A Peek at Moran House Transformation

Dozens of skilled craftsmen are well on their way to converting a falling-down wreck into a showplace
Those eager to see the restoration process of the Thomas Moran house and studio close up can attend a cocktail party benefit for the project next weekend.

Five years ago, when the restoration of the Thomas Moran House began in earnest, no one was willing to predict when it might ever end. The national historic landmark, on East Hampton Main Street opposite Town Pond, was in such bad shape, choked with many decades’ growth of ivy and listing precariously toward the street, that a Sandy-level storm could easily have done it in.

Enter the Thomas Moran Trust. With seed money from East Hampton Town and Village and the National Park Service and support from private and corporate donors and foundations, the trust engaged two prominent historic preservationists, Richard Barons and Robert Hefner, to direct the daunting task of restoration. Under their supervision, dozens of skilled craftsmen are well on their way to converting a falling-down wreck into a showplace that will one day become an educational arts center and gathering place for the East End community. 

Important work is yet to be done, but enormous progress has been made and the end is finally in sight. On Friday, July 29, the Moran Trust will celebrate the remarkable transformation of the Studio, as the structure is known, with a benefit cocktail party that will offer guests access not only to the turreted house, with its two-story-high front room where the renowned painter of “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” worked, but also to several outbuildings with interesting stories of their own.

These include the “bath house,” which was home to one of the little cabana-like buildings used as beach changing-rooms by well-to-do 19th-century families; the “boathouse,” where the Morans kept the gondola they’d brought over from Venice for excursions on Georgica Pond, and a little cottage built on Cape Cod and added to the grounds in 1910, where the artist may have slept when he was older and couldn’t get up to the third floor.

There was also the  “barn,” which had a little-known but equally intriguing purpose. Moran had a small windmill erected on the roof of the barn, which, Mr. Hefner explained last week, pumped water out of nearby Town Pond for the family’s use. When the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society was founded in 1895, Moran, living as he did almost on top of dusty, unpaved Main Street, became an enthusiastic supporter of the society’s successful campaign for a street sprinkler, and his wind-pump was afterward used to fill the village’s brand-new street sprinkler and “lay the dust.”

A number of big East End art world names have mobilized in support of the Moran Trust and the renascence of the Studio, which was the first artist’s atelier built in East Hampton and a hub of the community’s emerging art colony. It is anticipated that the building, when complete, will become “a center for the story of artists,” Mr. Barons said, as well as a setting for concerts, lectures, plays, and the like, all of which were held there when Moran was alive. Rotating art shows will be another attraction.

Exterior painting, particularly of the outbuildings and the shingles on the house, has yet to be done, along with landscaping and work on a back porch and laundry, but most of the work that remains will be inside. Workmen were hustling this week to paint the front porch and the massive front doors — extra-tall and wide to allow Moran’s oversized canvases to get through — before the crowds descend on the 29th. 

Proceeds from the benefit will go to complete the restoration and furnish the Studio in the style to which it was accustomed; the East Hampton Historical Society, of which Mr. Barons is executive director, will advise on the furnishings and lend a number of its own treasures.

The Moran Trust has raised two-thirds of its goal to date and needs another $1.5 million to complete the project, Michael Clifford, a board member, said on Monday. The hope and expectation is to open the landmark to the public in August 2017, said Curtis Schade, chairman of the trust’s board of directors.

Tickets for the 6 to 8 p.m. party, which is co-chaired by Hollis Forbes and Mr. Clifford, start at $250. They are available by calling the office of the trust, 631-324-0100, or online at thomasmorantrust.org.