A New Life for an Old Building?

Former foghorn site would be a museum about the ocean and its wave riders
A historic building next to the Montauk Lighthouse will one day be the home of the Oceans Institute, a surf museum.

With the blessing of the Montauk Lighthouse Committee, Jimmy Buffett, Bettina Stelle, and Russell Drumm, a senior writer at The Star, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 and create the Oceans Institute in a building on the Lighthouse grounds that was previously used to house a fog siren.

After a conversation on the beach with the other two, Mr. Drumm approached the Lighthouse committee, an arm of the Montauk Historical Society, with the idea in February. The 1897 building in question, with a cupola on its roof, sits between the Lighthouse and the World War II fire control tower and has been used for years as storage. Its original plans are stored at the Lighthouse.

Lighthouse officials were amenable to the project, provided the building is kept in or restored to the original design, in keeping with the Lighthouse’s status as a National Historic Landmark.

Gregory Donohue, a board member of the Lighthouse committee, will be the liaison between the two groups. “It’s absolutely an incredible opportunity,” he said, adding that the Lighthouse committee had been so busy with other plans it hadn’t had time to consider what the building could be used for. “It’s a positive thing to get it back to what it was, and once we do, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

If the money is raised, the building will house exhibits on surfing, its roots and history in Montauk; a virtual aquarium, and science exhibits on how the force of nature drives the ocean waters, geography, geology, weather, and marine life.

The exhibits will change frequently, said Ms. Stelle. “We will not allow it to be static,” she said, adding that a big part of the project is to get schoolchildren involved with environmental programs.

The group, which as of this week also included Joe Gaviola of the Lighthouse committee, is shooting for a Memorial Day opening, with the first exhibit to be created by Montauk School students. The hope is that Oceans Institute will become a popular destination for school field trips.

The Kickstarter campaign, which is listed at the site under Montauk Surf Museum, would fund the first phase of the project, a restoration of the building including two doors and four windows. Stephen Alesch is on board as the architect; John Hummell and Associates will do the work, which would eventually include a skylight in the cupola.

The overall restoration is expected to cost about $200,000. A performance by Mr. Buffett, the well-known singer-songwriter who lives on North Haven, is being talked of and would certainly help with fund-raising; it might be held on the Lighthouse grounds.

In addition to working with local schools, the three directors of Oceans Institute have plans to work with Stony Brook Southampton, the University of Rhode Island, and the Surfing Heritage Foundation.