Wardenclyffe Site Sale Paves Way for Tesla Science Center

Nikola Tesla's Wardenclyffe lab building in Shoreham in 1904 before the tower was dismantled.
Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab building in Shoreham in 1904 before the tower was dismantled.

The Long Island laboratory of Nikola Tesla—scientist, visionary and inventor—has been bought by Friends of Science East from the Agfa Corporation, which means that the future location of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is a step closer to becoming reality.

“This is a major milestone in our almost two-decade effort to save this historically and scientifically significant site,” said Gene Genova, vice president of Friends of Science East, a nonprofit group. “We are very excited to be able to finally set foot on the grounds where Tesla walked and worked.”

The transaction was announced Thursday at a press conference at the Crystal Ballroom of the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, where Tesla had spent his remaining days after he ran out of money in 1917 and had to abandon his facility in Shoreham—the last place he was fully able to carry out his experiments.

Tesla is credited with developing AC current, robotics, fluorescent lighting, the bladeless turbine, and the Tesla coil. The Croatian-born scientist, who died in 1943, built a tower at the site in 1901 hoping he could provide the world with the wireless transmission of energy for free. The famed architect Stanford White designed the red-brick laboratory, with initial backing from J.P. Morgan. At one point, the 187-foot tower could be seen from New Haven, but it was later torn down and sold for scrap, and the lab was converted into a warehouse.

Agfa bought the 16-acre property from Peerless Photo Products in 1969 and subsequently spent more than $5 million on cleaning it up after it was designated a New York State Superfund site. It was zoned for 2-acre housing.

“As we’ve said many times, while Agfa’s objective was to sell the property, we were always hopeful that we could strike a deal that would enable the Friends of Science East to purchase the property, and the company is delighted that that has been able to happen in this case,” said Chris Santomassimo, a spokesman for Agfa Corporation, headquartered in New Jersey.

“We tried to come up with a price that was fair to both sides in light of the condition of the property and the Friends of Science’s ability to acquire it,” he added. “I like to think we struck a fair bargain for everybody.”

The initial asking price was $1.6 million. The closing took place in the morning of May 2.

“It was nice to see the excitement on the faces of the board members,” said Santomassimo, who declined to say what the final sale price was.

Jane Alcorn, president of Tesla Science Center, has been spearheading the preservation measure for years.
“First we would like to thank all of the contributors to the campaign whose generosity made this day possible,” said Alcorn.

The money came courtesy of an online crowd-funding campaign on indiegogo, dubbed “Operation Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum,” started by Matthew Inman, the popular internet comic who runs “The Oatmeal” blog. In the first 24 hours, it reportedly raised $450,000.

What reportedly put them over the top so they could take advantage of an $850,000 New York State matching grant was a $33,333 donation by co-author/director Joseph Sikorski, an LI-based filmmaker who used all of the seed money from his feature film “Fragments From Olympus: The Vision of Nikola Tesla” to make the contribution, along with support from his co-author Michael Calomino and his production supervisor Victor Elefante.

Tesla was obsessed with the number three, Sikorski said. A documentary they are producing about the past, present and future of Wardenclyffe, called “Tower to the People-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues,” is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

Also singled out at the press conference for their generosity was Greg and Meredith Tally of Denver Best Western, who donated the largest amount; and Dusan Stojanovic, president of True Global Ventures, who provided a matching grant challenge at the end of the campaign.

“Now begin the next important steps in raising the money needed to restore the historic laboratory,” said Mary Daum, treasurer of the Tesla Science Center, who added that they needed “about $10 million to create a science learning center and museum worthy of Tesla and his legacy.”

In 1904, The New York Times reported that Tesla spent as much time in the ground below the tower which was “honeycombed with subterranean passages” as he did on the tower itself or “in the handsome laboratory and workshop erected beside it.”

“In this system that I have invented,” Tesla said at the time, “it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth; otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip… so that the whole of this globe can quiver.”

More information on this historic preservation project is available at www.TeslaScienceCenter.org.