Tesla Lab Gets Historic Nod from Brookhaven Town

Nikola Tesla, left, and Wardenclyffe Laboratory and Tower in Shoreham. The tower has since been demolished, but the lab still stands.

Visionary inventor Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Laboratory in Shoreham has been designated by the Town of Brookhaven as a historic landmark.

The move, which followed a unanimous town board vote at their May 22 meeting, marks another step by the nonprofit group, Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, toward their long-held goal of opening a museum at the site dedicated to the legendary scientist.

“Nicola Tesla’s legacy is rooted so deeply in Brookhaven Town and it is our obligation to help keep it alive,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said in a statement. “I commend all the people who worked so hard to purchase the property and for their determination to bring this dream to fruition.”

Last year, the nonprofit bought the former Superfund site from the Agfa Corporation for $850,000 after the company agreed to lower its asking price from $1.2 million. The 16-acre property off Route 25A had been contaminated for many years by Peerless Photo, a photoproducts company, before Agfa bought it.

The purchase was not even possible until late in the summer of 2012 when Matthew Inman, who runs the Oatmeal blog, sent out a clarion call over the Internet, calling it: “Operation Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum,” and almost $1.37 million poured in. To qualify for a reimbursement grant from the State of New York, the group had to raise $850,000 itself.

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Brookhaven Town also obtained a $400,000 matching grant from New York State, although only about $100,000 may be used for the property’s future improvement due to the constraints of the grant, according to Jane Alcorn, president of the nonprofit group.

“We estimate we will need $10 million for just the Tesla Museum part of the whole center, including remediation of the laboratory building, restoration and renovation of it,” Alcorn said. “It will take many more millions to achieve the larger vision we have for the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, which will have other components.”

The original facility was designed for the Serbian-born Tesla in 1901 by acclaimed American architect Stanford White. Tesla’s intention was to use the site as part of his long-range plan to provide free energy wirelessly to the world but his investors, particularly J.P. Morgan, lost interest and bailed out, leaving the inventor—most famous for discovering alternating current electricity—bankrupt.

After trying to keep the lab going for almost a dozen years, he had to give it up. The 187-feet tall transmission tower, which once could be seen from Connecticut, was torn down and sold for scrap.

The landmark designation comes as the group is preparing to celebrate Nikola Tesla Day on July 10, his birthday, with a ceremony at Wardenclyffe. In the meantime, the group has resumed its clean-up sessions when volunteers—some from around the world—come to the site from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays to work on the grounds. Tesla’s lab, though standing, remains off-limits to the public until it can be safely restored, given its decrepit condition and contamination with mold, asbestos and lead paint.

“We are developing some plans for the rehabilitation of a few of the existing buildings to use as staging areas for the laboratory restoration, for a welcome center, and for an interim program and exhibit area,” said Alcorn.

For more information about the nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, visit teslasciencecenter.org.