Monday, April 16, 2012

"Madame Armande" and the Portable Building Scheme

For many years I have been intrigued with the home and barn at 32 Armande Street. Recently I set out to look into the property’s past, and ultimately learned so much more than the history behind its buildings.
The house (above) faces east, toward nearby Halsey Street, because at the time, Armande Street was not a road. What eventually became Armande Street started out as a short driveway off of Halsey Street as a means to access this home’s property. Built about 1910 for Mr. and Mrs. Julian Kleisler, it is a two-and-a-half story residence with two internal symmetrically placed chimneys and a three-bay wide front porch with a flat roof. It has double-hung windows throughout with two-over-two divided lights, many of which have been replaced. It rests on a brick foundation and is clad with cedar shingle siding and an asphalt roof. A small central front-facing cross gable decorates the eastern elevation and is embellished with a single double-hung window. 

Five feet away from the south side of the rear elevation sits the barn (above), which I learned from the last owner (Colleen M. Laski, 1927-2010), was once a summer kitchen.  It is one-and-a-half story in height and is attached to the house by a bracketed shed canopy over the home’s back door. It is clad with vertical cedar planks with a scalloped detail on the gable ends at the roof’s plate height. This was a decorative way to address the fact that there were not boards long enough to clad the whole east and west sides of the building without a seam somewhere and intersects the mid-point of the two-over-two double-hung window on the second story perfectly.

The house seems earlier to me than 1910 but I can’t say why – just a hunch. In fact, it reminds me a lot of #90 Meetinghouse Lane (above) which I believe was built slightly earlier, circa 1900. Perhaps the house at 32 Armande was moved to its present location, and maybe the barn was too. In the early 1800s agricultural publications advised farmers to attach their “back houses” to their homes for convenience. The summer kitchen removed the hot cooking function out of the house for the warmer months but also accommodated such uses as laundry functions and candle-making. The upstairs would have been used as summer bedrooms for children, staff, or general storage.  But after further research, I’m not sure this was always and only a summer kitchen either. Additionally, there is another barn almost exactly like it at 57 Walnut Street (below, which is now under renovation; note the interesting blue paint color revealed when a later layer of siding was removed.).

The Kleislers were French, arriving in the United States in 1881 and 1890 respectively. Mrs. Kleisler’s first name was Armande – and now we know how Armande Street got its name.  “Madame Armande,” as she was locally known, was a noted dressmaker and milliner and had a thriving business in Southampton Village before retiring just before the turn of the century. Between 1894 and 1902 she had her own building (below) erected on the west side Main Street, called the “Kleisler block.” This building still survives and is two-and-a-half stories in height with arched windows on the third story and pedimented windows on the second. When the inventory of historic structures was performed in the late 1970s, it was considered “an important and unique Shingle-style commercial building.” The building is now known as the Cameron building, at #83-87, after a later owner. In fact, in 1902 Mr. Cameron owned a building immediately to the north, and later built another out of brick to the south. In case you are wondering, this Cameron family is not related to the Camerons which owned the cottage at 436 Gin Lane.

Despite owning their home on Armande Street and their commercial building on Main Street, the Kleislers lived on Hill Street, in another home that still survives today, at #200 (below). It is in wonderful condition and is a rambling two-story Shingle-style home with some beautiful twelve-over-one double-hung windows, a porte-cochere, and an octagonal tower which must catch great sunlight from the south and east.

