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Saving LI history, inspired by a neighboring Gold Coast estate

Howard Kroplick with his classic car collection in

Howard Kroplick with his classic car collection in Roslyn. The East Hills resident is North Hempstead town historian, a board member of three historical preservation organizations and author of several books about Long Island history. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

For Howard Kroplick, it’s all about saving history — a passion to preserve that has taken many forms.

Whether in his role as North Hempstead town historian, a board member of three historical preservation organizations, writing books about Long Island history or collecting vintage cars, the East Hills resident is motivated by the need to protect traces of Long Island’s past.

His most rewarding project has been a seven-year effort to save, restore and relocate one of two grand equestrian statues that once graced the grounds of the Clarence Mackay estate in Roslyn. Years ago, one of the 26-foot-high artifacts was moved to the front of Roslyn High School. The second was threatened with destruction in 2009 when a private home built on part of the estate was being sold. Ian Zwerdling, Kroplick’s partner in a Roslyn real estate venture, told him about the sculpture being in danger. They began working to save it.

The massive artwork was restored and moved to Roslyn’s Gerry Pond Park on Main Street in 2013 after Kroplick persuaded the homeowner to donate it to the town, and a committee headed by Kroplick raised $150,000 to cover costs.

During a recent visit to the town park, an ebullient Kroplick ignored a drizzling rain to show plans for the final phase of the project. Landscaping, improved lighting, historical interpretation signs and, possibly, paving stones will be installed this fall with a $71,000 Nassau County grant Kroplick obtained this year for the town. An architect is now working out the details.

“It’s gratifying that we were able to save the statue and put it where the residents could really appreciate it,” Kroplick said.

North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth praised the enthusiasm of Kroplick, who was named town historian in 2012. “His determination to preserve and restore local history has had a very significant effect on our present and future,” she said. “I believe that, if not for Howard’s efforts, the Mackay statue might have been lost forever.”

As town historian and board member of the Roslyn Landmark Society, Kroplick has been aiding the organization’s effort to restore Nassau County’s Roslyn Gristmill. That project has been talked about for years, but a $500,000 New York State grant awarded to the society last December will pay for stabilization of the structure and the initial phase of restoration. Kroplick is also drafting a proposal so North Hempstead can erect historical markers at all 18 town landmarks and historical districts.

His fondness for the town and its history are reflected in his 2014 book, “North Hempstead,” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), with 207 black-and-white photographs.

Robert MacKay, head of the State Historic Preservation Board, which recommends structures for landmark status, said of Kroplick: “He is passionate about local history. He is a great planner and catalyst.” MacKay, no relation to Clarence Mackay, is the former director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, which appointed Kroplick to its board in 2014.

Kroplick, 67, says he has loved history since he was a youngster and his father drove the family to see Gold Coast mansions. “I was raised on Long Island and I was always fascinated by its history, the estates and the people who lived here,” he said. His interest intensified when he moved to East Hills in his 30s. “In my backyard was the Henry Carnegie Phipps Estate, 165 acres in Old Westbury (not to be confused with the better-known Old Westbury Gardens), and I’d go back there exploring and find remnants of the mansion and became totally fascinated with the Phipps family and did major research on the estate.”

Kroplick isn’t paid for his town historian and nonprofit positions. But he has been able to “follow my passions” because he sold his successful medical education firm in 2008. After working in the marketing department of Pfizer for nine years, in 1981 he started The Impact Group, which trained physicians and pharmacists about medical products. Pfizer was a client so he helped launch the little blue pill known as Viagra.

With daughters Deborah Copeland, 35, and Dana Kyle, 32, both living in Manhattan, Kroplick can devote 25 to 35 hours a week to his volunteer positions.

Over the years, Kroplick’s historical bent has expanded. He became an authority on the Long Island Motor Parkway and the Vanderbilt Cup auto races, held from 1904 to 1910, that were sponsored by millionaire William K. Vanderbilt II. He has worked to save the parkway’s remaining bridges and original roadway sections.

Kroplick’s interest in the races was sparked when he heard that Glen Cove Road, near his home, had been part of one of the early courses. “I was totally fascinated by these races that, for the most part, had been forgotten,” he said. “Back then it was the Super Bowl of its day. Over 300,000 people came out, mainly from New York City.”

In 2008, with help from daughter Dana, Kroplick created the website VanderbiltCupRaces.com. The same year he wrote his first book, “Vanderbilt Cup Races of Long Island” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) and later co-wrote, with Al Velocci, “The Long Island Motor Parkway,” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), a 128-page book with black-and-white images.

He and seven other history buffs, enamored of Vanderbilt’s creation of America’s first limited-access highway — which stretched from Queens to Ronkonkoma — formed the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society in 2011.

From his interest in old car races, Kroplick segued into collecting old cars. “My first car was a ’66 Mustang, and I sold it when I got married and I really regretted it,” he said. In 2004, at the urging of his wife, Rosalind, he bought a 1966 Shelby Mustang. “I really enjoyed showing it off and giving the history of the car.”

Then he learned that the 1909 “Black Beast” was for sale. The American Locomotive Company racer won the Vanderbilt Cup in 1909 and 1910 and competed in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Kroplick flew to Belgium to purchase it in 2008. “The tremendous history of that car really got me into loving vintage cars and their history,” he said.

His auto collection also includes a one-of-a-kind 1937 Chrysler Imperial Town Car commissioned by company head Walter P. Chrysler for his wife. When it was auctioned by the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in 2012, Kroplick snapped it up and had the deteriorated relic restored. He also owns the oldest Ford Mustang, a preproduction 1963 Mustang III Concept Show Car; and two Shelby Mustangs, years 2006 and 2007.

“I drive all the cars,” said Kroplick, who won’t say what he paid for them. “I feel guilty if I don’t. Cars are meant to be driven.”

He takes the cars to two or three shows a month around the country, usually driving at sedate speeds. But he added, “I drove the Black Beast about 70 miles an hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with no seat belts and no windshield so you feel like you’re going twice that.”

With his automobile collection growing, he said, “I needed a place for my cars.” So in 2009 he bought a half interest in Zwerdling’s partially occupied warehouse on Lumber Road in Roslyn. Kroplick expanded the existing garage and the partners restored the 1980s building. Now called Waterfront at Roslyn, it’s home to an eclectic group of tenants including a watch repair craftsman, a ballroom dancing school and a rental space for events. It’s decorated with a historical automotive theme employing old signs and gasoline pumps. Visitors can view Kroplick’s classic cars through the garage windows.

When not showing off his wheels, Kroplick keeps up with ongoing historical projects, such as the town’s effort to restore the 18th century Schumacher House in New Hyde Park.

“I love the research to find out how things were,” he said. “And it’s gratifying that once you share the research on something with people, there’s enthusiasm to preserve it.”

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