Several years after a movement took shape to preserve and restore the house and two studios at the 11-acre Springs property once belonging to the Abstract Expressionist artists James Brooks and Charlotte Park, the East Hampton Town Board voted to authorize the town’s Department of Land Acquisition and Management to seek bids for their demolition.
But a fourth structure on the property — a tiny cottage that once served as a guest house — could be saved and relocated to the grounds of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.
Demolition of the structures was the initial plan when the town acquired the property in 2013 using the community preservation fund. The $1.1 million purchase was to preserve open space, but a group of Springs residents urged that the structures’ condition be assessed with an eye toward creating a community arts center akin to Duck Creek Farm, another Springs property that was previously owned by an artist, the painter John Little, and later acquired by the town. The Arts Center at Duck Creek now hosts exhibitions and performances.
The push to rethink the acquisition’s purpose brought to the town board’s attention the historical importance of Brooks and Park, who were leading members of the Abstract Expressionist movement, their contribution to New York’s emerging status in the mid-20th century as the center of the art world, and their friendship with the celebrated artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, who also lived in Springs. Brooks died in 1992, Park in 2010.
The Neck Path property and its structures were designated local historical landmarks. The board changed the purpose of the acquisition from “open space” to “open space and historic preservation” and created a property management committee to oversee town asset properties that contain structures.
Last year, the town board approved a management and stewardship plan for properties acquired with the community preservation fund, which included an estimated $850,000 expenditure to restore the Brooks-Park property. That move followed a 2017 licensing agreement with Peconic Historic Preservation to manage the property.
But the property management committee’s August report concluded, in part, that “due to deterioration and vandalism, the buildings are now derelict and the cost of restoration is considered to be prohibitive.” The committee recommended that the structures be demolished and the site cleared.
The main house, which was moved via barge from Montauk in 1956, as well as two studios, one a modern two-story structure and one the former Wainscott post office, are to be torn down.
The Stony Brook Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the Pollock-Krasner House, a National Historic Landmark, has offered to take the fourth building — a 120-square-foot cottage. It had been the guest house at the couple’s home at Rocky Point in Montauk, Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House, told the planning board.
The couple had bought the buildings, but leased the land, she said. In 1954, after Hurricane Carol destroyed their home, “they decided rather than rebuild on someone else’s land, they would move their house to Springs to be closer to their friends Jackson and Lee, who used to stay in this cottage when they would visit. It didn’t have plumbing, it didn’t have any heat, it was just a shack,” she said.
If the planning board approves the proposal, the tiny cottage would be placed in an already-cleared area near the front of the Pollock-Krasner House property, but more than 50 feet from the road, said Ms. Harrison. It would be put on a concrete pad with footings. It would not require additional parking, landscaping, or lighting. The structure would be used for storage, and there would be a photographic panel on its exterior that would explain its history. The public, however, would not be allowed inside it. “We’re not changing the building, we’re restoring and preserving it,” she said.
The planning board was amenable to the application. Although the proposal would not require the installation of a low-nitrogen septic system, Kathy Cunningham, the vice chairwoman, recommended it, citing the complex’s close proximity to Accabonac Harbor.
Because the application involves a historical landmark, the State Environmental Quality Review Act requires a detailed review. The board voted to lead that review, and said it would consult with the town’s architectural review board and a historic preservation consultant prior to approving the proposal.
The vote to demolish the other structures, at the town board’s meeting last Thursday, accompanied another to hire an environmental services company to first test for the presence of asbestos in the structures.