Thursday, January 28, 2010

'Hawthorne House,' aka 80 Meadowmere Lane

At least one of the structures demolished to make way for Mr. Gary Garrabrant’s [lovely] new house on Meadowmere Lane was in fact historic, and it was the most visible structure too, located right along the street.

In 1920 a very large house named ‘Hawthorne House’ on the corner of Halsey Neck Lane and Meadowmere Lane was built for George Leary by John Lowrie, Inc., the same builder that built the high school (now the town hall). At that time the property spanned from Halsey Neck Pond all the way west to Halsey Neck Lane (Meadowmere Place didn’t exist) and consumed more than six acres (Some reports and deeds imply more like 25 acres!). George Leary bought the [vacant] property in 1919 from Frank and Louise White, who inherited it from George G. White. The house was built in the Georgian style and was very civic looking. It was symmetrical, had brick siding, wood doors and windows, a flat roof with parapet walls, a roof garden, and a central cupola. The accessory buildings were of the same material.

Photo Curtosy Eric Woodward Collection
George Leary (1869-1942), an engineer and builder of drydocks, was the president of Morris & Cummings Dredging Co, established in 1823, which was said to be the oldest in the country. His company built navy piers in Norfolk, Va., built docks on Staten Island, and did dredging work for the Chelsea piers and South Brooklyn. There was even a steamer named George Leary which collided with a propeller boat in 1865 but did not sink. His wife was Julia May Crofton Leary (d.1935), “who was honored with the title ‘Lady of the Holy Sepulchre’ by Pope Benedict XV for special services to the Catholic Church,”[1] and was also frequently referred to as ‘Countess Leary.’ In 1927 George and Julia went through a very public separation and fight over infidelity issues, property, and wealth but both of their obituaries still refer to each other as spouses which leads one to believe they were able to make amends.

The Leary’s social endeavors were often mentioned in the Southampton Press and New York Times. In January of 1914 they gave a dinner at their Manhattan residence (1053 Fifth Ave. at East 88th Street; see photo below – building is on left) for Mr. and Mrs. Lindley M. Garrison. Mr. Garrison, a lawyer, was the Secretary of War under President Woodrow Wilson at the time. In August of 1922 the Leary’s threw a large ball at ‘Hawthorne House’ for the visiting players participating in the annual invitation tennis tournament at the Meadow Club. During the same month, the Leary’s hosted a luncheon at ‘Hawthorne House’ for Mr. and Mrs. James R. McKee. Mr. McKee was one of the principal figures in the formation of the General Electric Company.

The property remained in the possession of the Leary family, albeit through various company names (see below), until 1950 when it was sold to Francis X. Conlon, a judge. George and Julia had one child, a son named George Leary Jr. He was first married to Sarah Thomson in 1923; they divorced in 1934 citing cruelty. He was then engaged to Margaret Helen Mix in January of 1935, but subsequently married Eugenia Peabody (a distant relative of Samuel Longstreth Parrish) in May of the same year. He was mentioned as living at ‘The Lindens’ in Water Mill as of 1930. Below is a partial list of the history of property owners. Among them were Craig Mitchell Knowlton (d.2006) who was a WWII pilot and instructor, a bond salesman, owned a brick-making business in Caracas, Venezuela, and afterwards was an investment banker, and George Dana Gould. Mr. Gould was chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation of New York City in 1975 and the under secretary for finance for the U.S. government from 1985-88. And of course there are the present owners, Gary and Susan Garrabrant. Mr. Garrabrant is “the chief executive officer and co-founder of Equity International and executive vice-president of Equity Group Investments, LLC (EGI), the privately held investment company founded and led by Sam Zell.” ( Susan’s grandfather, James V. Donnelly, was a Southampton resident and a brother to the Donnelly family historically tied to ‘The Moorlands,’ at 477 Halsey Neck Lane.

The two accessory structures were a garage and a pool house originally, but most recently a single family dwelling and a guest house. That’s right, these two structures were #80 Meadowmere Lane, the accessory structures to ‘Hawthorne House,’ which no longer exist. In February 2008 the ARB Chairman, Curtis Highsmith, and its Historic Consultant, Zach Studenroth, visited the site and determined that there was no historic inventory form completed, no trace of an historic structure, and therefore no historic interest in the property. Wrong. An historic inventory form was completed in 1979 for the former structures, #SW40B, and lists the property, accurately, as having historically been associated with George Leary. The [converted garage] house was even locally thought of as prominent enough to be featured during a House and Garden Tour in July of 1972. At that time it was referred to as the “former Craig Mitchell house.” I’m not sure whatever happened to the very strong and substantial ‘Hawthorne House.’ I found an aerial photograph of the property circa 1954 which shows that it no longer exists, but also shows a distinct footprint of where it once stood, as if it hadn’t been gone for long. I’ll have to keep digging.

So what am I saying? Aren’t I excited for the new house to be built on this property, as designed by John David Rose, modeled after the John Russell Pope house? Yes, of course. But it frustrates me that the entire history of the property was completely ignored when the demolition of the surviving structures was initially requested. I mean, that’s how easy it is to tear something down in this village with historic significance, and that’s wrong. And this was built circa 1920; I don’t often argue for saving a structure of that era. But you can tell just by glancing at the early maps that something BIG was on that property (much larger than most houses nearby), which easily peaked my curiosity to look into it further. Ideally some sort of compromise could have been made to save part or all of the accessory garage as evidence of the history that preceded it thereby contributing to the narrative of our village. It was definitely a reputable house during the many years it acted as such, and would have been a sustainable endeavor to say the least to save it.

80 Meadowmere Lane Owners to Date: (incomplete)

Gary Garrabrant/Explorer Trust, 9/18/09, Liber 12600 of deeds, page 560

Gary Garrabrant Revocable Trust, 1/3/2007, Liber 12486 of deeds, page 828

George D. Gould, 3/30/1967, Liber 6133 of deeds, page 382

Craig Knowlton Mitchell, 1/25/60, Liber 4759 of deeds, page 482

Marion S. O’Connor, 1/20/50, Liber 3038, page 130

Francis X. Conlon, 12/6/47,Liber 2781 of deeds, page 485

*Morris & Cummings Dredging Company Inc., 6/20/45, Liber 2456 of deeds, page 573

*Barwick, Inc., 5/19/42, Liber 2233 of deeds, page 211

*Lambda Realty Company, Inc., 5/29/28, Liber 1351 of deeds, page 202

George Leary, 9/6/1919, Liber 983 of deeds, page 231

Frank & Louise White, 8/5/1892, Liber 29 of Wills, page 107

George White

[1] The New York Times, July 5, 1935

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