Tesla’s Last Stand on Long Island

from the Long Island Press:

The ground is overgrown, the pavement cracked, the windows boarded up and the doors are all locked. It’s one of the most toxic sites in Suffolk County—a blighted brownfield along 25A in Shoreham—yet once held out the promise of something so revolutionary it could have changed the course of civilization. The place is not much to look at today. But it was here in 1901 that Nikola Tesla, one of the most visionary scientists the world has ever known—whose gifts to humankind include AC current, robotics, fluorescent lighting and the bladeless turbine (to name a view)—undertook what was going to be his greatest ambition, and ultimately became his greatest failure: the wireless transmission of electric power to anywhere on Earth. Power he was going to give away, literally. For free.

Here, Tesla’s creation and its secrets rot, neglected, in an abandoned lot behind a barbed-wire fence obscured by weeds, right here on Long Island. Soon, however, they may be gone forever.

“This is his last standing lab in the world,” says Assemb. Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham). “It’s not just a Long Island landmark or even a national landmark. This is a world-wide historic site because this man has contributed so much to the progress of mankind.”

By the end of this month more than a dozen soil samples will be taken from a Superfund site in Shoreham and given to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Once the tests are completed and no further signs of contamination are found, the DEC can finally clear the 16 acres for sale. The former industrial property, where photo products were manufactured from 1939 until 1987, is now zoned for 2-acre housing. The Agfa Corporation’s current asking price is $1.65 million, but it’s negotiable, the company says. What’s not negotiable is that it must be sold. Donating it to a not-for-profit group is out of the question.

For lifelong admirers of Tesla like myself, this is some very sad news. Wardenclyffe was always a sort of mythical electric temple, complete with obelisk. The prospect of using it for “housing” — such a humorless word — is discouraging. The museum idea is certainly better, but I’d prefer to see it turned into a living hacker space.

What do you think?

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  1. It’s a little odd, upon reflection, that preservation of physical artifacts is a priority here. Rather than fruitlessly (pardon the pun) seeking a buyer/investor/patron, maybe someone should seek permission to more fully document the site and preserve it in the permanent, democratic repository that is the “internet”?

    That will cost Agfa nothing, and mean everything to the persistent legacy of this man’s genius.

  2. The man was a genius but was ridiculed numerous times for being a whack! Hell, he was even named a spy by the US government when he tried to create his gift for mankind!!! He should have simply did what he wanted and sold it to private investors. His atmospheric cavity tower (forget what he called it) would have produced him better rates than any power company today, and would still be cheaper for us 😉

    This stint is merely one more kick in the teeth by the US powers that be to a man that deserved so much more than was given.

  3. We should pool our resources and buy this and donate it to the Tesla Society. William Terbo would know what to do with it!

  4. Why is Tesla worshiped as a god, and every wild claim about him believed wholeheartedly? He was involved in a PR war with Edison over the rights to power cities (AC vs DC), and both had rumors and legends invented and passed around to portray them as geniuses and wizards to the public. It’s just like the paid-for popular science writing of today, filled with misrepresentation, and written by people who know nothing about science.

  5. I agree with Lehnanne, while i don’t live anywhere near New York (city or state) I would be willing to donate towards a fund to buy the property, and then do whatever with it — donate it to the Tesla Society or turn it into a hacker space.

  6. The real tragedy of Telsa’s life was the fire that destroyed his Manhattan laboratory in 1895. He lost all of his notes, papers, equipment and custom built apparatus. Thomas Edison (a bitter rival years earlier) was so moved by the disaster that he actually loaned Tesla use of Edison’s lab in Menlo Park until Telsa could get back on his feet.

    You can’t help but wonder what sort of advances in radio, wireless power transmission, etc. we’d have today if Tesla’s lab had survived.

  7. @Hmm: I don’t believe Tesla is a god, but I do believe he had a once-in-a-generation mind. Please don’t let my talk of temples throw you — I mean them symbolically.

    History can make anyone into a mythological figure. The Byzantine emperor Justinian for example, who was a jealous, arrogant and hopelessly paranoid man. He was mythologized even in life. None of that detracts from his work: specifically his legal code which condensed a thousand years of Roman law into a much simpler codex, which was used for another thousand years. So it is with Tesla.

    You can throw out everything else about the man — his quirks, his neuroses and his bizarre behavior. When you look at the work, it is still brilliant. His disc turbine is a model of mechanical efficiency, and his electrical work reveals a creator who understood electromagnetism as intuitively as the rest of us understand gravity.

  8. Perhaps negotiable means just that? Is this a location that would actually be amenable to a joint hackerspace and museum? I was looking a bit and found some information about brownfield funding (http://bit.ly/ct8E4i) and historical preservation funding (http://bit.ly/aK6PHq). Combine those two with some crowdsourced funding and there may be a viable future for the place.

  9. I looked at the real-estate listings, and google maps…

    Is there really anything interesting still there? I have a hard time believing that the historians and etc haven’t long since removed anything that is actually interesting, leaving only a SITE with “historical significance” and rather ordinary-looking industrial buildings of questionable interest and soundness. But not much else. $1.6M is probably a drop in the bucket compared to money needed to clean up the site, repair or replace buildings, and turn it into anything usable in a modern context… And it’s pretty far “out in the boonies” to attract enough hackerspace interest. Would I want to move there? Would Limor?

  10. This is the optimal opportunity for one of the millionaires among us reading this blog to buy himself a place into hacking history: Buying the Tesla grounds and building a hacking space world centre for all of us to use as a 0,0,0,0 in our reference system of hacker being…
    When we meditate on projects, we could all orient ourselves toward a holy city of Teslaburg…
    When we plan our lives ahead, we will include a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of hacking past…

  11. It will be truly a bad day when bulldozers come and take this place down. We really need to save our history. We put so much effort to save “historic buildings” but when we have one of the last standing labs of a great person who was before his time we decide to neglect it? I think we need to do some fund to rectify it. I likes Ms. Fried’s idea and turn it into hacker space. Or at least an interactive center.

  12. If you would like to help preserve Wardenclyffe, go to http://www.teslasciencecenter.org and make a donation.

    (No connection with the group, other than having joined this morning.)

    And I love Lady Ada’s idea of converting the ugly metal-sided Agfa buildings into a living hackerspace. What a great tribute that would be to the man!

  13. It’s funny, I didn’t know anything about it until 5 minutes ago and after reading the article I almost want to cry. But I’m a bit of a packrat too. If I see my wife try to throw out any of my ‘gadgets’ that has been collecting dust for years I tend to throw a fit.

    But I DO think it’d be cool to turn it into a hackerspace.

  14. Thanks for sharing this article and your ideas. As president of Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, I want to let everyone know that our goal is to save the property and especially Tesla’s lab and the remains of the tower base, and to create a science and technology center in the laboratory. The idea is not to have a static "museum," but to have a living, working environment for people, especially young people, to learn about Tesla and about science and technology. We want to see people moved by Tesla, and to take his ideas as an inspiration for their own inventions, investigations and experiments. We think it would be a fitting legacy to have his laboratory used by a new generation of thinkers. Please keep spreading the word about our goals, and contribute if you can. Thanks!

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