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Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe wireless station, located in Shoreham, as seen in 1904. Public domain photo

Tragedy recently struck our community.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, a regional and international treasure nestled in the heart of Shoreham, went up in flames last Tuesday, Nov. 21.

While the cause of the fire is unknown, the damages to the historical structure on-site are extensive. This sad news comes as the nonprofit organization was reaching its peak, embarking upon a $20 million redevelopment project that is now set back for some time.

Considerable effort and planning lie ahead to remediate the wreckage. Fortunately, we can all lend a hand in getting the center back on its feet.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, center officials launched Mission Rebuild, a $3 million fundraising campaign to finance the necessary restoration work. This is a separate fundraiser from the $20 million campaign for site redevelopment. We also can empathize with the Tesla Center.

Historic preservation is an arduous, often expensive endeavor. Local not-for-profits and private benefactors invest their time and dollars in preserving historically and architecturally significant structures for our community’s benefit. These places connect us to our shared past, linking one generation of Long Islanders to the next.

If we fail to invest in historic preservation, then we run the risk of losing our sense of place and appreciation for the land. This very rootlessness can give way to unfettered demolition, development, sprawl and other ills that may imperil our collective way of life.

The brick building of revolutionary scientist Nikola Tesla’s laboratory at Wardenclyffe — its roof severely damaged by the fire — was designed by famed architect Stanford White, whose roots lie in Suffolk’s North Shore. This intersection of architectural and scientific history is unrivaled anywhere else, which is another crucial reason for us to intervene.

And what could be a more noble cause than science, that exploration into the depths of the unknown, unraveling the mysteries of the universe and elevating our human understanding?

Along the North Shore, we are blessed with a rich scientific tradition spanning several institutions, such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook University. Tesla’s lab is a part of that complex. Without it, our homegrown scientific community would be diminished.

As lovers of history, science, and community, we can all lend a hand in this effort. This is a call to people everywhere to help restore this vital place in our community and world.

To donate to Mission Rebuild, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/fire-at-tesla-s-lab-immediate-restoration-needed.

Local firefighters extinguish the blaze at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Photo courtesy Tesla Science Center

By Samantha Rutt

A devastating fire broke out at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, causing significant damage to the historic building. Firefighters from 11 departments responded shortly before 5 p.m. to find the laboratory engulfed in flames.

The fire, still under investigation, was reported to have ignited again early Wednesday morning, causing extensive damage to the main building’s roof and interior. While no injuries were reported, losing this important historical site devastated the scientific community.

The Tesla Science Center said in a statement released on Thanksgiving, “We are thankful to the deputy fire coordinators at the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services — and to the fearless teams from the Brookhaven National Laboratory Fire Department [and all other responding departments]. Their relentless efforts to protect our community are a beacon of hope and strength.”

“The cause of the fire is still unknown,” science center representative Mark Grossman said. “It’s still under investigation, though they’ve ruled out arson. There’s no concern about it being a criminal offense — it was likely accidental. But they’re still in the investigation stage.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was the last remaining laboratory of famed inventor Nikola Tesla. One of the most influential figures in the history of electricity, he conducted groundbreaking experiments at the site in the early 1900s.

The bones of the building, constructed in 1901, have been reported to appear intact. However, the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

“It brings a sense of relief to share that the structural integrity of the building dating back to 1901 seems to have withstood the ordeal,” Marc Alessi, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “This resilience is a testament to its original robust construction and durability.”

The site will be evaluated and assessed by the site engineer, historical architect and structural engineer, along with the Suffolk County Police Department, the Brookhaven Town fire marshal and the county’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, for damages in the coming days.

The center was undergoing renovation at the time of the fire. The renovations were intended to restore the building to its original condition and make it more accessible.

“There was a capital project that would be started shortly,” Grossman said. “We’re embarking on a $20 million renovation that would turn it into a true museum open to the public.”

In an interview, Grossman addressed fundraising efforts to raise money to repair what was damaged.

