Former Tesla lab finally purchased after fundraiser nets $1.4 million

05/08/2013 4:30 PM |
COURTSEY PHOTO | The Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham was built in 1901 by renowned architect Stanford White.

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

Seven months after an online fundraiser raised $1.4 million to save the last remaining laboratory of famed inventor Nikola Tesla, the nonprofit group that organized the drive has purchased the property to build a museum and science center.

The sale of the Wardenclyffe property, off Route 25A in Shoreham, marks the end of a nearly 20-year effort by the group, Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, to prevent the property from falling into the hands of owners who would demolish the lab.

“I think we can all say despite the ups and downs it was well worth it because here we are,” said group president Jane Alcorn. “Almost 100 years ago, Tesla lost this property to foreclosure. We have just reached the point where we can say we’ve purchased it in his name.”

Last year, more than 33,000 contributors from 108 countries contributed to the fund, called “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.” The online fundraiser was featured by the creator of the popular webcomic The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman, who encouraged his fans to donate.

Mr. Tesla, a rival of Thomas Edison and a pioneer in the use of alternating current, conducted experiments at the Wardenclyffe laboratory, built in 1901, in hopes of providing free, wireless electricity to the world.

The tower designed to provide the electrical energy was torn down in 1917 and, after Mr. Tesla’s death, the property was later leased to a photography company, which dumped waste on the land. Wardenclyffe was later purchased by an imaging company, which sold the 16-acre property for $850,000 last Thursday, Ms. Alcorn said.

A reimbursement grant from New York State will cover the full cost of the purchase, allowing the remaining funds to go toward clearing the property and beginning construction of the science center and museum, Ms. Alcorn said.

The group announced the purchase at a press conference at the New Yorker Hotel last Thursday, as the audience gave a standing ovation and cheered.

Among the biggest contributors to the cause was Joseph Sikorski, a local filmmaker who plans to produce a film about Tesla’s work called “Fragments from Olympus.”

Mr. Sikorski and his film crew donated $33,333, all the production’s seed money, during the online fundraiser. He is now working on a documentary about the efforts to save Wardenclyffe, called “Tower to the People.”

Mr. Sikorski thanked those gathered at the press conference for their support, praised Mr. Inman for making the comic that raised awareness of fundraiser and jokingly kissed the larger-than-life cardboard cutout of Mr. Tesla on the shoulder.

“It’s a very happy day today, but it’s very important to understand it’s just a beginning,” he said. “Wardenclyffe really needs a lot of restoration, a lot of TLC.”

Over the next few months, the group will clean up the site and preserve Tesla’s existing lab, Ms. Alcorn said, adding that they will need the continued support of Tesla admirers to build the science center.

The group has allowed the Suffolk County Police K-9 unit to train their dogs on the property, which Ms. Alcorn said gives the site much-need security. The group plans to determine which structures, in addition, to the lab can be rehabilitated and which must be torn down.

After the site is cleared, the nonprofit will organize volunteers to help rake the property and mulch flower beds.

Ms. Alcorn expects the full project will cost about $10 million, and she is hopeful that businesses will step forward to donate.

“We have an enormous task ahead of us,” she said.

psquire@timesreview.com

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