A few months ago, I had to charter a boat to take scout pictures of Davids Island, located in Long Island Sound off the coast of New Rochelle. As we were curving around the southern side of the island, I noticed something in the distance…
A squat, one-story structure on its own private island.
Though it seemed dilapidated and possibly abandoned from a distance, as we drew closer, I began to see signs of modern activity: a huge solar panel on the roof, along with construction equipment scattered about. My guide explained that this is Columbia Island, and that the owner is currently converting the building into what will be the only private island home off the coast of New York City.
What’s the story behind this strange little building? Here’s Columbia Island on a map, located just off the Bronx/New Rochelle.
Originally known as Little Pea Island, it was purchased by CBS in 1940 for use as a broadcasting station and renamed Columbia Island. A concrete foundation was poured, and a 410-foot steel transmitter was erected, servicing a potential 14,000,000 listeners. The tower began broadcasting on October 18, 1941.
According to this 1941 NY Times article heralding the state-of-the-art construction, “the men who operate the station actually live within a grounded metal shell, under which are living quarters for engineers, workshops, electrical units to supply tube voltages, an auxiliary Diesel-electric generator that roars into use the instant a fault occurs in under-water electric cables from shore, and everything else that modern radio engineering can devise to keep a station on the air in spite of apparatus failure or fury of elements.” Below, a look inside the station:
The station was in use until 1963, when it moved to nearby High Island (site of the famous 1967 plane crash that destroyed the island’s antenna, taking both WCBS and WNBC off the air). Below, Columbia Island today from above:
Since then, the island has switched hands several times, and now appears to be owned by filmmaker/actor Al Sutton, who has been retrofitting the old station into a “green” residence for a number of years. This article details the addition of the 1,200 sq-ft solar array in 2012 to power the home.
When the project’s done, I believe that’ll make Columbia Island the only private island residence off the coast of New York City. Al, if you’re out there, would love a peek inside!
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