The latest historic preservation scandal in our lovely Village is that the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton wants to, in essence, put a cell phone tower in its steeple. This historic structure was built in 1843 and is one of the most well known icons in the community. So far there have been two or three public hearings regarding this proposal in front of the Village's Architectural Review Board, and it's not over yet.
Cell phone towers continue to be a persuasive source of income for churches, fire stations, etc. and in these days of economic struggle, who can blame anyone for creatively trying to battle their financial woes? And the Presbyterian Church sure has tried to be creative, but they may need to go back to the drawing board.
Representatives of the cellular components are proposing to dismantle the 168 year old steeple, and some say even store it in the basement for possible reinstallation one day. Then they would replicate the steeple with Styrofoam and fiberglass and other materials that more easily allow for cellular transmission through them. After that, 8 cellular antennas would go inside. So, what do you think?
Wait, there's more. There's the whole issue of the clock and the health of its keeper. In 1871 a clock made by E. Howard & Company was added to the steeple and works to this day. It is thought of as the "Town Clock." Since its installation, its timeliness requires that it be re-winded every 8 days which has happened consistently to this day, more or less. But while the cellular elements are not harmful to the environment, from what I hear, they may be harmful to the steward of the clock, who would be exposed to something that these components are made of, or emit, to a higher and unsafe degree. Well, that's no good!
While I am sympathetic to the church's desires, I think this application should be denied. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation suggest that a building's original features can only be considered for replacement if they are too deteriorated to salvage and that doesn't seem to be the case here. I would rather see a cell tower somewhere else on the property - perhaps designed as a tree or flag pole - than the church's original fabric toyed with, setting a dangerous precedent for future applications. We'll see what the ARB decides.
Postcard image courtesy of the Southampton Historical Museum.