“There’s going to need to be an infusion of some donations to get things back to where they were,” he told TBR News Media. “It’s going to delay the capital project somewhat. I can’t tell you the exact amount of delay.”

The Tesla Science Center is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from the public. In the wake of the fire, the organization has launched a fundraising campaign to help rebuild the laboratory.

The fire has sparked an outpouring of support from the community. Many people have expressed sadness at the science center’s loss and pledged their support for restoration efforts.

Amid the distressing news, Vladimir Božović, consul general for the Republic of Serbia and the consulate general team, pledged to provide “any necessary assistance” to the science center in the coming period.

The consulate’s statement further notes, “Our thoughts are with all those who hold deep respect and admiration for the invaluable work and dedication demonstrated by the Tesla Science Center in preserving the legacy of Nikola Tesla, a great Serbian-American inventor.”

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Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi are the subjects of Joseph Sikorski's newest documentary. Image courtesy of Apple TV

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Award-winning filmmaker Joseph Sikorski’s works include Arbor Day (1990), The Return of the King? (1993), Tower of Babble (2001), and Tower to the People: Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues (2015). The subject of the last—Tower to the People—plays an integral part in his newest documentary, Invisible Threads: From Wireless to War. Co-written with Michael Calomino, Invisible Threads takes an intriguing look at the early days of wireless technology and the conflicts between inventors Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi. Central to the story is a mysterious radio station erected in West Sayville, New York, by the German-based company Telefunken in 1911.

At the outset, local residents had the impression the site was to be a chocolate factory. Changing its name to Atlantic Communications Company, Telefunken built its radio tower with little public knowledge. The Suffolk County News editor Francis Hoag investigated, revealing the organization’s actual purpose. From here, the film follows the rise of wireless communication and the conflicts between Tesla and Marconi. Eventually, World War I becomes central to the narrative.

Marconi focused on developing a method to send Morse code through long-distance wireless communication. In contrast, Tesla had broader aspirations: He wanted to send sound, pictures, power, and electrical lighting by the same means. Thus came the Marconi-Tesla wireless race. 

The Wardenclyffe Laboratory in Shoreham. Photo courtesy of Apple TV

Tesla’s interests lay in the process, and concerned himself less with the applications. Marconi became a brand, with early telegrams being dubbed “Marconigrams.” As wireless technology grew, its impact and uses expanded. In 1912, wireless messages sent from the sinking Titanic saved lives. This alone boosted the value of Marconi’s system. The friction between Marconi and Tesla led to accusations and eventual wrangling over patents and lawsuits that dragged on for years.

But the heart of the story is Telefunken, who shipped the component parts from Germany to Long Island, assembling the tower in near secrecy. The company quickly demonstrated the ability to send a message from Sayville to Germany—four thousand miles—without a relay station in between. Telefunken’s process refinement even surpassed Marconi, leading to the U.S. government expressing concern that a foreign power had this control.

An “instrument of peace, commerce, and goodwill” changed in 1914 with the outbreak of the European war. The fear that Telefunken exploited the station to aid the German war effort proved true. Even with government oversight and surveillance, Telefunken used the system to communicate with Berlin: Telefunken was a major cog in the spy network. 

Conspiracies, subterfuge, and disinformation were all part of the complicated situation that even involved the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania. The tale is rife with saboteurs, cryptography, and Secret Service involvement, swirling with disinformation, assassinations, and labor unrest. All led to America entering World War I and taking over Telefunken. 

The film touches on the growing anti-German propaganda inflaming the American populace, particularly directed towards immigrants. Sikorski states that the majority of German-Americans were pro-American in the rising anti-German atmosphere but were subject to a wide range of persecution.

One of the most fascinating chapters involves the “Nauen Buzz,” a puzzle centered around coded messages accidentally solved by amateur radio enthusiast Charles E. Apgar. Sikorski presents Apgar through actual audio interviews recorded in 1934.

