East Hills recognized for Happy House preservation

East Hills recognized for Happy House preservation
East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz is presented with the Preservation Award. The Village has been recognized by Preservation Long Island for its efforts in maintaining John Mackay III's Happy House. (Photo by Greg Apisson)

Preservation Long Island has awarded the Village of East Hills for its work in preserving John Mackay III’s Happy House.

Preservation Long Island’s goal is to safeguard and celebrate historic places. Its biennial Preservation Awards honor outstanding success in historic preservation on Long Island.

The event was held last Wednesday at the John Mackay III House at 2A Melby Lane in East Hills. Attendees included members of the Roslyn Landmark Society, residents and East Hills officials. Mayor Michael Koblenz received the honor from Preservation Long Island Executive Director Alexandra Wolfe and Director of Preservation Sarah Kautz.

“History is a part of the fabric of our society,” said Koblenz. “Through this resolution, we preserve our past and embrace it as part of our culture in East Hills.”

Happy House was built in 1929 for John Mackay III, grandson of John Mackay. John Mackay was one of the discoverers of the Comstock silver mines in Nevada, where the country’s first significant deposits of the ore were found in the 1870s.

His father, Clarence Mackay, controlled the 648-acre Harbor Hill estate, which included a sizable portion of East Hills, from 1902 through the 1940s. During this time, Clarence Mackay gave his son the first 28-acre property as a present in May 1929.

Clarence Mackay died in 1938, leaving Harbor Hill to his son John Mackay III. Neglect and vandalism caused the estate to deteriorate. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, real estate developers purchased the property.

Then, in 2017, the property owners sought to demolish the house and subdivide the land into four units. Eventually, East Hills reached an arrangement to save the structure in September 2021. It enabled two buildable lots on the property.

According to Preservation Long Island, the village’s commitment to performing a complete environmental evaluation protected the house.

“The resulting agreement emerged from a rigorous review process,” the group said, “including the preparation of a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, acknowledgment of the concerns of local community members and identification of more sensitive alternatives to the four-lot subdivision as initially proposed.”

Furthermore, the preservation agreement did not reduce the property’s market value. The group said East Hills has established an “effective model” for other communities to recognize, reduce or avoid harmful effects on major local cultural resources.

Kautz praised the work of local representatives and the Roslyn Landmark Society. Specifically, she applauded the society for supporting the property’s inclusion in its Endangered Historic Places list.

“We hope the Happy House agreement will inspire other municipal governments to improve local preservation outcomes by pursuing more comprehensive processes of review,” she said.

Howard Kroplick, co-president of the Roslyn Landmark Society and a resident of East Hills, said everyone fought to save the structure.

“We congratulate Mayor Koblenz and the Village of East Hills,” he said, “for this wonderful outcome and this much-deserved award for protecting the history of East Hills.”

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