Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Demolition Consequences Update

Thank you to the 77 wonderful, amazing and brave people that signed my petition advocating the urgent need for codes to be adopted describing consequences as a result of historic structures being demolished illegally in this beautiful Village of ours!!! I thank you from the bottom of my heart and assure you this issue is far from vanishing.

As a matter of fact, at the last Trustee Public Hearing, I was invited to attend a private meeting of all the various village board chairpersons that will take place on July 15th, during which this very subject will be discussed. I am to gather as many examples of similar codes as possible and bring them to share. Some of you have contacted me, asking how you can help, and that means A LOT! Call and contact as many municipalities as you can, in New York and elsewhere, and forward me their examples of codes outlining punishment as a result of demolitions without prior approval. We will all benefit from this, and many other municipalities needing such codes are paying attention. This could have a great snowball effect!

Thank you again!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

209 Windmill Lane (Sons of Gideon Lodge)

I’ve always been curious about this building. It’s definitely suffering from a lack of attention, but still retains a lot of lovely detail, like the louvered bell tower, the tudor arched doors and windows with their diamond divided light pattern, the shingled skirt up to a common window sill than runs consistently around the building’s perimeter, the brackets, the exposed rafter tails at the eaves, etc. Boy would I love to see the interior.

Prior to 1892 this property was owned by Ullman Rose Havens. Ullman was born in Southampton in 1854 and married Ida Willard Albertson in 1874 who was born in Riverhead in 1854. They had four children: Gracie, Daniel, Martha, and LeRoy. In 1892 the property was purchased by David Shepard Havens, Ullman’s son, and the mortgage was carried by his uncle Walter Franklin Havens. David and Ullman Havens were real estate brokers and owned many properties throughout the Village of Southampton.

Before the building became the gathering place for the Sons of Gideon, it was known as the Bethel Presbyterian Church where whites, African Americans, and Indians gathered under the guidance of Reverend Thomas C. Ogburn. Rev. Ogburn was an African American from North Carolina. "He was born in slavery and had begun his ministerial work in the Deep South.....[He] was a graduate from Lincoln University and from the School of Theology of the same University located in the State of Pennsylvania......The Minister was not a powerful speaker. He had none of the noisy showmanship which in those days so clearly marked the Negro preacher. This man was quiet, dignified and thoroughly a Presbyterian at heart as well as in his manner. Neither did he have the eloquence so common to the platform orator of that era. His sermons were in his daily tasks and the common everyday contacts with his parishioners." (The Shinnecock Indians, Lois Marie Hunter) Originally, Reverend Ogburn preached the three o'clock service at the First Presbyterian Church for many years. But later, as the African American community grew, there was pressure for their own place of worship. "The oldest Negro family was the very highly respected Bailey family. This family had worshipped with Indians for many, many years and was well loved by both Indians and whites. This family and their friends put their problems before Rev. Thomas C. Ogburn and under his leadership the nucleus of what in a few years was to become Bethel Presbyterian Church was founded.......In the year 1917 Bethel Church was erected on its present site in Southampton Village, an unacknowledged monument to the late Thomas Clay Ogburn and [his wife]."

The present owner of the structure is listed as “Goldie Smith/Sons of Gideon Lodge No. 47 A.P. & A. M.” but it is likely that she died at least sixty years ago. Goldie was born in New York in 1868 and was the wife of a clothing merchant. Her husband, his parents, and her parents were all born in Germany. Perhaps the building is now owned by some of her relatives; she and her husband Max had three children: Philip, Ruby, and Harold. Sometime during her ownership of the building it became associated with the Sons of Gideon, which was a derivative of the Masonic Lodge, which derives from the Freemasons, a secretive fraternal organization which arose from obscure origins during the 16th and 17th century. “Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons' tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Soloman's Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Wikipedia

The lovely structure looks like it hasn’t been used in quite some time. I daydream about it becoming a general use community structure for book clubs, and poker groups, and playgroups, or as an annex to the forthcoming African American Museum of the East End.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Before & After #1: 28 Post Lane

Now that I’ve been following construction activities in the Village of Southampton for awhile I can start to show you, via photos, the aesthetic transformation of some of the properties in the area. This is the property where I said it was a shame that the house was torn down, not because of historic significance, but for sustainability issues. You know, “there’s nothing greener than an existing building.” But then I got a comment from a real estate broker I once worked with saying the builder was wonderful and the house had irreconcilable pet odors, blah, blah, blah. So now we have a nice but HUGE house in its place. The National Trust for Preservation and the New York Preservation League have a term for this phenomenon: it’s called something like “The Times Three” effect, when something that is built or renovated is three times larger than what was there previously. This has definitely been the trend around here for awhile, but also statewide and nationally. Misery loves company.

