The historic restoration of 19th century painter Thomas Moran’s former home in East Hampton is moving forward as planned, though some minor hurdles are stalling the final village approval process.
According to Thomas Moran Trust Executive Director Marti Mayo, the village approved plans for restoration of the home and property, and officially designated it a museum, in August. The project is now awaiting permission from East Hampton’s Design Review Board, but a few technical issues need to be addressed before that can happen. Mayo said there are some lingering matters with things like drainage on the property, but the Moran Trust’s lawyer was not available to specify.
“Everyone is working together to solve them,” Mayo added, pointing out that Moran was an artist, not an engineer, so while his design and construction are fascinating, the house is in need of structural repairs. She said the Thomas Moran Trust is also trying to be careful and considerate of neighbors. Before submitting its plans for approval, the trust spent more than a year planning the restoration with the help of various experts, including a restoration architect, archeologist and landscape historian.
Mayo said various technical studies were done, such as an exterior and interior finishes study to make sure details like the wallpaper, shingles and paints are correct. This and other studies will ensure the grounds, main house—also known as the studio—and four outbuildings accurately represent how they appeared in 1916. She said that 1916 is significant because Moran made no major additions or deletions to his home after that year, and it also follows the advent of electricity and indoor plumbing.
Since it was established in 2007, the trust has raised more than $4 million for the project, about half its final goal of $8.9 million. One of four outbuildings has already been restored, and work on the second is underway. Moran’s portable bathhouse—a changing room that he left on the beach during the summer—was completed in June. It is the only remaining example of its kind in East Hampton.
Restoration of the next outbuilding was to begin this week, Mayo said, describing the boathouse Moran used to house his Venetian gondola, a gorgeous 37-foot boat that was restored and is now displayed at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. The painter built the boathouse by repurposing an old porch pediment, making it a prime example of his quirky and creative approach to building. “It’s a tiny, tiny building,” Mayo said.
The remaining outbuildings to be restored include a windmill house used to pump water from Town Pond, which is directly across the street, and “Hobson’s Cottage,” a prefabricated cottage Moran bought from the Hobson’s catalog. Mayo said the cottage was added to the grounds after the 19th century, but its use has not yet been determined. She said the bathhouse and boathouse are being restored first because they were in the worst condition. In the meantime, the other two buildings have been winterized and protected so there is no further decay. The main house/studio will be restored after the outbuildings are completed.
“Our mission is to restore it and open it to the public,” Mayo said, explaining that the Thomas Moran House is a National Historic Landmark, so once the Village Design Board approves everything, the project will still require state and federal approval. Moran painted many of his greatest works in East Hampton, but the museum will not have his paintings on display when it’s finished. Instead, it will be a lovely historic home, a picture of bygone East Hampton and an example of Moran’s vision and creative genius through the house he designed and built.
“People will be charmed and enchanted by its wonderful eccentricities” and proportions, Mayo said, adding that they might have contemporary art exhibits there from time to time. She offered no projected date for opening the Thomas Moran House, but said the state and federal approval process usually follows closely the decisions made by local municipalities.