$850K pours into Tesla lab fundraising effort in just 6 days

08/24/2012 10:00 AM |

COURTSEY PHOTO | The Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham was built in 1901 by renowned architect Stanford White.

An online fundraising drive just launched to help a nonprofit group purchase the property around the former Tesla laboratory in Shoreham raised nearly $1 million after just six days.

Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. Courtesy Photo Nikola tesla

Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. Courtesy Photo
Nikola tesla

That figure is good enough to have already passed the group’s goal.

The campaign, called “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum,” was organized in part by Matthew Inman, an artist who runs the popular webcomic “The Oatmeal.”

According to the fundraiser’s website, Mr. Inman hoped to raise $850,000, enough money to trigger a New York State grant that would add enough funds to purchase the roughly 16-acre property — currently listed at $1.6 million — to turn it into a museum dedicated to famed inventor Nikola Tesla.

As of Aug. 23, the campaign has raised more than $980,000 for the nonprofit.

Mr. Tesla, a contemporary rival of Thomas Edison and a pioneer in the use of alternating current, radio, and x-rays, conducted experiments at the Wardenclyffe laboratory, which was built in 1901 in Shoreham.

The property was leased to a photography company years after Mr. Tesla’s death. That company dumped waste on the property. Wardenclyffe was later purchased by an imaging company that is trying to sell the land.

For the past 15 years, the nonprofit group — called Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe — has tried to raise money to purchase and build a museum on the land. Recently, the group heard rumors that a potential buyer for the property had lined up, with possible plans of turning it into a retail center, said Jane Alcorn, the Tesla Science Center group’s president. The group got a huge boost last week, when Mr. Inman started the fundraiser after reading a recent Facebook post from the group.

“It’s more than we could have expected,” Ms. Alcorn said. “This shows how important Tesla is to people all over the globe.”

Ms. Alcorn said she and her husband were watching the fundraiser when it went live last week, and congratulated each other when they saw they got their first $25 donation.

“I looked to my husband and said, ‘Look we got a donation.’ When I turned back to the screen we were at $1,000,” she said. “My husband and I kept looking at each other in disbelief … I intended to go to bed that night but I kept getting up to refresh the page.”

The group will receive a reimbursement grant from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which has said it will immediately have the site declared an historic landmark.

Ms. Alcorn said the science center will be more than a museum, and will include interactive learning stations, an auditorium, a “physics playground” for children, and testing rooms to allow tinkerers to experiment.

“This is one of coolest things I’ve ever been a part of,” said Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, “I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel.”

Ms. Bonner said the fundraiser’s success is a testament to ardent supporters of Tesla who feel the scientist is an unsung scientific hero.

“Tesla is finally getting the recognition he deserves,” Ms. Bonner said.

The fundraiser jumped past its goal thanks to a $33,333 donation from “Fragments from Olympus,” an indie film project about Tesla. The production used all of its seed money to help put the fundraiser over its goal, said the film’s co-writer, Joseph Sikorski.

“We really wanted to be a part of this; we did a sacrifice like Tesla,” Mr. Sikorski said. “Tesla always put the cause before himself.” The film, a dramatization of an FBI investigation into Mr. Tesla’s research after his death, is still planned to be made, with the production team looking for alternate sources of funding, he added.

Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said the group may be eligible for another $500,000 grant to help renovate the former laboratory and clean up the site, which has become overrun with vegetation. The reimbursement grant expires next year, he added.

Mr. Losquadro, who lives half a mile away from the property, said he was glad to see the property get the recognition it deserves.

“This is wonderful for me to see,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

But both advocates and local officials warn there is still much work to be done until the Tesla center becomes a reality.

psquire@timesreview.com