Featured Story
03/11/16 2:00pm
Robert J. Allen

Robert J. Allen

Robert J. Allen
Robert J. Allen, who spent summers with his family on Shelter Island since the 1970s, died at home in New York City on February 22, 2016. (more…)

Featured Story
01/12/16 12:00pm
COURTESY PHOTO |  The latest book by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg on Shelter Island’s histroic sites.

COURTESY PHOTO | The latest book by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg on Shelter Island’s histroic sites.

“This was really an accidental treasure trove,” Edward Shillingburg said about “Shelter Island’s Historic Places,” the just-published book he and his wife Patricia compiled.

The couple became interested in the Island’s historic places by researching the process Mashomack Preserve would have to go through to be registered with the New York State and the United States National Register of Historic Places.

Doing his homework, Mr. Shillingburg discovered there are nine places on Shelter Island already listed with both the state and federal historic registers. He gathered the information and presented it to Patricia, who quickly saw an opportunity to compile it for a book — pieces written by other historians about each of the honored sites. (more…)

08/28/11 4:00am

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | Randy Osofsky and her husband, Steve Kessler at Manhanset Chapel, which they purchased and restored.

Randy Osofsky is once again, this time with her husband of 31 years, Steve Kessler, the very happy owner of the Manhanset Chapel, located at the intersection of Route 114 and Thomas Avenue. She bought it for the first time in 1971 and then again early this year.

But to begin at the beginning…

Randy started life in Brooklyn, then moved to East Meadow and then Roslyn, where she graduated from high school. She went on to Tyler University, the art school of Temple University in Philadelphia and then was delighted to spend her junior year in Rome. The following year, when she graduated from college, she recalled, “My plans were to work as a serious artist in Soho and Tribeca. I wanted to make art because I wanted to and not because everybody around me was making art.”

She came to the Island to see how her parents were and how their house was coming — they were building their “dream house” in Hay Beach. Encountering the Island for the first time, “I thought it was charming,” she said. “For me, eating dinner outside is camping out and I’m not a camper, but this was nature I could deal with. It was perfect ‘country.’”

When she first saw the chapel, she fell in love with it. Discovering that it was owned by the late Archie Gershon, whose House of Glass was in the building now housing the Boltax Gallery, and hearing that he was using the chapel as a warehouse, she approached him about it. “I told him you have to take better care of the building or you have to sell it to me. So he was kind enough to agree to sell it to me, not really to me, I was a little too young. I was only 21 at the time. But he was willing to deal with my family.”

“So we purchased the building, at which point I just moved in. It was Halloween night and if there were spirits, I wanted them to come all at once. I bought candy but nobody came. No one guessed that I was actually living here. I had friends who were in the arts who came, helped me build my loft. It was like a piece of art. It was great.”

She converted part of the space into an art gallery, and called it Altervisions. For that first summer, “I kept the place open every day except Wednesday. People like to come to galleries when it rains and, that summer, it rained every Wednesday. It was amazing.”

She ran the gallery, taking commissions, and hung her own work as well. When asked if she could make an adequate living that way, she laughed. “I worked across the street at George’s IGA,” which was located then in what later became Planet Bliss. “I was the deli girl. I filled the shelves. It was great. I just had to go across the street. I rolled out of bed, went to George’s, and had enough money to eat.”

“I got to know Alan Shields. He used to come in all the time. This was a place, you can’t imagine the variety of people. I played chess with Michael Carey, spent time with Helen Lamont, this incredible historian. Allie Fiske would have her and me over to dinner. It was just incredible, the age differences. If I had been living in Soho, I probably would have been only with people my age and people in my field but not a whole community of people. The Gibbs children used to come down here in the basement and color. I loved that whole idea, to just watch people grow. You can see what their stories are, and it’s a very different kind of environment, you become part of a community.”

Although she found the Island “a great place to digest your life,” she was single and wanted to meet someone. She was also working at writing and wanted help with that. So she moved into the city and started studying with Lee Strasberg in a masters class. “I thought I was working on my writing but the acting bug got me. Then I started performing, worked with Viveca Lindfors for years, and I was lucky enough to meet a very nice guy,” she said, referring to her husband, Steve Kessler, an executive with MidBoro Management, Inc., a property management firm in the city. He  had grown up in New Rochelle, attended Ohio State University, and met Randy through mutual friends at Columbia University.

A busy life in the city and the arrival of their two sons (Judd, now 29, and Ryder, now 25) prompted them to close down the chapel. “When I first left, fuel oil was 19 cents a gallon,” Randy said. But in time it was up to 90 cents. Because the chapel was originally just for summer people, a part of the Manhanset Hotel, and had been relocated to its current site, it was uninsulated and cold. “I just put a lot of sweaters on but at some point you just feel like it’s too much. I couldn’t afford to live in my own home, so we were closing it down.”

But a building like this “needs its heart to beat,” she added. “It needs someone here year-round. Every time you turn it off, it gets musty, and it gets cold. It needs to be loved. I didn’t want it to become a restaurant or a bar. So we decided, my family too, that the Historical Society would be the people to give it to, that they would take care of it. And that’s what happened and I was so happy.” That was in 1985.

But the Historical Society “stopped being able to maintain it,” Randy said, and went on to describe the businesses that leased the place and tried to make a go of it over the years. But in the end, nothing really worked.

“They weren’t giving it back to me, but I had the right of first refusal. I couldn’t buy it on my own but my loving husband said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ So we pooled our resources and here we are again.”