Another intriguing section explores Telsa’s remote-controlled boats outfitted with weapons. After a demonstration, government representatives dismissed its value—losing the earliest example of drone warfare. 

Invisible Threads masterfully mixes interviews with historians, authors, scientists, and other experts (and even a descendant) with hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings. Restored historical images and 3D models for new perspectives were created from existing 2D photos. In addition, Sikorski nimbly weaves archival footage and dramatic recreations. He eschews dialogue with the latter but presents them with voiceovers, ambient sounds, and compelling underscoring. Additionally, the film details architectural challenges and scientific innovations.

Sikorski wisely chose the rich, evocative tones of Tony Todd for the narration. Todd, best known as the titular villain in the Candyman series, conveys a perfect blend of interest, insight, and a hint of menace.

With Invisible Threads: From Wireless to War, Joseph Sikorski presents a detailed, intriguing chapter in the world of communication—“So much creativity, so much destruction.”— and Long Island’s place in that history.

The documentary is now streaming on Apple TV and a special 4K edition with exclusive extras is streaming on Vimeo On Demand.

Pictured left to right: Volunteer Christopher Wesselborg, Executive Director Marc Alessi, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, Chief Operating Officer Douglas Borge. Photo from Sarah Anker

It was a night to remember. 

On Saturday, Aug. 28, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was one of many who attended the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe’s Sound of Science musical event in Shoreham. 

The event, sponsored by the TSCW and the Rites of Spring Music Festival, featured interactive exhibits and activities related to the connection between science and music, a tribute to scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, and electric musical performances from the Rites of Spring Ensemble.

The show included 12 musicians who played innovative music on electric instruments. Unlike other concerts, the show was featured at a unique venue and open-air theater with Tesla’s famous tower base as center stage and his laboratory as a backdrop. 

It began with an interactive surround-sound experience on the octagonal tower base, plus exhibits featuring singing Tesla coils, theremin and the science of sound.  

After, the Rites of Spring Ensemble performed an electric concert featuring new music by Kanasevich, Mazzoli, Clyne, Akiho, Rodriguez, Romitelli and Little. 

 “The Sound of Science was a fantastic event that was enjoyed by all,” Anker said. “Thank you to the many Tesla Science Center board, staff and volunteers that continue to find creative and exciting ways to share the contributions of the world-renowned scientist and inventor, Nikola Tesla, with our community.”

The TSCW is a not-for-profit organization that aims to develop the site of Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory into a global science center that provides innovative learning experiences, supports the advancement of new technologies, and preserves Nikola Tesla’s legacy.

In July, the organization hosted another event to celebrate Tesla’s 165th birthday. 

Earlier this year, they held a “Metal for Tesla” event where people donated previously used metal to raise funds towards rebuilding Tesla’s famed towner on the Shoreham grounds. 

For more information about upcoming events and programs or if you’re interested in volunteering at TSCW call (631)-886-2632 or visit teslasciencecenter.org.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Famed scientist, inventor and entrepreneur Nikola Tesla would have been 165 this year, and the best way to celebrate his life and legacy was to party at his old lab in Shoreham. 

On Saturday, July 10, hundreds of people gathered at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe for the Tesla Birthday Expo and Birthday Night Show.

The events featured a number of educational exhibits including many of the local STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — exhibits, robotic clubs, Tesla coils, Tesla car showcase, amateur radio, battlebots, Maker Space trailer, local artisans and an interactive STEAM bus from New York Institute of Technology. The daytime event was coupled with a lively nighttime celebration featuring the band ArcAttack.

“What an amazing day to celebrate one of this world’s most acclaimed scientist and inventor,” said county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). “Thanks to the many TSCW volunteers, local and international community support, and the many partnerships with government, Nikola Tesla’s legacy will continue to inspire and encourage our future scientists.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. Known as a man before his time, he was deemed a genius while researching alternating current systems. He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He thought he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard from Niagara Falls. 

An inventor with hundreds of patents, he was involved in the invention of the radio, remote control and more.

