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Group wants Dowling College’s Vanderbilt mansion preserved

The Oakdale Historical Society has submitted a petition

The Oakdale Historical Society has submitted a petition with more than 2,200 signatures urging the Islip Town Board to preserve the Vanderbilt mansion on the Oakdale campus of the shuttered Dowling College. The mansion is pictured on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Oakdale Historical Society has submitted a petition with more than 2,200 signatures to Islip Town Board members urging them to preserve a historic mansion on the now-closed Dowling College campus.

The William K. Vanderbilt mansion, designed by the renowned American architect Richard Morris Hunt, “has provided significant historic, cultural, and aesthetic value to the Oakdale Idle Hour neighborhood, and surrounding property values may well be affected by the fate of the mansion,” the petition reads.

Vanderbilt built the mansion in the 1870s as part of a grand estate of more than 800 acres. He was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune building railroads. To William Vanderbilt, the setting of his South Shore estate was a paradise for fishing and hunting.

Steve Birkeland, 67, a photographer and member of the historical society, said the group has held meetings in the past several months over the fate of the “beautiful” structure.

The society’s members hope to gain support from local elected officials to help obtain historical designation to prevent any major facade changes that would alter its character.

A private liberal arts college, Dowling had $54 million in long-term debt and ran out of money. It laid off about 450 faculty members earlier this year and closed in August after it lost accreditation. The school filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

March 27 is the deadline for bids to buy the Oakdale campus, which sits on 25 acres. The date was set earlier this month by a judge overseeing the college’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An auction is set for March 31.

Melville-based A&G Realty Partners, a commercial real estate consulting firm, and Madison Hawk Partners of Manhattan have been retained to sell the college’s two campuses in Oakdale and Shirley.

“There has been no mention of any plans to preserve this unique and historically significant building,” the petition reads. “We ask the Town of Islip to take action in securing its future.”

Islip Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith in a statement said, “Recognizing the demands on diminishing public funding, the Town would welcome state or federal efforts to preserve this structure.”

Birkeland said the historical society “will have a presence at each one” of the coming town board meetings in the new year to press the members for help.

“We’re going to ask them, ‘What have you done? What are you considering? Who stands where on all our issues?’ ” Birkeland said. “We may have support, we may not have support. But this is too important to just leave in the hands of whoever buys it.”


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