In writing editorials for the Oyster Bay Enterprise Pilot, we do not actually step out on a limb without a net. In our travels through town we like to ask questions and try to find out what people are thinking. We see the editorial page as expressing community wishes, as well as trying to influence the area in a positive way. Negatives are easy; positives take thought in our opinion.
We are glad the Oyster Bay Historical Society Director Tom Kuehhas asked that the American Legion Hall be saved. At the hearing at Town Hall Water Commissioner John DeBellis, a former American Legion commander asked that the hall be saved. Another Legion member, who didn't want to be named, agrees it is worth saving. Remember, in his small community people are very interrelated and that means sometimes they don't want to make "personal" statements.
A member of an important committee in town said he thought the American Legion Hall should be saved, and offered that it would be fine if it was moved across the street, onto another Island Properties site. He too, preferred not to be named.
Nick LaBella, who is a retired Trinity High schoolteacher and is the caretaker of Youngs Cemetery where TR, and many of his family members are buried, would like to save the building. He reminded residents and the members of the town board, that the campaign to build the hall was aided by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and named for her son Quentin Roosevelt.
"Personally I'd like to see it around," said someone else, who asked not to be quoted.
Interestingly, the Oyster Bay Main Street Association is willing to use the name of Theodore Roosevelt to promote the town but voted not to preserve the building. (Please remember this is an editorial we are signing. Remember too, that we were part of the Oyster Bay Preservation Group and have an allegiance to preserving Oyster Bay.)
Remember too, that when the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce did its New York State Main Street Alliance focus group meeting, it was followed by a questionnaire to residents. They said it was the history of the town they considered its most important feature.
In talking to another town resident, he suggested the Legion Hall might be a TR Presidential Library. That exists already, at Harvard University. The TRA gave them the material. They are very busy taking care of existing sites. They have the TR Birthplace in NYC, the house where he was sworn into office in Buffalo. There is the TR National Park. They are currently restoring Pine Knot, TR's Camp David. They want to open it to the public. They are also working with the Quentin Roosevelt site in France. They are involved in TR's mother's home in Georgia as well as the USS TR, aircraft carrier. Their plate is full!
Still, another local resident said of the building, "It is also well constructed - low maintenance masonary with a slate roof, fireplace and a large free-standing interior open area, which is not that common, and is costly to re-create.
"The trick is the cost. If they leave the American Legion they probably sacrifice at least 4 units at $500K each. That's at least $1M (but remember it's minus the cost of construction, which is probably $100 - $130 per square foot as a ballpark estimate). I don't know how many square feet there are per unit. And then the American Legion, instead of a positive flow, becomes a money sink for whatever repairs are necessary.
"The new plan, though not outrageous, is still very crowded.
"Finding a way to keep the American Legion Hall and incorporate it into a useful plan would probably generate a large amount of goodwill in the community because it just seems like the right thing to do. And it would set precedent for future train of thought.
"Perhaps it can be used for the home of an Asia society branch, or a Hispanic Learning Center, as the demographics change: or a combination of the two with community rentals of the hall available. Encourage community activity and get together where it has been abandoned.
"Destroying a community gathering place is somewhat akin to selling school land and buildings when the population temporarily shifts from young with children to old and empty nesters. The population does change back. It would be better to use empty schools as senior centers when the population merits it rather than sell them. Likewise, I think a community place will again be necessary, and then it will be prohibitive to restore what is lost.
"While I don't want to impose anything bad or obtrusive on the neighbors in the area, I do also question the loss of commercial space. After a certain amount of loss, a town center probably dies permanently, but I admit I don't know how to determine that threshold.
"In any event, Oyster Bay's character won't be destroyed by the loss of one American Legion Hall. Or one Knights of Columbus building. Or one set of Florio buildings and a 1700s Townsend House, or one 1850 building, or an operating boatyard on South Street, or a train station. Or a plot of wooded land overlooking a duck refuge on Mill Pond. Or the open space in front of a car dealership.
"But the cumulative effect begins to add up," he said.
We're speaking up in favor of saving the American Legion Hall. It's not much to do, it's not much to save, but little by little the architectural character of the town is being destroyed. When is enough, enough? When is it time to step up for preservation if not now when there is an opportunity to preserve something of value to the community?
And, guess what. We have hope. In the IP plans, there is a space, a little park with a fountain just about where the American Legion Hall sits. It is our hope that they were hedging their bets. After all, the plans call for building a community association building. They already have one with great cachet. It's something money can't buy. We have hope.