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Islip Town seeks historic designation to restore 1903 Brookwood Hall

The exterior of Brookwood Hall in East Islip

The exterior of Brookwood Hall in East Islip is pictured Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

East Islip's aging Brookwood Hall is long overdue for historical recognition and restoration to its former glory, Islip Town officials said in announcing plans to seek national designation for the 41-room mansion.

The house was built on Irish Lane in 1903 for the wealthy Knapp family, and sold in 1929 to financier Francis B. Thorne, according to the East Islip Historical Society. Brookwood Hall was designed by renowned New York architectural firm Delano & Aldrich, which also rendered homes for the Vanderbilt and Whitney families.

Islip Town bought the building in 1967 and, despite sagging stairs and dilapidated porches, Brookwood Hall houses several arts organizations and the town's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

Councilman Steve Flotteron says the town will apply to the federal government to include Brookwood Hall on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that will help with obtaining grants for restoration.

"This is one of the town's jewels," Supervisor Tom Croci said.

The goal is "restoring this treasure that has been neglected over the years," Flotteron said. He cited the building's intact molding and graceful door arches as prime examples of European-inspired classic architecture.

Frank Szemko, 79, one of the East Islip Historical Society volunteers who helps to maintain the mansion, said he'd spent several years living there, when the Brooklyn Orphan Asylum relocated to the building.

He lived at the home from 1946 until 1951 when his father remarried, and he and his sister left the orphanage.

Szemko, who lives in the same neighborhood, called Brookwood Hall "a great place to grow up in" and recalled doing chores to maintain the mansion and enjoying the estate's expansive grounds.

"We kids used to keep the place nice," he said.

Flotteron said the plan to restore the mansion will involve not only applying for national historic designation, but also soliciting community involvement and using town resources to apply for grants, undertake fundraising, and seek donations to avoid using taxpayer money.

The town has allocated about $250,000 in the current budget to start the restoration process. Flotteron said the total restoration costs are unknown.

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