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Sep 17, 2013 11:39 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Artist Studios At Stake In Springs Land Preservation Effort

Sep 17, 2013 12:16 PM

A small group of Springs residents, artists and architects is rallying support for the preservation of two timeworn artist studios and a house once belonging to the late James Brooks and Charlotte Park, who were close friends of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. The structures, which sit on an 11-acre property on Neck Path, are falling apart but look as if the artists simply went away on vacation: Paint cans still line the walls, dripped colors dot the floors, and personal effects like letters and a bottle of Napoleon brandy sit helter-skelter.

However full the buildings still are with corroded art supplies, they are in a bad state of repair and demolition is on the horizon. If the community fails to raise enough funding and support to rehabilitate the studios, East Hampton Town, which now owns the property, will demolish them by year’s end to make way for a new trail and the preservation of open space—a curious situation of preservation vs. preservation.

According to Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, the property was purchased with Community Preservation Fund monies in March for $1.1 million and was meant for open space preservation.

“It turns out to be a great trail connection,” he said about the property, which stretches from Neck Path to Red Dirt Road. It is surrounded by preserved land containing multiple trails, he said. “It would be disappointing to have to knock [the buildings] down, but if the community doesn’t come up with the money, the town is not going to put money into it.”

Springs resident and architect John Mullen found out about the property, which he calls “Brooks Park,” from a family friend and learned of the town’s plans for it. He decided to gather together people who know and care about preserving Springs’s artistic history.

“Why demolish a piece of Springs history?” Mr. Mullen said on Friday. “The studios and the home—I mean, these were very much a part of the abstract movement with Pollock and de Kooning. James Brooks and Charlotte Park were main players.”

According to Pollock-Krasner House director Helen Harrison, Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park, who were married, moved into Mr. Pollock and Ms. Krasner’s apartment on East Eighth Street in Greenwich Village after the latter couple had moved to Springs in 1945. The lesser-known couple bought a house in Montauk in 1949 and moved the building via barge to Neck Path in Springs after it was damaged by a hurricane in 1957.

Their two studios differ in size. The first, a very small building, is said to be the former Amagansett Post Office and sits nearest to the house. The second studio is much larger, with ample space for storage and painting, as well as tons of windows that bring in natural light. Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park are considered first-generation abstract expressionist painters. He died in 1992 at age 85, and she died in 2010 at the age of 92.

Interested in safeguarding Springs history, Loring Bolger, the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee chairwoman, has been advancing the effort by speaking with Town Board members and interested community members about the importance of saving the buildings. She has asked that the town put off the demolition so that the buildings’ significance and the feasibility of saving them can be assessed correctly.

“Although James Brooks and Charlotte Park are not at the level of Pollock or de Kooning in terms of name recognition, they are nonetheless notable post-war artists,” she said on Monday. “Springs is and certainly was a big artistic community and I think we should preserve the heritage there. The town bought the land with the idea of making it open space but was not considering the historic significance of the structures there.”

Ms. Bolger said that the entire property has an “artistic aura” to it. “You can really feel those people living and working there in the 1950s, when all of this was going on,” she said. “This has to be cleaned up so somebody can get in there and assess the structural strength of all those buildings. Right now, the buildings are filled with debris and rodent droppings.”

According to Mr. Wilson, town officials walked the property initially and saw that it was in a “bad state of repair.”

“The roof leaks and so the floor got spongy, which is not particularly safe,” he said about Mr. Brooks’s studio. “Considering the amount of money it would take to put the structure back to being usable and safe, no one wanted to tackle it. If [Mr. Mullen] comes up with a ton of support and money, it’s possible to save the studios.”

Ultimately it is the Town Board’s decision whether to hold off on demolition.

“The town is here to serve the community and if that is what the community desires, there will be a reprieve,” Mr. Wilson said.

Ideally, if the studios are saved, they could eventually be used for artist residency programs, according to Mr. Mullen, Ms. Harrison and Ms. Bolger.

“I would like to see the buildings preserved, not only as a monument to two important 20th-century abstract painters and longtime Springs residents who did much of their major work there, but possibly also as a place where other artists can live and work,” Ms. Harrison said. “A residency program would be a living legacy that would support creativity and enrich the community.”

Ms. Bolger said, however, that plan could only happen years down the line because so much would have to happen, structurally and logistically, before it could come to fruition.

“I’m hoping for a whole artistic renaissance in Springs,” she said. “There are enough people jumping on board and interested in this that over time, very slowly, it could happen.”

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