pleased to find out the site they bought for open space was at a very reasonable price compared to other historic sites. They really stole this one.”
Now the town plans to meet with the Brooks Park Heritage Project to determine what needs to be salvaged and what can be let go. Once that is decided, the town will likely hire an engineer to come up with a plan.
According to Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, physical changes won’t happen until 2015.
The 11-acre property was purchased for $1.1 million, and the structures had been set for demolition. It wasn’t until later, after Mr. Mullen and several Springs residents, including the Pollock-Krasner House’s director, Helen Harrison, helped pull together historical information, that the town realized the buildings’ significance.
Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park, who were good friends with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, originally lived in a house at Rocky Point in Montauk, which they moved, along with a guest cottage, by barge to Neck Path in Springs after a hurricane in 1957. That house, which has become somewhat run down from neglect in recent years, remains on the property but had been added on to.
There are three art studios that the town is especially interested in. The first is small, and said to have been the original Wainscott Post Office, which Mr. Brooks used as a studio, and the second is the guest cottage from Montauk, in which Ms. Park painted. A third, Mr. Brooks’s latest studio, was built in the 1960s using Transite panels and aluminum siding, and still has old paint splatters on its floor, and canvases stored in a large closet.
Ms. Overby said she is hopeful about preserving the buildings on the property and that she thinks planning stage will start this year.
“I think we have to get together with the group that has formed to lay out some things that are worth keeping,” she said on Monday. “We need an engineering report first to see which things are necessary to keep.”
Ms. Overby said the board would have to put out a request for proposals for engineering work.
According to Zachary Cohen, the chairman of the town’s Nature Preserve Committee, it would be a good idea to remediate mold in the buildings before sending workers in to deal with repairs and deconstruction, but that depends on what they plan to do and whether there is money in the budget for it.
Mr. Mullen expects to continue collecting private donations for the property, which will need funding for its maintenance, operation and programming. CPF money can only go toward capital improvements and not so much toward menial maintenance, upkeep or operations, according to Mr. Cohen.
The heritage project is accepting donations through Peconic Historic Preservation on www.preservepeconic.com.
If it succeeds, the Brooks Park property could mean big things, according to Ms. Overby.
“On a lot of different levels, it highlights artists in East Hampton and the importance of Springs to the community, and this could be a tourist destination,” she said. “When you cobble together all these significant artists from that time period in Springs, I think it lends to a cachet not only needed for East Hampton but Springs, which is a very vibrant and wonderful community.”