The Town of Babylon is hoping to create a new park that will highlight and preserve a unique aspect of the town's history.
The town is looking to partner with Suffolk County to buy property in the historic American Venice section of Copiague and turn it into a park and marina open to all county residents.
American Venice was created in the mid-1920s as a summer getaway destination for city residents, designed to replicate Italy’s Venice. A pathway of canals was created leading to the Great South Bay and houses were built in the Italian style of arched doorways and stucco facades. Prospective home buyers were greeted at the administration office by towering columns topped with winged lions meant to replicate Venice's Piazza San Marco, and were taken by gondolas past striped mooring poles and a Venetian-style gazebo to see the homes.
But after the 1929 stock market crash, the developers filed for bankruptcy and the American Venice concept withered. The winged lion columns remain, however, and the town has been seeking to protect and restore them for nearly a decade. The lions and the original administration buildings are now part of RPM Marine on West Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst.
“It is a gateway to the community and the way it is right now is an eyesore,” said town Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez.
RPM Marine owner Terry Pulvidente Sr. could not be reached for comment. In 2010, he told Newsday he did not want to sell his property to the town. That year, back taxes on the property triggered a county evaluation into seizing the land, according to a county spokeswoman, but action was halted over concerns about possible environmental remediation costs.
The 2017 lien on the property was $144,766 and Pulvidente filed for bankruptcy in October of that year. Because of the filing, the county cannot move forward with seizing the property, the county spokeswoman said. The property is currently listed for sale for $1.39 million.
The county is now looking to buy the property under its Drinking Water Protection Program. To acquire open space, the spokeswoman said, the owner must first resolve any environmental issues. The county this month began seeking appraisals and environmental assessments of the property.
The town has agreed to pay for half the acquisition, as well as any other associated costs such as appraisals. The town also agreed to improve and maintain the property.
“I think we have a responsibility to protect our history,” Martinez said.
The town wants to restore the lion columns and administration buildings, using one to showcase the history of the area. They also plan to revive the gazebo and put in Venetian-style lighting, planters and seating throughout the area.
“What this will do is restore an ornate gateway into the community and save a piece of history,” said town historian Mary Cascone. She said American Venice is eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, which opens up grant opportunities.
American Venice resident Michele Insinga noted that the lions are nearing their 100th year.
“There’s not much left in the town that can claim this age,” she said. “It would be something that’s just so unique, not just to this neighborhood but to Long Island in general.”