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.”