Sometimes when I set out to learn more about a particular piece of property, the history behind it is disappointing and the architecture outshines the lives that occupied the structure(s). But other times, the history turns out to be utterly fascinating, at least to me, and this has certainly been the case, prompted by 32 Armande Street. 
The really interesting part was in reading the following article, originally published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 18, 1900. “End of Southampton’s Anti-Saloon Warfare: Temperance Folks Win and Boniface Hawkins Surrenders His License: Portable House Scheme Fails: Villagers Say That Nine Raines Law Hotels Are Quite Enough for Southampton – Want No More.” (Special to the Eagle)
Southampton, L.I., December 18; “There is great rejoicing here among the temperance folks over the victory in securing the surrender of the license granted last week to A. B. Hawkins, whose attempt to open a Raines law hotel bar in the Kleisler Block, on Main street, has been the sole topic for the past ten days.
About three years ago, Hawkins came to Southampton. A year ago he opened a boarding house on the second and third floors of the Kleisler Block, known as the Atlantic Hotel, and it was his intention, so he told the Eagle representative last night, to open a café and restaurant in connection therewith in the ground floor in the store formerly used by Mrs. Julius Kleisler as a millinery and dressmaking establishment. The fact that Hawkins wanted to increase the number of places where spirituous liquors would b dispensed, aroused the indignation of the good Southampton folks and, although Hawkins tried to pacify them with the tale that he did not intend in keep open on Sunday, he failed to gain support to his scheme.
Two years ago the electors of the town voted that only drug stores and hotels could be licensed, with the result that Southampton became noted as a semi-temperance town, though with a record of nine so called hotels holding licenses under what now appears in the Southampton folks the most peculiar instrument on New York’s statue books, and which came in for a large share of criticism last night, during the tour of the Eagle reporter among the residents.
When Hawkins endeavored to secure the necessary consents of two-thirds of the owners of property occupied exclusively as places of residence, he met with sharp rebuffs. His business neighbors, Ormiston C. Gardner, W. F. Howell, Mrs. R. W. Enoch, Garrett Pullis, S. W. Barteau, Alexander Cameron and others, although anxious to oppose the opening of a saloon adjoining them, were powerless. It was claimed they were not within the pale of the law because, although their residences were within the 200 feet limit, the fact that their business places formed part of their buildings placed them outside of the section of the law specifying “owners of property occupied exclusively as residences.”
However, undaunted, the opposing forces led by Mr. Gardner, secured the aid of the four Misses Sayre, Edgar Sayre and Josiah Foster, who own on the opposite side of the street, and W. E. Ellsworth, who owns on the same side of the street as Hawkins. The Kleisler building is owned by Mrs. Kleisler, whose dressmaking and millinery establishment has been liberally patronized by both the local residents and summer cottagers, to the latter she being known as Madame Armande, the sign in front of the now empty store being the only evidence of Madame Armande’s former regime. Having accumulated a snug fortune in the making of hats and clothes for the summer girl Mrs. Kleisler, or Madame Armande, built the present block bearing her name, and has retired from business to live on the income from her investment. Not wishing to have the store remain unoccupied and with the desire to accommodate her good tenant, Mr. Hawkins, she readily gave her consent to Mr. Hawkins’ scheme.
Having failed to get the consent of a single neighbor or property owner within the prescribed limit, Hawkins hit upon the novel idea to erect portable houses and thus thwart his enemies’ plans. A week ago last Saturday the villagers were astounded to see arrive on the regular freight the frames of four portable buildings, which it was said last night, came from Corona, Long Island. The first building was put in position at the rear of the Kleisler block and completed by Monday night, and by Wednesday noon the remaining three buildings were finished, but none of which have yet been occupied. The buildings are about 9 feet wide, 15 feet long and about 10 feet high with slanting roofs, and now present the appearance of a row of sea shore bath houses, a sight that is familiar in every Brooklynite who has visited along the south shore water front. The arrival of the portable buildings and their Aladdin-like construction was a seven days wonder to the Long Islanders.
Not to be outdone, however, the opposition forces were called to a council of war by Mr. Gardner, the outcome of which was the placing of a small house on skids, which was moved in the rear of Alexander Cameron’s block to the north of the Kleisler block, and facing Nugent place. This was one card better against Mr. Hawkins, the Opposition House, as it has since been termed, being sat in place before Hawkins had completed the erection of his portables, and as one of the villages said last night: “Why, if it was necessary, we would have put up a hundred sheds or ‘portable houses’ if you call them such.” There is plenty of room at the rear of the Cameron block, the Gardner block and others along Main Street for a small army of buildings, and the indications are that the villages would have won out at the game of “portable houses.”
Lawyer Howell, it was suggested, might move his office to the rear of the Cameron block, and Mrs. Enoch, one of Mrs. Kleisler’s trade rivals, had a laundry building ready to move to any spot desired, and it was suggested that an auxiliary of one of the local churches could be established across the street on the Bridgehampton road, and hundreds of plans for similar “mushroom” growths were quickly developed.
An Eagle reporter was informed last night by one of the local ministers that the four portable buildings used by Hawkins had seen similar service in the establishment of twenty saloons in different parts of the State. “The plan,” said the clergyman, “is to put up these boxes and put in tenants for a short time, to offset any opposition by the local people and after the affair has blown over and the license secured, to remove the buildings to another section.”
Tuesday, while the portables were in course of erection, Hawkins made application to County Treasurer John Sherry for a hotel license. It is said that false statements were made to secure the certificate from the county Treasurer but which were not known to Mr. Sherry who issued the certificate. When Mr. Garner and his followers heard that Hawkins had his certificate they employed Lawyers W. F. Howell and Harri M. Howell to take up the case. Hawkins was given until Saturday last to surrender the certificate with the proviso to abide the consequences in case he refused, and said Mr. Gardner, “It would have gone hard with him if he had not complied and surrendered the certificate.”