Related to this is an argument that you can’t compare these ‘before and after’ houses because the before house chose not to build out to the maximum allowable buildable envelope whereas the current house did and therefore they represent two different and unique building trends. True, but you can still compare them, and you can reach numerous conclusions: that more owners/architects were designing houses then than builders, that house sizes were preferably smaller ‘back then’ and are larger now for varying reasons (among them profit of course), and that having much of a yard is now very low on the list of priorities.

This “times three” trend is transforming the Village of Southampton and only time will tell as to what extent. Its effects will be in terms of quality of architecture/character and in terms of density – how volumetrically dense can this village (and environment) endure? The mind-set of the powers that be seems pro-development because they created the codes that allow for this type of lot coverage. So it’s up to the community and its values to reverse or modify the desires behind the trend.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Did you know May was National Preservation Month??? Sure didn’t feel like it in Southampton Village to me with the destruction of 477 Halsey Neck Lane.

Anyway, the traditional colonial house shown above once stood at 444 Little Plains Road for about 76 years. It was originally built in Connecticut circa 1740 and later (during the 19th century) moved by boat to Sag Harbor. It stayed there for a few decades before being moved, this time by the Dixon’s, to their property at 444 Little Plains Road, in this village. But by 2006 the owners were selling the property and the new owners wanted to demolish the house to build a new one (see photo below).

In this case however, the house wasn’t lost, it was dismantled and saved! Robert Strada, a contractor from East Hampton, miraculously heard about the house and swooped in about 30 days before demolition would have occurred to take it down and reconstruct it on property he and his wife owned in Amagansett. The project was outside the historic district boundaries so the ARB did not have jurisdiction to save it from demolition. At that time there was no requirement that anything built prior to 1926 had to have the ARB’s approval. Yikes! The dismantling took approximately two weeks and was funded completely by the Stradas, which was likely to have cost in the six figures. Add in relocation and reassembly, and you would easily reach one million.

After learning about this project, thanks to a nice reader of this blog, Mr. Strada has become one of my official preservation heroes. Get this: The Stradas also bought the condemned building on Windmill Lane (#22) that no doubt many of you have driven by and wondered, “what’s the deal with that building?” Well, that building was built around a historic house called the Henry Rhodes House “which experts have called one of the best preserved examples of 18th century design in Southampton. ”[1] It was built in 1760 on the corner of Main Street and Hampton Road and moved in 1925 to make way for what is now the Town Hall. The Stradas intend to renovate and restore the original house. Bravo!

[1] Southampton Press, June 29, 2006, page R1

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Inadequacy of the Sign Codes

