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Former East Islip school will be demolished to make way for homes

The deteriorating 1909 mansion that later became the private Hewlett School will be torn down for a housing development. The home was once visited by FDR. 

Developer Vincent Calvosa will raze the 15,000-square-foot East

Developer Vincent Calvosa will raze the 15,000-square-foot East Islip mansion that was once an all-girls private school. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

An early 20th-century mansion once deemed a "landmark" by Islip officials will soon be demolished and replaced by a neighborhood of upscale homes.

The Islip Planning Board's approval to demolish the former Hewlett School, a 15,000-square-foot home built in 1909 on Suffolk Lane, has been met with disappointment  from historians and a former student. But an East Islip neighbor is saying good riddance, calling the manse "blight," and bemoaning its deterioration.

"Every time a building like this comes down, we lose a little bit more," said Sarah Kautz of the nonprofit Preservation Long Island. "They are nonrenewable, historical resources. You can't get them back."

The Planning Board approved the demolition 5-1-1   on Aug. 16 — with one abstention — after hearing no opposition during a July 12 public hearing, said Ron Meyer, Islip commissioner of Planning and Development.

The public opposed a 2015 proposal for an assisted-living facility on the property, Meyer said. The Planning Board took no action on that project, which would have kept the mansion intact.

 Developer Vincent Calvosa, president of the Calvosa Organization based in Holbrook, intends to raze the building and replace it with six homes — with prices starting at $1.3 million — on 1-acre lots called Fox Run Estates.

Calvosa is in contract to buy the mansion from owner East Islip LLC. He would not disclose terms. After the property changes hands, it will be demolished shortly after, he said. 

"The building was no longer in the shape it once was. It had fallen into serious disrepair. None of the historical features had been preserved. They have rotted away," Calvosa said. "We feel very confident that the community supported the application and will be delighted to know this hulk will be removed."

Bradish  Johnson Jr., whose family made its fortune from sugar cane refineries in Louisiana and distilleries in New York City, built the mansion in East Islip after a home on the property burned down. He called his estate Woodland and modeled it after his family’s plantation in Louisiana that is depicted on the labels of Southern Comfort liquor bottles.

During World War II, the Johnsons loaned it to the exiled king and queen of Norway and  then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited them there, according to literature provided by the East Islip Historical Society. In 1941, the property was rented out and became a school for girls. In 1946, the property was bought by the Hewlett School, which became coed decades later. The private school closed in 2006.

Officials with the historical society said Islip board members named the property a landmark in June 1976. State officials shortly after deemed the home eligible for placement on state and national historic registries, but no official designations were ever made, Kautz said.

Terry McGovern, 53, of East Islip, who attended Hewlett from fourth grade to sophomore year of high school, said she’s upset town officials didn’t do more to prevent its decline.

“It’s a shame. The town just didn’t seem to keep up its promises.”

The Islip certificate deeming the site a landmark states it is "worthy of notice, respect and ... preservation."

But John Weiss, 58 of East Islip, who lives near the school, said the property has been problematic for more than a decade while it was managed by two different property owners.

“It’s been a blight to the neighborhood,” he said. “I’m ecstatic it is being demolished. … Ever since it stopped being a school, it was a disaster from that point on.”

  • The former Hewlett School was built in 1909 by Bradish  Johnson Jr., whose family made their wealth on sugar-cane refineries and distilleries.
  • The 15,000-square-foot mansion was called Woodland, and modeled after the Johnson's plantation in Louisiana, which is depicted on Southern Comfort liquor bottle labels.
  • The mansion was rented in 1941 and became an all girls school. In 1946, the property was bought by the Hewlett School. It became coed decades later.
  • The private school closed in 2006
  • Islip deemed the property a landmark in 1976, but it was never added to any historical state or national registries.

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