Legislature hears pitch to save house

05/13/2010 12:00 AM |

Ian Toy stands outside the Helen Keller house in Southold earlier this month.

Ian Toy, the Southold eighth-grader who has spearheaded an effort to save what has become known as the Helen Keller house near Cedar Beach, took his mission to Hauppauge on Tuesday.

The 13-year-old took the day off from school to address the entire Suffolk County Legislature, arguing his case that the long-neglected county-owned house — where Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, may have spent their last summer together, in 1936 — should be saved from demolition.

“We have a responsibility to preserve what’s left of our history and pass it on,” he said. “How do we want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as someone who took care of my community and contributed to preserving our past.”

Ian, who is intensely interested in the Bavarian-style architecture of the 1920s structure, also made the lawmakers aware of the strong public support he has gathered in only a little over a month since he began his crusade to save the dilapidated house on county parkland.

A “Save the Helen Keller House” Facebook group has attracted more than 1,300 members, and an online petition site has nearly 600 signatures from people all over the world. The Southold Town Board and the Landmark Preservation Committee have given preliminary approval for adding the house to the town’s landmark preservation list.

Most recently, Ms. Keller’s great-niece, Keller J. Thompson, and David Richenthal, producer of the Broadway play “The Miracle Worker,” have contacted Ian offering their support.

“I know I’m only 13,” Ian told the legislature. “But someday, I would like to have my family be able to go down to Cedar Beach and visit the Helen Keller house.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine, who is backing Ian’s efforts, commended him on his presentation. But right now, Mr. Romaine said, the project is in “legislative limbo.”

“The county has owned it for 50 years, and the county has neglected it for 50 years — that is why it fell apart,” Mr. Romaine said on Wednesday. “And it’s been slated for demolition for years, and that was so expensive, they didn’t want to do that either. It’s the county’s responsibility to do something now.”

Mr. Romaine said he is currently looking at the capital budget and at the hotel-motel tax — which includes funding for historic preservation — to provide money for an engineer to “come out and see what needs to be done and to stabilize the house.”

His first priority, he said, is to “beat back the parks department and the bulldozers” by appealing to County Executive Steve Levy. Mr. Romaine said that a representative from the Long Island Power Authority inspected the site on Tuesday to see if all the connections were off in preparation for demolition, which is scheduled for this summer.

“We’re in a race against time,” he said.

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