Town to Fund Restoration of Brooks-Park Studios

James Brooks and Charolotte Park's Springs studio, now owned by East Hampton Town, is in a state of dire disrepair. David E. Rattray

The East Hampton Town Board approved a management and stewardship plan for properties acquired with the community preservation fund at its meeting last Thursday, a plan that includes an estimated $850,000 for the restoration of studios on Neck Path in Springs that once belonged to the Abstract Expressionist painters James Brooks and Charlotte Park. 

Also in this year’s management and stewardship plan are the demolition of the barn that was built on otherwise vacant property at 555 Montauk Highway in Amagansett as well as the former Star Room nightclub in Wainscott. 

Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, told the board that 379 parcels have been acquired to date, with 9 more in contract, representing 2,194 acres. 

Last year, the town entered into a licensing agreement with a nonprofit organization called Peconic Historic Preservation to manage the Brooks-Park holding, which it had acquired with C.P.F. money in 2012. The purchase was initially for the preservation of open space, with demolition of the buildings planned. Interest subsequently developed in preserving and restoring the house and artists’ studios, and Peconic Historic Preservation has been licensed to use the property for artistic programs, such as exhibitions, readings, and musical, theatrical, and dance performances. 

Robert Strada, a co-founder and executive director of Peconic Historic Preservation, praised the board for allocating money for the Brooks-Park site, which received historical designation in 2014. “It’s a site that is desperately in need of repair and restoration,” Mr. Strada said, explaining the artists’ importance, their friendship with the more well-known artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, and their contribution to New York’s status at midcentury as the center of the art world. 

Charlotte Park's "Untitled (50-49)" from about 1955

Mr. Strada referred to Duck Creek Farm, a Springs property now owned by the town, which had been owned by the painter John Little, a contemporary of Brooks, Park, Pollock, and Krasner, which is operated as a community arts center under Peconic Historic Preservation. The studio at Duck Creek Farm was the first historic restoration project completed with oversight by a town property committee established in 2014 by then-Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who is now the supervisor. “We have these licensing agreements in which we are seeing to it that the community gets the biggest benefit out of the town’s investment in these properties,” Mr. Strada said. 

“Peconic Historic Preservation doesn’t see these as stand-alone C.P.F. projects,” he said. “We see the synergy of it all. . . . I envision all of these — those that benefit from C.P.F. dollars and those that don’t — being part of that greater collaborative spirit.” Those in the business of art “will easily see all of these through their long lens,” he said, “but at some point we’ll have the community see it the same way, that they’re all part of a very important part of East Hampton history.” 

Zach Cohen of the town’s nature preserve committee spoke of multi-use opportunities that he said would arise from the management and stewardship plan. His committee, and the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, have started mapping potential trails connecting town-owned properties, and are “hoping to participate when there’s a final management plan for the property,” he said. 

Also at the meeting, the board heard that demolition was planned for the small building adjacent to the Merrill Lake Sanctuary on Accabonac Harbor at 888 Springs-Fireplace Road, which the town had acquired. In addition, Mr. Wilson asked that the board approve the acquisition of 90 Gerard Drive in Springs, a half-acre parcel that he said contains extensive tidal wetlands that are significant for wetland habitat and flood control. In its assessment, the Planning Department said Gerard Drive was “one of the most environmentally sensitive areas within the town, with nearly all of its vacant parcels “strong candidates for public acquisition.”