There is a movement to restore much of Tesla work, including rebuilding Wardenclyffe Tower
Wardenclyffe Tower (1901–1917) also known as the Tesla Tower, was an early wireless transmission tower designed by Nikola Tesla in Shoreham, New York and intended for commercial trans-Atlantic wireless telephony, broadcasting, and proof-of-concept demonstrations of wireless power transmission. It was never fully operational, and the tower was demolished in 1917.
The tower was named after James S. Warden, a western lawyer and banker who had purchased land for the endeavor in Shoreham, Long Island, about sixty miles from Manhattan. Here he built a resort community known as Wardenclyffe-On-Sound. Warden believed that with the implementation of Tesla’s “world system” a “Radio City” would arise in the area. He offered Tesla 200 acres (81 ha) of land close to a railway line on which to build his wireless telecommunications tower and laboratory facility.
Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility ca. 1898 and in 1901 construction began on the land near Long Island Sound. Architect Stanford White designed the Wardenclyffe facility main building. The tower was designed by W.D. Crow, an associate of White. Funding for Tesla’s project was provided by influential industrialists and other venture capitalists. The project was initially backed by the wealthy J. P. Morgan who had invested $150,000 in the facility (more than $3 million in 2009 dollars). In June 1902, Tesla moved his laboratory operations from his West Houston Street laboratory to Wardenclyffe.
The project ran into many problems. Financiers began investing in Guglielmo Marconi’s system which started regular transatlantic transmission in 1903 and seemed to be doing it with far less expensive equipment. By 1903 Tesla’s project, still under construction due to numerous design changes, ran out of money and Morgan declined to fund it any further. Some in the press began turning against the project claiming it was a hoax. Tesla tried to generate more interest in Wardenclyffe by revealing its ability to transmit wireless electricity, but Morgan was not interested, and the 1903 “rich man’s panic” on Wall Street dried up any further investment. By July 1904 Morgan (and the other investors) finally decided they would not provide any additional financing. In May 1905 Tesla’s patents on alternating current motors and other methods of power transmission expired, halting royalty payments and causing a severe reduction of funding to the Wardenclyffe Tower. In an attempt to find alternative funding Tesla advertised the services of the Wardenclyffe facility but he was met with little success. By this time Tesla had also designed the Tesla turbine at Wardenclyffe and produced Tesla coils for sale to various businesses.
By 1905, since Tesla could not find any more backers, most of the site’s activity had to be shut down. Employees were laid off in 1906, but parts of the building remained in use until 1907. In 1908, the property was foreclosed for the first time. Tesla procured a new mortgage from George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The facility was partially abandoned around 1911, and the tower structure deteriorated. Between 1912 and 1915, Tesla’s finances unraveled, and when the funders wanted to know how they were going to recapture their investments, Tesla was unable to give satisfactory answers. Newspaper headlines of the time labeled it “Tesla’s million-dollar folly.” The facility’s main building was breached and vandalized around this time. Collapse of the Wardenclyffe project may have contributed to the mental breakdown Tesla experienced during this period. Coupled to the personal tragedy of Wardenclyffe was the 1895 fire at 35 South 5th Avenue, New York, in the building which housed Tesla’s laboratory. In this fire, he lost much of his equipment, notes and documents. This put Tesla into a state of severe depression.
Post-Tesla eraIn 1915, legal ownership of the Wardenclyffe property was transferred to George Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for a $20,000 debt (about $400,000 in 2009 dollars). In July 4, 1917, during World War I, the tower was blown up with dynamite on orders of the United States Government which feared German spies were using it and that it could be used as a landmark for German submarines. Tesla was not in New York during the tower’s destruction.
George Boldt wished to make the property available for sale. On April 20, 1922, Tesla lost an appeal of judgment versus his backers in the second foreclosure. This effectively locked Tesla out of any future development of the facility. In 1925, the property ownership was transferred to Walter L. Johnson of Brooklyn. On March 6, 1939, Plantacres, Inc. purchased the facility’s land and subsequently leased it to Peerless Photo Products, Inc. AGFA Corporation bought the property from Peerless and sold the property to a non profit organization supported by The Oatmeal in the year 2013. The main building remains standing to this day. Agfa used the site from 1969 to 1992 then closed the facility. The site has undergone a final cleanup of waste produced during its Photo Products era. The clean up was conducted under the scrutiny of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and paid for by AGFA. In 2009 they put the property up for sale for $1,650,000. Agfa has advertised that the land can “be delivered fully cleared and level.” It says it spent $5 million through September 2008 cleaning up silver and cadmium.
Preservation effortsOn February 14, 1967, the nonprofit public benefit corporation Brookhaven Town Historical Trust was established. It selected the Wardenclyffe facility to be designated as a historic site and as the first site to be preserved by the Trust on March 3, 1967. The Brookhaven Town Historic Trust was rescinded by resolution on February 1, 1972. There were never any appointments made after a legal opinion was received; it was never set up properly. On July 7, 1976, a plaque from Yugoslavia was installed by representatives from Brookhaven National Laboratory near the entrance of the building. It reads
BORN SMILJAN, YUGOSLAVIA 1856—DIED NEW YORK, U.S.A. 1943
CONSTRUCTED IN 1901–1905 WARDENCLYFFE
HUGE RADIO STATION WITH ANTENNA TOWER
187 FEET HIGH /DESTROYED 1917/, WHICH
WAS TO HAVE SERVED AS HIS FIRST WORLD
IN MEMORY OF 120TH ANNIVERSARY OF TESLA’S BIRTH
AND 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE FIRST U.S.A
July 10, 1976
The sign was stolen from the property in November 2009. An anonymous benefactor is offering a $2000 reward if it is returned to the property.
Designation of the structure as a National Landmark is awaiting completion of plant decommissioning activities by its present owner.
In 1976, an application was filed to nominate the main building for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It failed to get approval. The Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. was established in 1994 for the purpose of seeking placement of the Wardenclyffe laboratory-office building and the Tesla tower foundation on both the New York State and NRHP. Its mission is the preservation and adaptive reuse of Wardenclyffe, the century-old laboratory of electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York. In October 1994 a second application for formal nomination was filed. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation conducted inspections and determined the facility meets New York State criteria for historic designation. A second visit was made on February 25, 2009. The site cannot be registered until it is nominated by a willing owner.
Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe
In August 2012, concerned about an apparent offer to purchase the site and develop it for commercial use, The Oatmeal launched a fundraiser for the Tesla Science Center to raise $1.7 million in order to purchase the property, with the hope of eventually building a museum on the grounds. The state of New York agreed to match donations up to half that amount. As of October 3, 2012, the goal of $850,000 had been reached in just over six days after a $33,333 donation from the producers of the Tesla film Fragments From Olympus – The Vision of Nikola Tesla put them over the top. A total of $1.37 million was donated, the matching grant from the State of New York brings the total collected to over $2.2 million. The surplus will be used to fund the cleaning and restoration of the property. Tesla, Wardenclyffe and the museum fundraising effort will be the subject of a new documentary being produced called Tower to the People – Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues. On 2 May 2013, the group announced that the site had been acquired.