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John Coltrane's Home Named An Endangered Historic Place

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COLTRANE EXTERIOR
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DIX HILLS, N.Y. -- The orange, red and green shag carpeting in the room where John Coltrane wrote his masterpiece, "A Love Supreme," is, inexplicably, about the only piece of the jazz legend's former home that remains in good condition.

The rest of the 3,000-square-foot, ranch-style house has slowly deteriorated, despite local efforts over the past decade to save the property and convert the home into a museum honoring Coltrane.

Even the National Trust for Historic Preservation is worried; on Wednesday, the group named the home one of America's 11 most endangered historic places.

"The home is in danger of slipping away from us," said Steve Fulgoni, director of Friends of the Coltrane Home, a group trying to raise more than $1 million to restore and transform the home where Coltrane lived from 1964 until his death in 1967.

While Wendy Nicholas, who directs the National Trust's northeast office, noted ranch houses are increasingly important examples of American architecture, there is no question that the reason so many are trying to save this brick and wood-frame house is because of the man who once lived there.

Coltrane moved to the aptly-named Candlewood Path in Dix Hills in search of a quieter place to write and think. He spent days at a time sequestered in his writing room and used the basement as a recording studio. Another of his songs, "Living Space," was inspired by his time in the home.

Still, for Fulgoni and others who care about Coltrane's legacy, it's been a tough battle from the start. In 2002, a real estate developer -- who did not know that Coltrane had once lived there -- bought the property and planned to subdivide it. The town of Huntington, of which Dix Hills is a part, stepped in and paid $975,000 to buy the land in 2005.

Almost $100,000 has been raised separately to fight off mold and other problems in the house, and the state of New York has pledged to match up to $38,810 in additional donations.

The home now has local landmark status, as well as a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and New York state's equivalent listing.

Yet the challenges facing those trying to save the home now show that historic preservation is usually more of a marathon than a sprint. Susan Berland, a councilwoman in Huntington who was instrumental in convincing the town to purchase the property, said she has been surprised at the difficulty of raising funds.

When the town was considering the purchase, Berland recalled, "A-list celebrities and plenty of other people you’ve heard of" called and emailed her to offer their support.

"I would ask them to look in their wallets and put their money where their mouths were, back in 2003," she said.

Even if Friends of the Coltrane Home could raise enough money, there would still be significant challenges facing the project. Some neighbors are worried about parking and congestion from visitors to the house, and Berland said negotiations with the Long Island Power Authority to create a separate entrance to the property from an adjacent service road have not yet begun.

Michael Cogswell, the director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, which Fulgoni and others cite as a model for what the Coltrane home could become, said the Armstrong house was in ideal condition when efforts to turn it into a museum began. Perhaps more important -- and in contrast to the Coltrane home -- no one had lived in Armstrong's house after Louis and his wife Lucille themselves died.

"No one questions the artistic importance of John Coltrane, and I would love to see his house open as a museum," Cogswell said. "But it is a process and it is a very, very challenging one."

Or, as Coltrane's son Ravi put it, "For all good things, you have to wait."

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