Steve outlined their plans for the future of the chapel. “We see two major uses for the building. One is as a community center, to offer it to groups and people who would like to come to the building and put on community events, like plays, sing-alongs, poetry or open-mic nights. Whenever people come to us with a good idea, we’d give them the use of the building for it.” But he pointed out that just as he and Randy had needed to rent tables and chairs for the opening party they threw on August 13, “People will have to do that stuff on their own.”

The other major use he described was to make the space available to be leased for events such as weddings, fundraisers or private parties. “We want to continue to maintain the building and we need a revenue source for that. We know there will be more expenses in the future. There’s a small gallery downstairs,” he went on. “If an artist wanted to lease the gallery space, they could do that.” Eventually, he thought, “The existence of the building will define itself.”

03/10/11 12:32am

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Manhanset Chapel

The Shelter Island Historical Society has sold the Manhanset Chapel back to the family who donated it to the Historical Society 25 years ago.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” society director Pat Mundus said after announcing that the Osofsky family had purchased the chapel and would continue to preserve it as a historic structure. The owners, Randy Osofsky and Stephen Kessler, are using the legal name of Manhanset Hall LLC.

“There’s no doubt that the sale of the Manhanset Chapel was one of the biggest intellectual challenges ever faced by the Shelter Island Historical Society officers and Board of Trustees,” Ms. Mundus said. The society was compelled to sell, she announced last September, due to economic pressures and the cost of keeping and maintaining the building. Relinquishing the stewardship of a historic landmark that many Islanders worked to preserve was difficult, she said.

The Historical Society received the Manhanset Chapel as a donation from the Meyer Osofsky family in 1985, restored it to its circa 1924 appearance, and had it placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The chapel was originally built in Dering Harbor in 1890 as a nondenominational place of worship for the Manhanset House Hotel’s guests. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1910, sparing the chapel.

It sat vacant for three years until artist Milton Bancroft bought it and used it as a studio from 1913 to 1924, when it was purchased by a social organization called the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. It had the chapel moved that year to its present location east of the Presbyterian Church on Route 114, where it became known as Mechanics Hall.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Brianne Fokine and Dan Binder place August Mosca paintings in temporary storage at the Havens House barn after removing them from the paintings vault at the Manhanset Chapel.

Artist Randy Osofsky and her father Meyer bought the chapel in 1974 and again used it as a studio and gallery, until Ms. Osofsky moved her family to the city and donated the property to the Historical Society in 1985.

The Historical Society displayed exhibits in the chapel for nine years. It began renting the building as gallery space in 2005, most recently to Alexis Martino and her Mosquito Hawk Gallery. Ms. Martino is continuing her artistic endeavors at art shows and other venues; see the Mosquito Hawk Facebook page for updates.

Ms. Mundus thanked the officers, trustees, donors and staff “who had the foresight to courageously restore the Manhanset Chapel” and have it listed as a historic structure. Doing right by those donors was one of many objectives in the effort to sell the chapel, she said.

A team of society officers and trustees has been working on selling the property for several years, but doing so with the ultimate goal of preserving the historic structure for the community, Ms. Mundus said. That team included treasurer Peter Vielbig, secretary Bernard Gillespie, recently-retired trustee Howard Brandenstein and recently-retired president Belle Lareau. Current society President Janalyn Travis-Messer, a professional real estate broker, took no part in the process in order to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.

The team recommended that the Historical Society entertain purchase offers from potential parties who would guarantee that the chapel would remain on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Will Anderson (left), Bill Anderson and Danny Binder hauled the old Shelter Island telephone switchboard out of the basement of Manhanset Chapel prior to the transfer of the property back to the Osofsky family. Gene Shepherd assisted with his machinery as well.

“The committee’s recommendations were designed to promote the overall health of the Shelter Island Historical Society’s future, better execute our stated mission for the entire community, and preserve the Manhanset Chapel as historic architecture,” Ms. Mundus explained. With help from “very good legal counsel,” trustee Mary-Faith Westervelt and her research associates, the committee publicly listed the property, explicitly stipulating that the chapel remain on the Historic Register.

“Soon after, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to return the Manhanset Chapel to its original donor’s family … It was a winning combination for them, for the community, and for us,” Ms. Mundus said.

Randy Osofsky said that she plans to use the chapel as a venue to celebrate the arts and special events — “because the space lends itself to special occasions,” she said — with a long-term plan to create some living space in the building. She writes about the past and future of the chapel in this week’s Prose & Comments, page 15.

“The chapel will regain the family’s adoration and conscientious care for the benefit of the whole Island,” Ms. Mundus said. “The sale will strengthen our endowment fund, secure our future, and ensure responsible management of our primary historical asset — the 1743 James Havens Homestead — Shelter Island’s sole museum.”

Proceeds from the sale will be reinvested in the society’s endowment and the Havens House, and will not go into the society’s operating budget, Ms. Mundus emphasized. The Havens House is in need of a new roof and repairs associated with last year’s flooding, she added.

The society is also hoping to expand its archival vault. As the repository of many Island institutions, “We’re chock-a-block,” the director said. In addition to its many historic letters and memoirs, the vault holds town records, older documents from the Shelter Island Library, and organizational records, such as those researched by the Shelter Island Yacht Club, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Families donate photographs and other heirlooms on a weekly basis.

Part of the archival effort will be making “a historic leap by digitizing a portion of our documents for web access,” Ms. Mundus said.

“After 25 years of stewardship, we returned the Manhanset Chapel to the family who originally donated it to us,” Ms. Mundus said. “We can now turn our attentions to fulfilling our essential mission: research, preservation and teaching local history in earnest.”

Click here for an article on the history of Manhanset Chapel from our May 8, 1986 edition.