Tuesday, August 31, 2010

4 Squabble Lane

The existing house at 4 Squabble Lane is being requested to be demolished. The attorney will argue that it is not able to be seen from a public right of way which will likely seal its fate as Squabble Lane is a private road off of Wickapogue Road and the village codes don’t give authority to the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review for anything that is not visible from a public right of way.

Regardless, it is important that the history of this house be known.

Historically, the Squabble Lane area and eastward consisted of farmlands – potato fields to be precise. But in the 1920’s, on a 50-acre parcel to the east, Lucien Tyng built himself a low rambling shingled house, among other structures. The Tyngs “were a socially prominent couple known for their soirees, philanthropic activities, and patronage of the arts. Lucien Tyng….was a financier and public utilities executive. His wife, Ethel Tyng, an accomplished painter, was also recognized for her studios in New York and Southampton, as well as for her fundraising efforts to aid destitute artists during the Great Depression.” (The Tyngs later built the historic modern residence "The Shallows" on lower Halsey Neck Lane which still survives and is beautifully published in Houses of the Hamptons.)

After the Tyng’s, the house was owned by Richard Barthelmess. He was a matinee idol of the silent film era, and a big deal in Southampton Village. “At the height of Barthelmess’ screen career – and the inauguration of the Oscar awards in 1928 – he was nominated for best acting in The Patent Leather Kid….and The Noose…Before the debut of the 30s, he was still appearing in films but Gary Cooper and Clark Gable had come along by then and Barthelmess could no longer claim title to “The Most Beautiful Face of Any Man Before the Camera.” By the way, the association of this house with Barthelmess alone could have made 4 Squabble Lane landmark worthy.
In 1955 Barthelmess sold the 50 acre estate to Henry Ford II. “HF2” was married to Anne McDonnell who was the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Francis McDonnell Jr. Her father was the founder of the Wall Street firm McDonnell & Company; her grandfather was Thomas E. Murray, an electrical engineer and inventor. Anne was familiar with Southampton since childhood as her parents and grand-parents owned homes on a large section of land – originally 300 acres - in the Wickapogue area, just west of the Tyng estate.

During the 1961 nor’easter Mrs. McDonnell’s brick mansion on the beach went into the sea so she acquired an existing house – given by her daughter and son-in-law on their nearby blooming “Fordune,” estate originally built by Lucien Tyng in the 20s. She had it relocated several hundred yards away from the beach at #4 Squabble Lane. It has remained in the family to this day, and is currently owned by the McDonnell children, Louise Fayre Mynatt and Mark McDonnell, aka James F. McDonnell, Jr. LLC.

The architecture of this house is picturesque and nostalgic, but unremarkable. Its history and associations however are significant. It is historic (meaning not just old, but old with significance). I can't help but wonder what the intent of the owners is? Are they being advised that they'd be better off by clearing the land than hoping that a buyer will come along who appreciates the house and history behind it? Do they even know the history of the property? Don't they want their children to inherit the house and carry on the McDonnell/Murry presence? Are they looking to build a McMansion? Regardless, before we can do something about this ridiculous "visible from the street" code, the house should be thoroughly photo-documented. Coupled with some oral histories by the surviving McDonnell, Tyng, and Ford family members, and perhaps some of their vintage photos, it would be an appreciated and valuable archival addition to the Southampton Historical Museum Resource Center’s collection.

UPDATE 9/14/10: Someone who rented the house for a summer recently emailed me!! "The house is wonderful......The main room looks like it could have been a barn. There is also a very old system to call the maid/staff that dates back to Richard Bartlemess.......The wood floors are great wide planks and the fireplaces are quite unique."

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