Shutt House can be torn down, Islip says, as plans afoot for digital replica of historic building

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The Brentwood Historical Society is working on a digital replica of a historic Brentwood home, even as the Town of Islip has given its owner permission to demolish the decaying mid-19th century structure to build an office on the site. 

The Town of Islip in March granted owner Miguel Garzon authorization to demolish the existing building, despite opposition from local historians who still hope to find a last minute savior to buy or relocate the building.

Just because permission for demolition has been granted, said Tara Cubie of Preservation Long Island, doesn’t mean it has to be used.

An attorney representing the property owner has not released a date for demolition, or responded to requests for comment. 

The Islip Town Board authorized the demolition after reviewing a professional engineering report submitted by the applicant that detailed the costs of renovating the building, leading the town to determine that “salvaging the house was technically infeasible,” town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said Monday.

Attorney Eugene De Nicola, who is representing the building’s owner, said at an Islip Town meeting in December that an engineering inspection determined that restoration would cost more than $1.7 million and it’s “not a feasible alternative.” He disputed the structure’s historic value and said the building has been vacant since around 2002.

A public notice outside the Shutt House on Dec. 19. Credit: Barry Sloan

The property owner wants to demolish the structure to build a two-story office building at the site, Newsday has reported. The town planning board in September granted the application, according to the town resolution authorizing the demolition. 

To demolish the house would be “a severe loss for the community,” said Islip Town Historian George Munkenbeck. “Could it be restored? Believe me, I’ve seen far worse restored completely.”

Peter Ward, a volunteer with the historical society, said he plans to work with consultant Crew Froebel, who said he would donate his time, to create a digital replica of the house that will be available on the historical society website.

Froebel has created 3-D models of historic Long Island structures before, including a cottage from Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Brentwood and a Flanders boarding house.

The Shutt House is one of the few remaining structures from the Modern Times society, a utopian settlement of about 150 people who lived on 90 acres in what is now Brentwood from 1851 to 1864.

The Modern Times society had no criminal justice system, money or taxes, and women could vote. The egalitarian society unraveled during the Civil War due to economic pressures and an influx of outsiders with different philosophies.

Local historians have highlighted the activism of Ellen Shutt, an original occupant of the residence, as another reason the house should be preserved.

In a newsletter from the town historian’s office this winter, Ward wrote that Shutt participated in the “great reforms of the day” and at one time lived in an experimental Massachusetts community where author Nathaniel Hawthorne was an original shareholder.

Preservation Long Island listed the Shutt House among seven Long Island properties on a list of endangered historic places this December, a move that Cubie, preservation and advocacy director at the nonprofit, said sometimes helps save historic sites.

Out of around 40 sites listed since the initiative started in 2010, only three have been lost, she said.

“Even though, in some ways, [permission to demolish] seems like the end of the road, we’re still trying to see what’s possible at this point,” she said.

Preservation Long Island hopes to place a historical plaque on the property, she said, and have the state review the site for historic eligibility, which would open up opportunities for grants and tax credits that could make restoration “more financially feasible.”