By Greg Wehner
Nearly 40 years have passed since the Long Island Auto Museum in Southampton closed its doors, and ever since the steel building, a cluster of other structures and the 7.5-acre property on which it sits has been on the market—that is, until now.
The property, which was owned by the Clark Family Limited Partnership and is located at 315 County Road 39, was sold on June 29 for $5.1 million to Long Island Automobile Collectors LLC. The sale includes the entire property where the museum once stood, which is now overgrown and the buildings long since abandoned.
Because the transaction involved a limited liability corporation, which protects the identity of the buyer, little is known about the new owners or future plans for the site.
Connie Conway, the chief of staff for Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, said the town is not aware of what the Long Island Automobile Collectors LLC has in mind, though she noted that the name of the LLC could provide a hint that the purchase is related to its former use in some way.
The property is zoned half-acre residential, which allows a variety of uses beyond a residential subdivision of about 15 lots. Under a special exception, the property could be used for a bed-and-breakfast, horse farm, greenhouse, hospital, wireless communication tower, a day care center, or a church, to name a few potential uses.
The property also has a pre-existing, nonconforming use that would allow the new owners to build condos or a co-op.
When Henry Austin Clark Jr., better known as “Austie,” opened the Long Island Museum in 1948, he attracted a community of car aficionados from the area and around the world.
Mr. Clark opened the museum at the age of 31 after expanding his car collection to the point where it would no longer fit at his summer home in Southampton. At that point, his collection had reached close to 50 cars—among them were small, late 19th century machines, as well as classics from the 1920s and 1930s, all in working condition. The museum also housed trucks, buses and antique fire engines.
Among the cars in the museum’s collection was the “Thomas Flyer,” which was catapulted to legendary status after a victory in the 1908 New York-to-Paris race where drivers crossed North America westward, then boarded a ship to Asia, crossing both that continent and Europe to the finish line. Mr. Clark actually salvaged the winning car from a junkyard.
Also on display was a bright yellow 1911 Mercer Type 35R “Race-about,” a one-of-a-kind vehicle that Mr. Clark once described as “without a doubt, the greatest pre-war car built in the United States.”
In it’s flourishing days, the museum was a lively part of the Southampton community. In fact, Mr. Clark would take several of his vehicles to the Fourth of July parade in the village every year, where he would invite children of the community to ride on the antique cars and fire trucks.
The museum also was a place where local teenagers would find work in the summer months, as tourists flocked to the attraction, which was an excursion trip hosted by the Long Island Rail Road during the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr. Clark’s museum was forced to close more than two decades after it opened, and in order to pay building expenses, vehicles would be auctioned here and there. By 1979, more than 200 vehicles had been auctioned. In 1980, the museum closed for good.
Since then, the steel hanger-looking shell of the museum has faded and is covered with graffiti. Weeds have grown up on the property as it stayed within the family in ensuing years.