May 8th, 2013
Last year’s hugely successful Indiegogo campaign to raise $850,000 for the nonprofit Tesla Science Center to build a museum dedicated to the genius inventor Nikola Tesla at his Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, New York, has borne fruit. The 15.69-acre laboratory site and all its buildings are no longer the property of Belgian multinational Agfa. As of May 2nd, the last laboratory of Nikola Tesla still standing anywhere in the world officially belongs to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSCW). Agfa, who put the property up for sale for $1.6 million and was reportedly entertaining an offer from real estate developers to demolish the historic structures and build condos on the site, now says via its North American general counsel Christopher Santomassimo that it “is proud to be associated, albeit in a small way, with this historic event.”
It took two decades of unrelenting effort from the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe to pay Agfa off so this historic event could take place. New York State had offered matching funds to make the purchase, so the TSCW needed to come up with $850,000 to meet Agfa’s asking price. When they found out that an interested developer was looming on the horizon last summer, they kicked off a public fundraising campaign. Matthew Inman of the massively popular website The Oatmeal, an avowed Tesla fan, got involved. He started an Indiegogo fundraiser entitled “Operation Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum,” offered extensive donation incentives and promoted the campaign heavily on his high-traffic site. Within a week, the campaign raised a million dollars. The final tally was $1,370,000.
It’s been almost nine months since then. Finally owning the property is a major milestone for the Tesla Science Center, but they don’t have time to rest on their laurels because the buildings are dilapidated, the grounds a wilderness and it’s going to take a great deal more money and time to convert this former Superfund hazardous waste site into a museum.
The TSCW has ambitious plans. They want to take advantage of the complex to create a museum about Tesla and his work, a hands-on science learning center where workshops will be held for inventors, a replica of the 187-foot power tower which was destroyed by the government in 1917 and, perhaps the coolest idea of them all, a physics-themed playground. The estimated cost to make this vision a reality is $10,000,000. The extra $520,000 raised on Indiegogo on top of the $850,000 used for the purchase gives them a little breathing room to get cleanup started, but isn’t even a dent on the total costs for the creation of the museum.
They’re not wasting any time doing what they can do, though. They’s already begun to board up the buildings to keep destructive human and animal elements out. Next on the agenda is a thorough assessment of their condition. Not all buildings can be saved, which is fine because many of them were built after Tesla sold the lab in 1915. The ones that are structurally viable will be restored and integrated into the design of the museum. The rest will be demolished.
Clean-up and construction will take an estimated five years. The TSCW plans to further fundraising to raise the $10 million. They expect corporate donors to provide the bulk of the amount, although considering that the Veronica Mars movie raised a record-breaking $5 million on Kickstarter, who knows what might be accomplished with crowdfunding these days?
Here’s video of the press conference announcing the purchase held at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, where Tesla spent the last ten years of his life in Suite 3327 feeding pigeons and meeting the occasional dignitary. He died there on January 7th, 1943.
The video includes talks from the “Angel Investors,” three people who donated key large amounts that helped the campaign meet its goals. The first to speak around the 15 minute mark is Joe Sikorski, a filmmaker who shot a Tesla documentary Fragments from Olympus and is working on a second documentary called Tower to the People about the inventor’s Wardenclyffe laboratory. The Sikorskis donated $33,000, all their seed money for the film, to the fundraising campaign. That was the donation that took them over the top to the $850,000 necessary to secure matching funds.
Next around the 20 minute mark is a great talk from Greg and Meredith Tally of the Best Western Denver Southwest who are awesomely turning the hotel into a paleontologically correct dinosaur resort. Big fans of Tesla and science boosters in general, they donated $35,000 to the Indiegogo campaign, which earned them a custom comic by Matthew Inman dedicated to the greatness that is the Dino hotel. They have a great bit describing Tesla’s laboratory in Colorado.
The last Angel is venture capitalist Dusan Stojanovic who gives an animated, passionate speech at the 26 minute mark encouraging wealthy companies to “put some cash into the future.” He is actually distantly related to Tesla. He shows his family tree and the piles of Tesla cousins that include his little branch. He will plans to put that kickass family tree online as part of the museum project.
He’s not the only Tesla relative to speak at the press conference. William Turbo, Tesla’s great grandnephew (his grandmother was Nikola Tesla’s sister) who knew him personally speaks around the 44 minute mark. He’s the Executive Secretary of the Tesla Memorial Society and notes there’s been a marked spike in interest in the inventor who was famous until his death but then faded into relative obscurity.