By Stephen J. Kotz
The landscape architect Edmund Hollander, whose firm has offices New York, Chicago and right here in Sag Harbor to oversee the many projects it has on the East End, will be given the Sag Harbor Partnership’s annual Community Service Award on October 29 at Baron’s Cove Inn in Sag Harbor.
Mr. Hollander is being honored, according to the partnership’s vice president, April Gornik, for his extensive service to the village, including his pro bono designs for the proposed John Steinbeck Park, a more pedestrian-friendly Long Wharf and a conceptual plan for the grounds of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. Then there was his help with major cleanups of both Oakland Cemetery and the St. David A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery in Eastville and plans to redesign the Meadow Street parking lot behind the business district to make it more environmentally friendly and efficient. And while it won’t involve a landscaping plan, Mr. Hollander also serves on the board of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.
“He acts locally and is such a lovely person,” she said. “He could just rest on his laurels, but he never says ‘no.’”
“What we wanted to do was have an award for someone in the community who is a volunteer. It’s not their job, just someone who has raised their hand and helped out Sag Harbor,” said Nick Gazzolo, the partnership’s president. It wasn’t long before Mr. Hollander’s name rose to the top of the list when candidates were discussed for this year’s honor, he said.
“Everybody loves this guy, he’s so unassuming,” Mr. Gazzolo said. “When you look at what he’s done in his field, it’s totally impressive, but when you talk to him — sorry for the bad pun — he’s so down to earth.”
Mr. Hollander, who splits his time between the city, where he grew up on the Upper East Side, and Sag Harbor, said on Friday that he was humbled to be honored but quickly shared a secret. “It’s probably more fun, or as much fun, as anything I do,” he said of his volunteerism.
Mr. Hollander laughed when asked where he found the time to take on so many projects. “I don’t have the time,” he said. You know what they say, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ I just haven’t learned how to say ‘no.’”
Not that he would. “Sag Harbor is a remarkably, organically challenged place,” he said. “To me Sag Harbor is a magical place.”
Arguing that much of the village’s character is derived, not just from its architecture but from its public places, including streets, parks and cemeteries, Mr. Hollander said, “I want to be the defender of public spaces in Sag Harbor.”
To that end, when village groups put out the call for help, Mr. Hollander is quick to oblige. It was about two decades ago that Mr. Hollander worked with Bruce Tait, then chairman of the village Harbor Committee, to sketch plans for a waterfront park. When the village began negotiating with Greystone Development for just such a park, it turned again to Mr. Hollander, whose firm quickly produced a conceptual plan for free.
“Then the mayor made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said of Mayor Sandra Schroeder. “She said, ‘We need your help on Long Wharf, and we want to pay you exactly what we did for Steinbeck Park.’” Again, Mr. Hollander and his firm delivered, coming up with a plan to make the wharf more pedestrian friendly while preserving all the parking spaces.
Mr. Hollander has also lent his time to the Oaks for Oakland project, for which he solicited a half-dozen arborists to volunteer to clear dead wood from Oakland Cemetery and a less extensive effort to clean up the old St. David A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery on Eastville Avenue.
“Cemeteries in many ways are the memory of a village,” he said. “That’s where the history of the village is because that’s where the old families are and that’s the continuity over generations.” That history can be threatened, he said, when old tree limbs fall and crush headstones that may have stood for two centuries or more.
“It’s not that I was out there doing anything,” he said of the cemetery cleanups. “I just asked, ‘Who wants to volunteer?’” Mr. Hollander said arborists probably donated up to $200,000 on the two days they spent in Oakland Cemetery in late 2015. “Everyone I ask is happy to do it,” he said.
“What I have is a skill and a talent that can benefit the village and I have the ability to get people to come and help the village do some of the things it couldn’t normally do,” he concluded. “I don’t think I need to be thanked for that. I feel like I should be making the Lou Gehrig speech: ‘I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’”