In 1901 Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. A huge 187-foot tower was designed and constructed for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his heavier equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early ’30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to eventually buy the property in 2013, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

According to Doug Borge, chief operating officer at TSCW, “At our annual Tesla Birthday events, we not only celebrate Nikola Tesla’s contributions, but also his living legacy that we each build upon through science and innovation.”

The mission of Tesla’s last remaining lab is to develop the site into a transformative global science center that embraces his bold spirit of invention, provides innovative learning experiences, fosters the advancement of new technologies and preserves his legacy in the Tesla Museum.

The group imagines a world where people appreciate Tesla’s contributions, are inspired by his scientific audacity and engage in the future betterment of humanity.

“Today is a perfect example of where we are as an organization,” Borge said. “We’re a community hub for people that love science technology, that are associated with Nikola Tesla and to be a resource for people to leverage, learn and become their own version of Tesla.”

In general, technology and interactivity at this year’s Tesla Birthday Expo were more engaging and popular than ever, he added. New and expanded STEAM exhibits allowed attendees to get hands-on with Tesla inventions and technology. 

ArcAttack made their first visit to Wardenclyffe and took things to a whole new level with a performance at the night shows featuring Tesla coils, rock music and lightning-producing electric instruments. Volunteers in the audience were “zapped” in a Faraday cage, including TSCW’s executive director Marc Alessi.

“We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance at this year’s Tesla Birthday events, due to the pandemic,” Borge said. “Fortunately, we had a great turnout at both the daytime Tesla Birthday Expo and night show.”

Borge added that “the expo is interesting because you can see the crowds clustering around specific exhibits and interacting with enthusiasm.”  

Some fan favorites were the 3D scan that showed the interior of Tesla’s laboratory as it looks today, the robotics and maker space area, along with the go-carts and robots zipping around. 

“This is such an exciting event for the community to learn about important advances in technology,” said attorney and advocate Laura Ahearn, of Port Jefferson. “I’m really excited about getting to meet community members that come here, and some of the high school students that have built from scratch robotic devices better than anything … when I was in high school, I wish I would have had the opportunities that these young students have because it’s going to help them in their future.”

Borge said within the next few weeks, demolition of the dilapidated, noncontributing factory building suffocating Tesla’s laboratory will begin. Additionally, they plan to break ground on its visitor center that will allow them to pilot exhibits and engage and educate more visitors at Wardenclyffe. 

“These are important next steps in the development of TSCW and a moment that many of our global supporters have been looking forward to since TSCW’s record-breaking crowdfund in 2012, which raised $1.4 million in six weeks from 33,000 donors in 108 countries,” he said. “These funds, along with a matching grant from New York State and contributions from supporters like the Musk Foundation, enabled us to purchase Wardenclyffe in 2013. Fast forward to 2021, and TSCW is now positioned to start renovations after raising $10.2 million and acquiring the necessary plans and permits. It’s important to note that we still need to raise another $9.8 million to finish developing the site.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also made an appearance.

“It’s just really exciting to encourage interest in science and to recognize the history here on Long Island,” she said. “It has such an important impact in so many ways.”

The center will be hosting more events this summer, including the Sound of Science concert on Aug. 28 in collaboration with another nonprofit, Rites of Spring Festival, that will offer a unique immersive musical experience by electronic musicians and contemporary composers.  

Sept. 23 is TSCW’s Third Annual Gala fundraiser for an evening of virtual entertainment, auctions and tech surprises. 

Later in the year, Wardenclyffe will host a Halloween event on Oct. 30, and their annual holiday lighting on Dec. 3. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

In an ongoing process to keep Nikola Tesla’s legacy alive on Long Island’s North Shore, the first-ever “Metal for Tesla” event was recently held, benefiting both the environment and the nonprofit’s cause.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. A sad, but interesting history, the lab has been working toward becoming a science museum, that celebrates science, along with the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor. 

But the funds aren’t always easy to come by, and it’s taken the support from dozens of sponsors, fundraising, grants and crowdsourcing to get where they are today. 

