Site of former Long Island Automotive Museum sells decades after it closed
Images courtesy VanderbiltCupRaces.com.
For 37 years the quonset huts that made up the Long Island Automotive Museum, bereft of their four-wheeled inhabitants, steadily deteriorated into rusted, graffiti-covered, overgrowth-obscured relics among some of the priciest real estate this side of the East River. With the sale of the site this summer, however, the story of one of the country’s more significant auto museums finally came to a close.
When Henry Austin Clark, Jr. opened the museum in 1948 he did so more to store his burgeoning collection of antique cars and horseless carriages than to necessarily share it with others. Located on about 8 acres along County Road 39 in Southampton, on the far end of Long Island, it certainly didn’t have the flair of modern museums, but it was what resided inside that counted.
Early on, Clark tended to focus on thoroughbreds and other significant American cars of the early 20th Century. “My father amassed his collection in large part because widows wanted these hulks hauled out of their garages,” his son, Henry Austin “Hal” Clark III, told author Geoff Gehman. Hard to imagine that a Mercer Raceabout, any of a number of Vanderbilt Cup veterans, or the Thomas Flyer that won the New York-to-Paris race were ever considered dispensable, but Clark had a knack for uncovering and elevating significant cars at a time when most people just considered them old and worthless.
Later, Clark amassed a collection of fire trucks and hosted brass-era flea markets at the museum among other auto-centric events. Skip Norsic, whose family owns the property just north of the Long Island Automotive Museum’s, recalled going to those events and riding on the fire trucks as a kid in an interview with 27East.
Since 1980, when Clark closed the museum due to declining revenues – according to Gehman, he blamed the Town of Southampton for not allowing him to advertise the museum on area billboards – and sold off all the cars at auction, Norsic watched the museum crumble as property values in the area shot up into the seven- and eight-figure range. He reportedly tried to buy it a few times from the Clark family over the years, and the family even listed it for sale occasionally – most recently for $6.3 million earlier this year – but Norsic and the family weren’t able to agree on a price ($5.1 million) until this June.
While Norsic did buy the site under the aegis of Long Island Automobile Collectors LLC, thus fueling speculation that the site would once again host a museum, he told 27East that he simply plans to use the former museum property for storage for his waste hauling business. In that way at least it won’t become another subdevelopment; the site is zoned for half-acre residential and the site also had clearance for condo development.
Clark’s paper archives these days reside at The Henry Ford; his Mercer Raceabout sold for $2.5 million in 2014; and the Thomas Flyer, which resides at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register last year.