There was an interesting sign application that came before the ARB not too long ago that I thought I’d share. I don’t usually write about the sign applications, mostly because they’re simple and straight forward and not too interesting……to me anyway. So the owner or operator of a place called “The Chicken Spot” on North Sea Road was seeking approval for the place’s sign, a multicolor and animated logo complete with chicken and text to be applied to the front window. (Side note: the sign was already up, see photo at top.) Anyway, three of five of the ARB members thought it wasn’t appropriate with the character of the village, but two of the five didn’t mind it, and one especially thought it was okay because of its location (you know, out there, away from the real village). The application was adjourned with the recommendation that the chicken come out and the whole thing be black and white which the owner ultimately did. But here’s the dilemma: The Chicken Spot is next to the meat shop, where the cow sculpture is out front, just north of the railroad tracks and south of Clam Man, on the west side of North Sea Road. You can imagine the comments and giggles that occurred during the hearing……the cow, the chicken, etc. Here’s the point: the owner (or applicant, or operator……I don’t know which, so I’m just going to call him the owner) was upset (but respectful) that the meat shop had such ‘loud’ advertising and he was being made to have an easily overlooked black and white logo. He felt that he needed something much more visibly noticeable to compete with his neighbor. Should he erect a big chicken sculpture and usurp the sign code completely? That seems to be a strategy many owners employ: Four Seasons with their tables and chairs everywhere; Lynch’s with their wagons and wheelbarrows spread across the lawn. The point is that the sign codes are inadequate, and at least one of the ARB members often asks when the board can propose amendments to the code to address this, only to be told that the public hearing is not the place and time in which to do so, resulting in the subject being brushed under the rug indefinitely. The same is true for other regulations (driveway lighting, balconies, pool equipment locations, etc.), but let’s stick with signs for now.
The ARB hasn’t been consistent with what they allow and don’t allow on signs (websites, logos, phone numbers, a combination of all of the above, etc.) but generally, they prefer signs that are simple, without logos, slogans, and too much miscellaneous language. (It’s even been suggested that only the general contractor and architect be able to display a sign in front of a project in progress, which I think would be appropriate. We don’t want every Tom, Dick, and Harry that works on any given house in the village to be able to advertise their services via a sign or we’ll have a whole lot of signs visually littering the entire community.) Anyway, one would never know the preferences of the ARB in relation to signs merely by reading the codes; they would have to sit in on ARB public hearings, or ask one of the two most widely used sign companies, to learn this which can’t be expected. The Village of Southampton needs better codes on many levels and in many places. But it’s up to us to ask for them, because the boards often don’t ask for them themselves, and when they do, there is often little follow through.

Currently, I am busy asking the Trustees to incorporate punitive consequences within our codes for those who demolish structures illegally. That is very important to me. But afterwards, perhaps we should start asking them to make all these other code modifications. How else will they know they are needed? While we’re at it, let’s suggest they just talk to each other a bit more.

You know, I keep saying “we” and “let’s” as I am constantly hoping to get a little help. Any takers?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A White House Replica

I plan to write something in the near future about the dangerous new and ARB-acceptable trend of replicating historic architecture here in the Village, but for now I thought I’d entertain you with a story about a White House replica in Georgia.

“In October 2001, Fred Milani's replica of the White House on Briarcliff Road was not quite finished. Still, it was creating a stir in the Oak Grove area north of Clairmont Road as passersby slowed down to gape. In fact, though still in the works, it was the first house profiled in Private Quarters.

Interest in the house has not dimmed. We still get the occasional astonished inquiry from people who happen upon the columned home. Recently Fred and Yvonne, his wife of 25 years, invited us on a tour of the elegantly decorated interior.

The house is a replica of the presidential mansion on the outside only, although Fred works in an "oval office," seated at a replica of Abraham Lincoln's carved mahogany desk. And there's a carved seal of the United States mounted on the ceiling and another woven into the carpet.
Milani, an Iranian-born engineer, residential developer and builder, is an American citizen who has lived in this country since 1979. He is also a former Muslim who converted to Christianity nine years ago. Throughout the house are reminders of his faith, intertwined with his pride of citizenship.

There are 36 rooms on three floors in the 16,500-square-foot house. It has six bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and six fireplaces. The elaborate draperies in the formal rooms are duplicates of those in the White House. "I gave the seamstresses a book on the White House and asked them to copy them," Yvonne explained.

The domed ceiling over the spectacular central staircase in the foyer features a mural of Jesus. His outstretched arms reach out to American Indians in feathered headdresses, Hispanic men in sombreros and Asians in traditional costumes.

"I wanted it to show that God loves all people, all nationalities," said Yvonne, who was born in Mississippi and reared in Missouri.

A 20-foot-tall Christmas tree decorated with oversized blue and gold ornaments stands in the living room. A 2-foot-tall angel tops the tree. There are decorated trees in many other rooms, including the huge kitchen. From the curved and columned balcony at the rear of the home — a replica of the Truman balcony — visitors can see the large pool, waterfall, formal gardens and pool house with full outdoor kitchen.

There's an upstairs sitting room decorated in traditional Iranian fashion with pillowed floor seating and low tables. Silk rugs hanging against the walls are among the Iranian touches throughout the house.

The Milanis are expecting guests for the holidays. They are opening their home to the public from Dec. 11 through Jan. 2 to raise money for the independent International Church of God, a Christian church that ministers to Muslims converting to Christianity. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays. The only day the house will be closed is Christmas Day. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and $10 for children 6 to 12.”

Here’s the article, posted in 2004, written by Tinah Saunders, which has LOTS of photos: