Eighty Years After His Historic Letter to FDR, Albert Einstein to be Honored in Southold

Pictured Above: An artist rendering of the new Einstein Square.

On Aug. 2, 1939, Albert Einstein mailed a letter from his vacation house on Nassau Point in Cutchogue to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning of the Nazi government’s work to develop a nuclear bomb.

That letter changed the course of world history, and this Aug. 2, on the 80th anniversary of the mailing of that letter, the new owners of the Rothman’s Department Store building at 54180 Main Street in Southold are celebrating that history with the unveiling of Einstein Square, a new public square centered around a bust honoring Albert Einstein.

The unveiling and dedication ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Aug. 2 and is open to the public.

Einstein’s famous letter to Franklin Roosevelt, sent from the North Fork 80 years ago this Friday.

Einstein often referred to his summers on the North Fork as his happiest ever, and while here he struck up a friendship with David Rothman, then-owner of Rothman’s Department Store, when he walked in to the department store looking for sandals to wear to the beach near his rented house on West Cove Road.

Mr. Rothman, confused by Einstein’s thick German accent, thought the physicist was asking for “sundials,” and while he didn’t have sundials for sale in the department store, he offered up his own sundial in the garden adjacent to the store, according to David Rothman’s grandson, Ron Rothman, the most recent proprietor of the department store, which has relocated to another building just west of the original department store, where he specializes in the sale of vintage guitars.

David Rothman and Albert Einstein, both violinists, often played chamber music together, at one point forming a neighborhood string quartet.

“It was important to honor and preserve the 100-year history of this space,” said Jonathan Tibett, Southold resident and new co-owner of the building. “We’ve accomplished our mission of creating a central place for connecting as a community.” 

Mr. Tibett, along with co-owner Glenn Heidtmann Jr., a fourth generation Southold builder, have revitalized the street-level storefront and surrounding green-space while preserving and refurbishing the residential spaces upstairs.

“The intention was to foster a setting that serves as an inviting respite from the world, right in the center of town,” said Mr. Heidtmann.

David Rothman in his work clothes and Albert Einstein dressed for the beach at Horseshoe Cove in Nassau Point in the summer of 1939

“Southold Historical Society is thrilled to see the historic site being preserved,” said the historical society’s Executive Director, Deanna Witte-Walker. “We have been watching the progress with great satisfaction, knowing both this building and this special relationship between Albert Einstein and David Rothman will be celebrated for years to come.” 

Potential commercial and residential tenants interested in touring the revitalized spaces should contact Scott Bennett of Douglas Elliman at 631.298.6143 or Scott.Bennett@elliman.com.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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