On Saturday, March 20 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., over 250 people attended the site and more than 16,000 people around the world shared the event to recycle in their areas and donate to the Tesla Center online. The center partnered with Gershow Recycling. 

Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said they have recycled metal on the premise before, and since taking over the site, have recycled up to 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) of metal. That has equated to be about $6,500.

This year, they raised approximately $9,500 in metal, plus the value of four cars, to support the rebuilding of Tesla’s lab into a museum and global science center for all. 

“It’s money that goes toward the mission, which is rehabilitating the lab and opening it to the public,” Alessi said. “But the mission is also spreading Nikola Tesla’s ethos … he was someone that was advocating for sustainability, conservation and the use of renewable energies in the 1890s. And in retrospect, he was right on the money.”

A man before his time

Alessi said that during the height of Tesla’s career, people didn’t know what he was trying to do. Born in what is now Croatia, and of Serbian descent, Nikola Tesla immigrated to the United States in 1884.

“But he was a man of the world,” Alessi said. 

He began working at the Edison Corporation, where he was immediately seen as a genius. Upon his research, he began realizing that alternating current systems — compared to Edison’s direct current systems — would be more beneficial and safer option. 

“With one power plant, you can power many neighborhoods and factories,” Alessi said. “Under Tesla’s use of AC, and the way he put it together, it could power motors …. Direct current, you would need a power plant every two miles. Can you imagine what our environment would be like if they tried to electrify doing that?”

He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He believed he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard with Niagara Falls. 

Tesla and Edison became engrossed in a battle, leaving Tesla to attempt to start his own company with plenty of struggle. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs.

“Even though he had over 200 patents and invented radio, remote control, the speedometer, and the technology behind neon lighting, fluorescent lighting and early forms of X-ray,”  Alessi said, “Tesla didn’t look at other inventors as competition.”

For example, Guglielmo Marconi used 17 of Tesla’s patents to help create his single transmission. 

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early 30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and in 2007 the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to buy the property, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

“They did a crowdfunding on Indiegogo, and at the time, it set a world record,” Alessi said. “They raised 1.4 million in six weeks, from 108 countries and 50 states — 33,000 donors,”

The site

Over the last few years, things have been moving along for the Tesla Science Center site. Through more fundraising and big-name sponsors (like Elon Musk who contributed some money), plans are continuously on the way. 

In September, renovations were completed on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s historic laboratory, originally constructed by architect Stanford White in 1902. This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation — a foundation here on Long Island that focuses on funding to restore historic sites.

Alessi said the project costs about $20 million and so far, $10.2 million has been raised. Permits with the town and DEC are still under review to begin working on the site’s visitor center — a small white house in the front of the property, which had nothing to do with Tesla. He’s hoping for the demo permit and the center to be completed this year. 

“We will continue to raise capital,” he said. “We need at least five-to-10 million to finish the lab building and put exhibits there.”

Part of the process includes rebuilding the significant 187-foot tower that was once on the property.

“It was the tallest structure on Long Island, it went up almost 200-feet into the ground,” Alessi added.

Tesla had envisioned 14 towers around the world, with power plants similar to what the Wardenclyffe lab was. 

“The beauty of it, is this guy wanted to provide free energy to everybody,” he said. “Imagine everybody having free power with 14 power plants. It’s a beautiful story — and that’s what the part of what the tower was supposed to be.”

Bringing the metal back

It all comes full circle, Alessi said, and it’s quite ironic. 

“When Tesla lost control of the property, they demolished his famed tower, sold it for scrap and recycled it,” he said. “So now, we’re asking people to bring metal back to the site, so that we can restore the site, and one day we build the tower, too.”

Alessi said that since taking over the property, the center has always encouraged people to donate recycled metal to the bin on site. This year was the first time a whole event was dedicated to it. 

“This is something we plan to do every year,” Alessi said. “It helps raise funding for the lab, but it also helps celebrate who Tesla was. I think it’s a really great event.”

