Ab Ex Compound Could Become Landmark

Using money from the community preservation fund, East Hampton Town purchased the property for $1.1 million in March
East Hampton Town has proposed historic landmark status for the Springs property where the Abstract Expressionist painters James Brooks and Charlotte Park worked and lived. Morgan McGivern

The former property of James Brooks and Charlotte Park, two Abstract Expressionist painters who moved a cottage from the shore of Fort Pond in Montauk in the 1950s to an 11-acre property on Neck Path in Springs, could be designated as an East Hampton Town historic landmark.

A proposal to that effect will be the subject of a hearing before the town board next Thursday night.

Using money from the community preservation fund, East Hampton Town purchased the property for $1.1 million in March from the estate of Ms. Park, who died three years ago. Her husband died in 1992.

In March, the town envisioned only preserving the woodland and open space, perhaps creating trails at the site to link to others on nearby lands. It planned to demolish a house and two painting studios there.

However, neighbors discovered the site, a tableau of the artists’ lives, somewhat frozen in time. The studios contained canvas and jars and cans of brushes and paints. Files of magazine clippings, books, and nature artifacts were left on tables and shelves, as if the artists had just walked off for the day, providing a glimpse into their lives and creative work.

After asking the town to hold off on bulldozing the buildings, the group formed the Brooks Park Heritage Project and mounted a campaign to preserve the property “for public art purposes.”

A website was created, brooks-park.org. It details the history of the property and the lives of the artists and their work. Designating the property as historic will “celebrate the extraordinary artistic heritage of the Springs,” according to the website, and “raise awareness of two major American artists, both of whom played a foundational role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.” It would also allow the town to use money from the community preservation fund, which comes from a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers, to restore the buildings.

The group has said it would raise money to open the restored buildings and property for public use.

Tax-deductible donations are being accepted by the Brooks Park Heritage Project through Peconic Historic Preservation, a nonprofit entity. The Van Doren Waxter gallery, which recently mounted a show of Mr. Brooks’s work, pledged to donate a portion of the sales from the exhibit to the project.

According to the proposal put forward by the town board, the property qualifies for historic landmark designation because of its “special character, historic and aesthetic interest and value as part of the cultural, economic, and social history of East Hampton.” Along with the main house, it has a small studio first used by Mr. Brooks and later by Ms. Park that was formerly the Wainscott Post Office, and Mr. Brooks’s custom-built midcentury modern art studio.

The hearing next week will begin at 6:30 p.m. Because the board resolution approving the land purchase stated the town’s original intent, to buy it for open space, the board will hold another, after-the-fact, hearing, to change the purpose of the acquisition to historic preservation. That hearing will be held on Aug. 7.