Glen Cove vows to rebuild Morgan park gazebo

Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi sits on one Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi sits on one of the fallen columns from a gazebo in Morgan Memorial Park built in 1932 that was badly damaged in a July 18 thunderstorm. (July 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Richard Wilson lied to his mother about where he was going. More than a quarter-century ago, he took a bus from Hempstead to Glen Cove with his high school crush, then trekked 45 minutes on foot to Morgan Memorial Park. Inside the park's historic gazebo overlooking Long Island Sound, Wilson, then 16, had his first kiss.

Now 42 and a Glen Cove auxiliary police officer, Wilson said he has written poetry in the gazebo for nearly three decades and was married in the park two years ago.

Thursday, he was back -- staring at the gazebo's crumpled remains.

"I didn't sleep last night," said Wilson, who drew the assignment of guarding the park's entrance after thunderstorms ravaged the area Wednesday afternoon. "But I still know there's hope. This park does that for me."

The backdrop of Wilson's first kiss, countless weddings and decades' worth of summer concerts was reduced by the storm to a pile of splintered wood and copper. One fisherman taking cover under the gazebo suffered minor injuries when the structure fell.

Workers removed fallen branches and trees Thursday morning as city officials and local architects took stock of the damage.

Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi said the city would rebuild the iconic structure, in which he has performed numerous weddings.

The gazebo, he said, is "the heart and soul" of Glen Cove.

"I don't want to give in to the storm," said Suozzi, adding there's no timetable or cost yet for reconstruction.

The gazebo has been the centerpiece of Morgan Park since 1932, when financier J.P. Morgan Jr. built the park to honor his late wife. The Morgan Park Summer Music Festival hosted free concerts in the gazebo from 1959 until the mid-1980s, when crowds grew too large for the structure.

Wednesday's storm left its copper canopy largely undamaged, Glen Cove architect Jim O'Grady said.

Harry Morgan, grandson of the park's builder, visited the site Thursday and pledged to work with city officials to help rebuild the gazebo. "It [the park] means a lot to Glen Cove and we'd like to keep it beautiful," Morgan said.

Upon learning of the gazebo's fate, Caroline MacArthur said she heard echoes of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." MacArthur, 49, -- now of Southold but a 1980 graduate of Glen Cove High School -- said she often played guitar at after-school jam sessions in the park.

"When you sat in the middle of the gazebo, with the roof how it was, the music sounded so good," MacArthur said. "We thought we were so cool."

Karl VanAllen, a Glen Cove volunteer firefighter, said he takes his grandchildren to the park, which he has frequented for more than a half-century.

"It used to be that you couldn't even put a towel down on the sand, it was so crowded here," said VanAllen, 73, standing in a parking lot overlooking the park. "That gazebo was the centerpiece."

Wilson, who shot friends' wedding photos in the gazebo, said the park and its gazebo have always minimized his need to travel.

"The water here might not be like the Bahamas, but it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't have to go anywhere as long as I have this place."

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