And people can still continue to donate metal to the cause.

“This is a guy that in the 1890s said, ‘Don’t go down the path of coal … we need to be sustainable,” Alessi said. “We need to conserve, so it makes us feel like we’re making him proud by doing this on his site.”

This article was updated to fix historical inaccuracies. 

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Legislator Sarah Anker and Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. Photo from Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) recently presented the Tesla Science Center with a $6,000 grant, which is awarded to organizations that benefit tourism and/or cultural programming in Suffolk County. The grant was utilized to pay for operational costs related to the restoration of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and the construction of a new visitor’s center. The Tesla Science Center plans to turn Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory in Shoreham into a science museum celebrating science and the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor.

“Thank you to the Tesla Science Center for their devotion to the accessibility and advancement of technology, and to the preservation and restoration of the historic Nikola Tesla’s laboratory,” Anker said. “Our community has benefited from the presence of the center and the wide range of virtual resources available through their Virtual Science Center.”

The Tesla Science Center recently completed renovations on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s laboratory. The center is moving forward in the next phase of renovations and is on track to complete the construction of the visitor’s center by next year. 

“The need for virtual education increased dramatically due to COVID-19, as educators, parents, and students looked for safe, connective e-learning options,” said Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. “In response, Tesla Science Center aggressively expanded its virtual education programming. Thousands of people are benefitting, but we needed support to continue. Thanks to the Suffolk County Omnibus Grant facilitated by Legislator Anker, critically needed virtual education will be available to many more people in our community.”

While the museum and visitor center remain under construction, the center has created a Virtual Science Center that is available on their website. The Virtual Science Center features podcasts, informational videos, and virtual STEM camp programs and activities for all ages. For more information, please visit https://teslasciencecenter.org/

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Tesla volunteers celebrate restored chimney is capped with an iron wellhead, finishing the first official renovation to the Nikola Tesla’s famed Shoreham laboritory. Plans are continuing to create a museum and science center in the space. Photo by Kyle Barr

Last Saturday was a day of firsts, both in the proverbial and the concrete. On a day which showed the first real touch of cool fall weather after an oftentimes blistering summer, so too did the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe put its finishing touches on what’s expected to eventually be a full museum and learning center for the North Shore.

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Sept. 19, the center unveiled its newly reconstructed chimney sitting atop the historic building constructed by the brilliant but notorious architect Stanford White in 1902. The small crowd of volunteers and local supporters cheered as the newly reworked 1,200-pound black-iron crown, also known as a wellhead, was lowered down onto the chimney via crane. The iron crown was originally repaired by a local blacksmith while a team of volunteers worked to give it a fresh sheen.

It was a touching moment for the several volunteers who came to watch the final piece laid on top. Many of those have been with the project since the local nonprofit Friends of Science East bought the property through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in 2013. They have helped clean the grounds, landscape the property and be there for the multiple fundraising events. If you asked the volunteers gathered there, they would tell you the chimney was originally used to vent heat and exhaust from a Westinghouse dynamo that famed scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla used to generate power for his experiments in wireless energy and communications.

As excited as those gathered were, the ceremony came just a little more than a week after Suffolk County police said an unknown person or persons broke into the science center earlier this month and graffitied the inside and smashed windows just underneath the now-reconstructed chimney.

Police said the vandals entered the science center, located at 5 Randall Road, Shoreham, sometime between Sept. 7 and 12. Whoever it was apparently spray-painted “WTF” on one of the walls and another acronym on a toilet. The damage was valued at approximately $3,000.

Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, stands in front of the new renovations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But by the weekend following the vandalism, all windows had been fixed, and there wasn’t one downcast face amongst the spectators.

Marc Alessi, executive director of the science center, said the chimney restoration in total cost around $230,000, and much was covered thanks to a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. Original plans were just to reconstruct the top portion of the chimney, but structural issues quickly became apparent, and they ordered that the entire piece be remade. Work originally started in May, but the ongoing pandemic pushed back construction awhile.

