Iconic lions to roar back to life in Greenport

No one in Greenport seems to know exactly when the two cast-iron lions first appeared on the front steps of an old sea captain’s house at 433 Main St. It’s likely they were put there sometime in the late 19th century, but exactly when, and by whom, no one seems to know for sure. 

They sat crouched, their proud heads upright, flanking the entrance to the 1870-era house — similar in pose but smaller in size than the famous “library lions,” Patience and Fortitude, that sit majestically outside the New York Public Library, overlooking Fifth Avenue.

“After we bought this house in 1987, people would come up to me in the street or stop by and say they remembered playing on the lions when they were children,” said Paul Kulsziski, who owns the Main Street house. “They were very much part of Greenport and people’s memories growing up here.”

Mr. Kulsziski recently had the lions removed from the entrance to his home and carried to his basement — no easy task since they weigh about 250 pounds each. There, he is painstakingly removing layer upon layer of old paint with the goal of restoring them to their original beauty.

By spring, he hopes to have the work completed and the lions once again standing guard in front of the house for all to see and appreciate, a reminder of Greenport’s past on a street that now features trendy shops and restaurants.

“I want Greenport to see them again,” he said as he stood in the low-ceilinged basement, where the two lions lay on their sides on sawhorses in front of him. A can of paint stripper and a package of steel wool pads sat on the sawhorses. They are his tools for the slow process of peeling away years of paint on the statues.

“They are a part of Greenport,” he said. “And I want Greenport to enjoy them again.”

A Suffolk Times photo from 1997. Judy Ahrens file photo, 1997

In the village, where the past is tucked lovingly behind the present, the lions evoke warm memories for residents of a certain generation.

“I grew up in Southold and I can remember as a child we would climb on the lions when we went to Levine’s men’s store down the street from Paul’s house,” said Gail Horton, president of the local historical society and a former village deputy mayor. “They were always a part of the streetscape. People would walk by and say, ‘How did those lions get there?’”

A Suffolk Times photo of the lions from 1993. Credit: Judy Ahrens file photo

Joe Townsend, who grew up in Greenport, served as mayor and knows village history as well as anyone, said the lions were always there when he walked down Main Street from his family’s nearby home.

“I remember we’d sit on them,” he recalled. “They were always there in front of the house. Everyone in town knew them. They were painted white. It’s very nice they will be back in front of the house again.”

Mr. Kulsziski would have it no other way.

“People here will be very glad to see them again,” he said.

Photo caption: Paul Kulsziski, the owner of the house in Greenport, working to refinish the lions that sat in front of his home. (Credit: Courtesy of Gail Horton)

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