Thursday, March 25, 2010

Re-Valuing Accessory Structures

I think Southampton Village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review should refresh their appreciation for accessory structures and consider them to be much more valuable contributions of the architectural inventory of the area. In the recent past I have written about three houses that were once accessory structures to their “main” houses, all of which have been approved to be demolished: 450 Gin Lane (“Sandhurst”), 395 First Neck Lane (Samuel L. Parrish), and 80 Meadowmere Lane (“Hawthorn House”). All three of these accessory structures evolved into “main” houses sometime during their lives, which is something other than what they were originally intended to be. One was a caretaker’s cottage (I think), and the other two were carriage houses. The philosophy of the ARB has been that a structure no longer retains its architectural integrity if it has changed from its original appearance and use, and this is not – in general - an uncommon philosophy. But I disagree, especially within the context of this village. Too many of the historic houses and accessory structures in this village have been demolished only to make way for something new, and while the area is still rich with many wonderful circa 1900's architecture, we can’t lose anymore without seriously tarnishing (if it hasn’t already) the village’s preservation reputation and seeming to abandon the historic character, quaintness, and nostalgia with which it is associated and which makes it so valuable, real estate-wise, notoriety-wise, and heritage-wise.
Also, isn’t it a slap in the face of one of the preservation movement’s most successful tools – adaptive reuse – to maintain such a philosophy? It happens all the time: a garage becomes a pool house; a shed becomes a child’s playhouse; a summer kitchen/barn becomes a yoga studio; a carriage house becomes a guest house. Each time an accessory structure is used for a different purpose, it has been given a new lease on life thus giving the preservationists and sustainability cause a moment to celebrate. But have these structures consequently sealed their fate to be demolished? It seems absurd, doesn’t it?
The photo above is of the Wooldon Manor pool house. Built where Dr. Theodore Gaillard Thomas’s house, “The Dunes” once stood at the southeastern foot of Lake Agawam, this accessory structure (wonderfully featured in the fabulous book Houses of the Hamptons by Anne Surchin) now serves as a principal dwelling and has been added onto a number of times. Nonetheless, it still reminds us of Wooldon Manor – now gone – and the history of the property. Can you imagine if it were approved for demolition because it’s no longer a pool house?

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