STATEN SLAND, N.Y. — December 4, 2012. The Alice Austen House, the former home of Staten Island’s most famous photographer, now a museum, is located in the Rosebank section of the Island — and was directly in the path of Hurricane Sandy.
Alice Austen was a female photographer in a time when women stayed at home. She owned a motorcar and carried wrenches in her handbag. She lugged view cameras around, pioneering the field now known as photojournalism. Her home, known locally as “Clear Comfort,” is now a landmarked building and a museum where local photographers exhibit their work.
Alice Austen House is located on Staten Island’s eastern shore. It was this part of the Island that absorbed the full impact of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. Arriving at high tide, the storm surge created a wall of water that pushed debris inland and destroyed homes, property, and in some areas — lives.
Alice Austen House was built on a bluff. This fact saved it from destruction. The hurricane’s flood waters reached the top step of the staircase leading from the seawall to the sidewalk that ends at the porch of the historic structure.
Sara Signorelli, Director of Museum Services, told NLN that the storm’s winds destroyed some decorative woodwork and damaged some shutters. In addition, two trees fell on the southern edge of the property, taking out the picket fence and destroying the garden. Branches from the larger tree, the trunk of which landed directly on top of the fence, came to rest on the roof of the historic home.
The park outside the house was filled with debris washed ashore by the hurricane but the house itself had survived, miraculously. Repairs are now underway and a large amount of debris has been removed. The rest of Staten Island continues to struggle. It may be months before power is restored — and years before the recovery is complete — but Islanders can take some comfort in the fact that one of the local treasures survived the so-called superstorm.
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(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)