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May 27, 2014 10:49 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town To Consider Preserving Artists' Studios In Springs

May 27, 2014 2:07 PM

A Springs property containing the former home and studios of notable artists James Brooks and Charlotte Park, which East Hampton Town officials bought for a little more than $1 million using Community Preservation Fund money, may have more value than the officials had bet on when they purchased it in 2013.

According to a small group of neighboring residents and artists, the 11-acre Brooks-Park parcel on Neck Path is a historic gem in the art world, and they’ve been pushing for its restoration.

The handful of preservationists have dubbed their effort the Brooks-Park Heritage Project, and they are aiming to save the home and art studios. They have been working to convince the town of the property’s value, and to raise private funds to help with the cost of restoring the artist studios and house there.

Some town officials seem agreeable, but in order for the town to use its CPF money to restore and maintain the buildings, the site must be deemed officially “historic” by the Town Board—and, to that end, the board plans to hold a public hearing on doing just that in the next few weeks.

“The fact that we are presenting this to the town shortly, we are encouraged,” architect and Springs resident John Mullen said this week. “To our eyes, it’s obviously a worthwhile project that will come to pass.”

Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park, who were married, were both well-known artists who were a part of the abstract expressionism movement that thrived in Springs during the mid-20th century. They were good friends with famed artist Jackson Pollock and his artist wife, Lee Krasner.

The couple moved into Mr. Pollock’s and Ms. Krasner’s apartment on East Eighth Street in Greenwich Village after the latter couple had moved to Springs in 1945. Then, Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park bought a house at Rocky Point in Montauk in 1949 and moved the building via barge to Neck Path in Springs after it was damaged by a hurricane in 1957.

At their new home in Springs, they had three art studios. The first was a small building, said to have been the original Wainscott Post Office, which Mr. Brooks used, and the second was their former guest cottage from Montauk that Ms. Park painted in.

In the 1960s, they added a modern studio to the back of their property, which was built with Transite panels and aluminum siding. Ms. Park used the former post office as her studio once the modern studio was built.

The newest and biggest studio still holds remnants of Mr. Brooks’s work—old paint cans, canvas, splatters of paint on the cement floor.

The group of concerned citizens, who are in the process of forming a not-for-profit corporation to take care of and manage the buildings, have already purchased steel beams to help support the building, since its wood columns have rotted out, according to Mr. Mullen.

He said he and his wife, Anne, would match donations, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000, which could amass up to a total of $200,000 for the future operation of the Brooks-Park Heritage Project.

Town Councilwoman and CPF liaison Sylvia Overby said the town will need to make a decision on what is salvageable, but the hope is to keep as much as possible.

“Certainly, it’s in everyone’s heart to keep it to the original look of how they lived,” she said. “I think the synergy with that property and Pollock, Krasner, [Willem] de Kooning and other artists in the area is pretty significant. It’s certainly something that would be a destination for people.”

If the town decides to deem the property historic, the plan would be to use it as a community center for the arts, as well as a location for nature walks and talks, according to the Heritage Project’s proposal.

Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, said she would like to use the Brooks studio one day to host the museum’s annual lecture series.

Ms. Harrison said the project is most special to her because she actually knew Mr. Brooks and Ms. Park when they were alive. “They were wonderful people, and I really had a soft spot for them,” she said. “When I found out that John Mullen was told the town purchased the property, and they were going to turn it into a nature preserve and possibly demolish the buildings, I stepped in.”

The Brooks-Park parcel isn’t the only Springs property that is receiving extra attention: the John Little house and studio and Duck Creek Farm Property may also undergo restoration to be used by the community as well.

Mr. Mullen said such projects in Springs will add to its rich history: “This property, in conjunction with other potential sites of very important players in the evolution of abstract expressionism in the Springs community, will play a significant role in expanding the awareness of the importance of East Hampton in the evolution of American art.”

More information is available at www.brooks-park.org or www.preservepeconic.org.

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