With close to 9,500 letters signed from all over the world in support, the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham, home to 20th century inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory, was approved for state historical status June 7.
“From all over the world people responded to us, including individuals, organizations and public officials – it’s really cool,” said Jane Alcorn, president of the board of directors of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. “We’re hoping that since it was a unanimous decision on the part of New York State that they will look upon all of that favorably, as well as [see] we had so many international and national supporters.”
The historic review board at New York State Historic Preservation Office voted unanimously to recommend the property to the state historic register. Jennifer Betsworth, a historic preservation specialist for the state preservation department, said the review board members were enthusiastic to see the application before they even received it.
“They were all excited to see this coming forward,” Betsworth said of the board member’s feelings. “It’s been one of these properties that people have known about for some time, and everyone wanted to see it [have] a positive future.”
The state review board forwarded the application to the federal historical review board under the National Park Service, whose review process should take one to two months. Betsworth said that while the federal review board often looks favorably on New York applications, there is no guarantee it will be accepted.
To prove the case for historic preservation, a historic architect consultant was hired to document the land and its legacy. The Tesla Science Center board members spent a month crafting a 92-page document that went into the specific historic status of the many buildings on the site. But other than the landmark brick building in the center of the property that once was Tesla’s main lab space, many of the other concrete and wood structures on the property were built after Tesla’s time.
“For us we’re still in a marathon – we still have a lot more running to do,” said Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director.“But it was nice to make this milestone.”
Having the property listed on the New York historic register allows the science center to apply for state grants that specifically require historic significance. That is important, Alessi said, because the science center is finalizing its master plan this month, which includes finalizing and designing a planned Tesla museum and science center. Though he did not wish to say which buildings he expects to house the museum, AlessI said construction should be finished and the museum open to the public by the end of next year.
“We want to get open to the public as quickly as possible” he said. “Once we open our first building to the public it will be an ongoing project to expand into other buildings on the property.”
Because of the strong public response, Alessi said the science center hopes to involve its international fanbase through more crowdfunding opportunities down the road.
“We know that [the letters came from] the crowd that helped save this place,” Alessi said. “And we want to make sure they stay engaged.”