Written by D.F. Karppi Friday, 17 July 2009 00:00
Clarifying the need for the preservation and restoration work, Main Street Association President Ellen Roché said, “In cases where owners are committed to retaining the existing integrity, structure, form, and materials, then there are ample incentives available for historic preservation including tax credits, grants, and easements. If what we are talking about is a tear-down and building a replica of an existing historic building, however, then these incentives disappear.”
There was a meeting held Thursday, July 9, at the Town of Oyster Bay – Department of Planning and Development offices called by P & D Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, who responded to the growing concern over the future of the historic Octagon Hotel.
The Spring 2009 issue of The Freeholder had a picture of the Octagon Hotel on its front cover. In his editorial, Tom Kuehhas, Oyster Bay Historical Society director said, “The building on the corner of Spring and West Main Streets in Oyster Bay, known as the Octagon, has had a fascinating history and has entertained an impressive array of dignitaries. It has faced many threats during its 155 years… and survived them all. However it may be facing its most critical test right now.
“Richard Winsche details the story of the Octagon, right up to the present and it makes fascinating reading!” he added.
The article in The Freeholder is reprinted from the 2008 issue of The Nassau County Historical Society Journal by Mr. Winsche. In an editor’s note, Mr. Kuehhas thanks the journal’s editor, Natalie A. Naylor, Ph.D, “for generously allowing us to reprint this article of great local significance, especially at this critical juncture when the future of the venerable Octagon is unclear.”
Those in attendance included Commissioner Ippolito, Deputy Commissioner Thomas Sabellico; and Louis Baldino, architect and attorney Anthony LaMarca were there as representatives for the owner, Bevola Realty Corp.; as well as participants from the Oyster Bay Preservation Roundtable (OBPR), including Tom Kuehhas and Maureen Monk (Oyster Bay Historical Society); Isaac Kremer, Ellen Roché, and Jack Bernstein (Oyster Bay Main Street Association); Harriet Gerard Clark (Raynham Hall Museum); Kathy Prinz (Save the Jewel By the Bay); and Alexandra Wolfe (Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities). (Member John Specce of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum was unable to attend the meeting.)
“There was meaningful dialogue on how the preservation community, in cooperation with the Town of Oyster Bay, can support the owner in this project as they all work together to preserve as much of the original octagon-shaped building as possible. Everyone left the meeting with responsibilities to fulfill,” said Kathy Prinz of Save the Jewel By the Bay.
It was decided at the meeting to hire Mr. Friedman to prepare specific plans for the restoration of the brick foundation. Mr. Friedman had visited the Octagon Hotel site previously, when he was hired by OBMSA to do an engineering Structural Rehabilitation Feasibility Study, dated March 12, 2009. Mr. Friedman was contacted during the meeting and it was agreed he would examine the Octagon Hotel early next week, and file a final plan report within two weeks thereafter.
When Mr. Friedman initially reported back to the OBMSA on his work funded by the Gerry Charitable Trust, he said while the cupola, wraparound porch, and the landscaping are gone, the decorative cornice and moldings still exist on the structure. He said, the real central core of the building “is true and we want to restore it.” He added, “The original Gothic tracery was covered by vinyl siding; the original clapboard siding is on the west façade; the cornice detail under the roof is still there; on the third floor, one set of the original windows are still there. They are a great tool to use as a profile for restoration. The lath is left attached to the studs; the blue and white door trim is on the side of the door on the first floor and can be used for the paint scheme; on the second and third floors the wall studs show the partitions of the walls.”
Mr. Friedman’s new findings will be the basis for how to proceed with preserving the Octagon Hotel. If the foundation can be saved, the building plans will be revised to incorporate the existing foundation, first and second floors. If the report findings indicate the foundation cannot be saved, the owner will proceed with their intended plans which include demolishing and rebuilding the foundation and first floor, while saving most of the second floor. The architect’s designs are based on the 1910 version of the Octagon Hotel.
The responsibilities of all present at the meeting will be discussed and monitored by Commissioner Ippolito, in order to bring this matter to a prompt conclusion.
Briefly, the Octagon Hotel is of historic significance for several reasons. To begin with, octagon-shaped buildings were a limited design movement during the mid-1800s and Oyster Bay’s Octagon Hotel is the largest one of seven remaining octagon-shaped buildings on Long Island and the only surviving one in Nassau County. (The other octagon-shaped buildings on Long Island are located in: Mattituck, Stony Brook, two in Brentwood, Brookhaven/Patchogue, and Huntington). The Oyster Bay Octagon Hotel also has historic value through its connections to President Theodore Roosevelt, who used it as a staff office building while he was governor of New York. In 1922, General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, was another famous guest of the Octagon Hotel. Later in 1922, the Octagon Hotel was eventually converted into a Ford dealership and continued on into other automotive uses until the present time. Although the building has undergone changes, the Octagon-shaped portion of the building remains. The history of the Octagon Hotel has also been featured in recent publications by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, the Nassau County Historical Society, and the Oyster Bay Historical Society.