The center tapped Long Island City-based building restoration company Skyline Restoration to perform the task. Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, said each brick was designed to match both the color and size of the original structure. Though the company is hired on other historic projects, this one, he said, is special. 

“It’s exciting bringing back something that’s so old and keeping it to what it was originally was,” he said. “We redid the windows exactly how they originally were — the brickwork, matching the mortar colors, bringing it back to the exact dimensions it originally was.”

Though in doing the reconstruction, Cahill said numerous other significant discoveries were made while doing construction June 5. Inside the building, beneath the chimney is an arched-brick opening in the base, something that connected several tunnels leading off in different directions. Finding those, Cahill said he crawled through in the dark, wondering what he would find. Unfortunately, the path was blocked by some collapsed brick, but that might have covered up another entryway.

Alessi said these tunnels could have had something to do with Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower, which the lab site was originally built for. It was designed to allow electricity to travel wirelessly, but so much is still unknown of how it would work. He added the site’s hired historic architect may make more details on that available in the near future

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

For Jane Alcorn, president of the science center’s board of directors, it was a stunning moment watching the iron cupola lowered down onto the chimney. She was at the head of Friends of Science East when it originally bought the property, and though it has been slow coming to this moment, she said this project was never something they wanted to rush.

“We said we were going to do this right, not fast,” Alcorn said. “This is really the first section of the lab that’s been restored, so we are well on our way.”

The center has raised around $10.2 million for its museum and science center project, about halfway toward its total $20 million goal. It’s enough to get started, Alessi said, and the next stage of the project is to remove the large metal-walled building abutting the historic lab, leaving the building looking like it was originally intended to. After that, it’s on to constructing a welcome center where an old house sits on the southwest end of property and developing its programs. 

The Tesla Science Center’s executive director added they are still in the process of getting demolition permits from the Town of Brookhaven, but hopes that part should be finished around the end of October. 

Ethan Hawke as the visionary Nikola Tesla. Photo from IFC Films

Reviewed By Jeffrey Sanzel

After dropping out of Harvard, writer-director-producer Michael Almereyda got a Hollywood agent based on a spec script about inventor and innovator Nikola Tesla. Tesla now arrives in theaters (and streaming) some three decades later. In the meantime, Almereyda has made over two dozen films, ranging from shorts to feature length to documentaries. He has worked with many of the same actors over the years — in this case reuniting with Ethan Hawke (who starred in Almereyda’s modern-dress Hamlet), Kyle MacLachlan, and Jim Gaffigan.

Kyle MacLachlan plays Thomas Edison, Tesla’s frenemy and rival in the film. Photo from IFC Films

The film is not a complete biopic but instead begins in 1884 when Tesla was unhappily working for Thomas Edison in his workshop. It quickly presents their incompatibility and Tesla’s subsequent embarkation on an independent path. The focus is on the battle between Edison’s direct current and Tesla’s alternate current. (Some of this material was covered in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War, which emphasized the business competition between Edison and George Westinghouse with Benedict Cumberbatch as the former, Michael Shannon as the latter, and Nicholas Hoult in the less prominent role of Tesla.)

The structure of Tesla is eclectic. It is narrated by Anne Morgan, daughter of mogul J.P. Morgan, who later bankrolls Tesla. Dressed in period garb, she talks to the camera, referencing her laptop, and siting Google searches. This sets the tone for what is going to be an unconventional structure. The visual elements are highly stylized, with scenes often played out against enlarged photos, painted backdrops, or stock footage.  Sometimes this is highly effective; other times it has the feel of the cheaply made educational films of the 60’s and 70’s.

There is nothing wrong with this strange, theatrical tactic. Often, the unexpected vision or rough approach bring the explored world into a different focus by not enslaving it to its period. The result can present old concepts in new lights. When this fails, works such as these can still succeed as a triumph of style over substance. Unfortunately, Tesla is no triumph. The scenes that are part of the historical narrative are meandering, with a lot of mumbling scientific jargon that is no doubt well-researched and accurate, but make for very slow going.

