ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — A building that for decades served as housing for the Navy is being renovated for new uses and to meet modern safety standards, thanks to a gift of $1 million from a seasonal Winter Harbor resident.
The gift from Edith Robb Dixon, widow of Fitz Eugene Dixon, was announced last week by Acadia Partners for Science and Learning, a nonprofit organization that works with Acadia National Park to operate Schoodic Education and Research Center at Schoodic Point. The SERC campus is located near Winter Harbor at the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula, where the U.S. Navy maintained a base from 1935 to 2002.
According to Dennis O’Brien, executive director of Acadia Partners, the gift will allow the park to renovate part of the “Rockefeller building” into offices and reception space. It is referred to informally as the Rockefeller building because its construction was financed by John D. Rockefeller in 1935, when he persuaded the Navy to relocate a radio-monitoring station from Otter Cliffs on Mount Desert Island to the Schoodic Peninsula.
The reason the building has not been used by SERC since the Navy left is that it does not meet modern civilian fire safety standards, O’Brien said Monday. Dixon’s gift will cover the expected $300,000 cost of installing a sprinkler system in the historic building.
“The building is in fabulous shape,” O’Brien said of the three-story structure, which was built in style similar to the carriage houses Rockefeller constructed on MDI. “It is not what comes to mind when you think of barracks.”
Part of the renovated building will continue to be used as housing for SERC programs, he said.
O’Brien added that his “jaw hit the table” when news of Dixon’s gift was announced at a July 7 SERC board meeting.
“This gift caught me by surprise,” he said. “It’s a historic building. It will be the heart of the campus.”
In SERC’s prepared statement about the gift, Dixon said the Schoodic area always meant a great deal to her husband and his family.
“Fitz was very excited by this important work from the beginning of [Acadia Partners’] undertaking in 2005, and he would be very pleased with the extraordinary strides made in a few short years,” she said in the statement. “It feels very right that this building and campus supports two things he loved — education and Winter Harbor.”
O’Brien said Monday that the building has 11 apartments, most of which have two bedrooms. It also has a larger apartment that was used to house the base commander.
Dixon’s $1 million is not the only money SERC is getting to spruce up its facilities, according to O’Brien. He said it also is getting $4.9 million in federal stimulus money to remove excess roadways left over from the Navy days and to landscape the 97-acre facility so it more closely resembles the rest of Acadia.
Fitz Eugene Dixon was a Winter Harbor native and philanthropist who, besides helping to found Acadia Partners, financed the renovation of former Navy housing in the Winter Harbor village into civilian use after the Navy base closed in 2002. A former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers professional basketball team, Dixon and his wife also have financially supported Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.
During his lifetime, Fitz Eugene Dixon purchased some of his favorite eateries in Winter Harbor and in Hancock to help keep them running. He died in 2006.