A ceremonial key to the Second Avenue Firehouse in Bayshore...

A ceremonial key to the Second Avenue Firehouse in Bayshore is presented to Teatro Yerbabruja founder Margarita Espada, left, by Susan Barbash, center, president of the South Shore Restoration Group, on Sunday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

A few short years before the turn of the millennium, Susan Barbash had a vision for the future of Bay Shore. The lifelong resident wanted her hometown to become a home for artists.

With the South Shore Restoration Group, a nonprofit composed of local business owners and residents that she heads, she raised funds to purchase the Second Avenue Firehouse in Bay Shore, the hamlet’s first centralized firehouse, with the intent to restore the building and give it new life as a cultural venue as part of a larger effort to redevelop the downtown area.

And, in the spirit of that intent, South Shore Restoration has gifted the building to the nonprofit arts organization Teatro Yerbabruja, which took residence in 2018 and, as of October, now officially owns the firehouse.

“Now we can focus on really developing the program,” said Margarita Espada, founder and executive-artistic director of Teatro Yerbabruja, highlighting the flexibility and security that comes with owning the building.

Espada founded Teatro Yerbabruja in 2004 to "use the arts as a tool for social change" and create artistic programming for communities of color on Long Island. After a decade of public performances, the group opened its first community center in Central Islip in 2014, where it stayed until a fire inspection deemed part of the building not up to code.

“I decided that, after close to 25 years, it was time to turn [the firehouse] over … I knew it would be in great hands, and [Espada's] mission is the same as what our original mission was,” Barbash said at a celebration of the transferred ownership on Sunday.

Teatro Yerbabruja uses the firehouse for art exhibitions, workshops and performances, and, it hopes, will expand to more buildings in the future, according to Espada, who said the organization is seeking an additional performance space.

“This was the catalyst for moving into a different league,” said Steve Bard, board president of Teatro Yerbabruja, of the group’s move to the firehouse. “Because of being here, we’ve blossomed.”

Suffolk County awarded the nonprofit a $300,000 grant in November, which Espada said will be used to renovate the roof and convert the backyard of the building into a community plaza.

Yvana Clowney, a Stony Brook University student who became involved with Teatro a few months ago, sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day at Sunday’s celebration. She highlighted the importance of Teatro Yerbabruja’s mission on Long Island.

“The need for arts is really important. I always had the privilege to have these opportunities … and I know the children of my community don’t have that, and I love that she [Espada] wants to do that for them,” said Clowney, 33, of Central Islip.

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