Tesla should not be a history report: It should engage on some visceral level. The surrounding structure is uniquely artistic and unpredictable; the content plays as pedestrian. The result is like a pie with an amazing and complex crust but a bland, tasteless filling.

There is a wonderful scene that ends in a small food fight between Edison and Tesla. This, like several other moments, are then corrected as only fantasy. The random appearance of a cellphone is a slyly introduced anachronism. This is where the film delights and surprises. The speculation, the what-if’s, and the flights of fancy engage us for a few moments but then we drift back into soporific stupor. There is great deal espoused about idealism versus capitalism and creation versus commerce. All are important concepts but they are not presented in any dramatic fashion.

When Tesla sets up his laboratory at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, there are enough lightning flashes and electrical storms for half a dozen Frankenstein movies. It is stretches like these that seem to go on with little purpose.

Ethan Hawke makes Tesla a brooding genius, full of tics and OCD. As always, he fully commits to the role and delivers the best he can. But the problem is we never really learn who Tesla is. In many ways, he is a cipher at the center of his own story. Kyle MacLachlan’s Edison is an egotist of epic proportion but allows flashes of doubt to peek through. There are occasional sparks between them and the rivalry between these dysfunctional geniuses offer the strongest sequences. If only there were more.

Eve Hewson’s Anne Morgan is a fully-realized character, the underlying but never spoken love for Tesla a driving factor. She makes the  marveling at his genius and exasperation with his inability to communicate completely natural. Jim Gaffigan is a blowsy and sincere George Westinghouse and loses himself in the character. J.P. Morgan, as played by Donnie Keshawarz, enters late and is a borderline melodrama villain.

Rebecca Dayan as the grand dame of the theatre, Sarah Bernhardt, steers her away from the dangers of caricature, and her fascination with Tesla is intriguing if not fully explored. The rest of the cast are given one note each to play, and they struggle along with the weightier sections of exposition.

There are at least half a dozen electrical references that could be made to cleverly sum-up Tesla — comments about random sparks or broken circuits. But, ultimately, it is much simpler than that: The film just doesn’t work.

Tesla is rated PG-13 for some thematic material and some nudity.

The Shoreham Tesla Science Center’s celebration of famed scientist Nikola Tesla’s 163rd birthday was an indicator of how much perspective matters.

While participants watched demonstrations Saturday afternoon and evening of a number of Tesla-built devices from Tesla coils to the induction motor, behind them the world’s largest Tesla coil, a 40-foot monster of a device, loomed. The coil, designed by electrical engineer Greg Leyh, made its grand debut on Long Island, brought all the way from California by road.

“It’s basically a hobby that’s gotten away from me,” Leyh said. 

The design is actually a one-third scale model of the electrical engineer’s intent to build a 120-foot Tesla coil — two actually. And if set up side by side he said it can test to see how lightning is created in the atmosphere.  

“Being an empiricist, I thought the best way to get to the heart of the problem is to recreate the point inside the lightning storm where the lightning starts,” Leyh said.

As large as the coil was, Leyh admitted it was only a fraction of the size of Tesla’s original tower, which once sat in the middle of the center’s property, behind the current statue of Nikola Tesla. That tower rose 187 feet in the air and was part of the famed inventor’s idea of wireless transmission of power across a wide expanse.

The Tesla Science Center now enters its seventh year since originally purchasing the property, with plans continuing to turn the site into a museum about Tesla and science, as well as a science-based business incubator. 

Marc Alessi, the center’s executive director, said they are still looking to raise many millions of dollars more for the project. Current renovations to the main laboratory, used by Tesla back in the early 1900s, include the rooftop chimney and cupola surrounding it.

The next stage for the location is finalizing site plans, which could take several months, on the visitors center, to be located in the white house in the front of the property, and demolition of other nonhistorical buildings at the location.  

“I’m really excited things are starting to pick up pace,” Alessi said.