Mr. Hawkins, when seen by an Eagle reporter last night said, “Yes, it is true I have surrendered my license, but although I have given up the present fight the end is not yet; we’ll meet them another way.” He hinted at charges of his mail having been intercepted and his letters opened, and that by the opening of his mail his intention to open the saloon became known some time ago. He said the leader of the opposition was not sincere in the fight against him on temperance grounds, Hawkins alleging that Mr. Gardner was afraid the proposed restaurant would injure the coffee and cake section of Gardner’s bakery.
Continuing, Mr. Hawkins said: “My intention was to open a café and restaurant, which is just what Southampton needs, and the town has treated me very mean in the matter. I had fitted up the store in fine style, and expected to give the town something to be proud of. No, I will make no further attempt to secure a hotel license. I don’t think I will starve yet. I have twenty-eight rooms in the building, and plenty of boarders. I have been a resident here three years, but in order to succeed here you have got to be a native. The natives have not got the ambition to make a start in the line I proposed. Natives are running hotels in town to-day and doing as they please and sell what they like, without interference, and it is not fair. I did not propose to conduct a dive, as some would make believe.”
Ormiston C. Gardner, the leader of the opposition, was also interviewed by the Eagle reporter. Mr. Gardner said: “We were not fighting Mr. Hawkins. Personally, he is all right; his family and mine are quite intimate. It was the saloon feature we were opposed to. Had not Mr. Hawkins given up his certificate we would have made it a test case, even if only to find out what constitutes a dwelling house under the terms of the Raines law. I think my house, even if the front lower part is occupied as my place of business, is as good as any house in the village, and why a bath house should have preference over my house I cannot understand.”
The Hawkins episode has given impetus to the anti-saloon campaign just started here. A meeting was held at the residence of Captain Hunting, on main street, last night and the Southampton Anti-Saloon League was formed. Its object is the fight for no license at the coming spring elections. Mrs. Ella Bennett, who is prominent in the Suffolk County Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the pastors of the local churches were present at the meeting. The officers elected to carry on the work of the league were: W. F. Halsey, president; L. E. Terry, D. E. Ellsworth and W. H. Pierson, vice presidents; W. D. Van Brunt, secretary and treasurer, Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. George R. Howell were appointed a press committee. S. E. Ellsworth, who was elected second vice president of the league, was one of the leaders in the opposition to the Hawkins proposed saloon.
That there is a concerted movement to abolish saloons in this village is evident from the fact that the prime object of the recently formed Southampton Real estate Association, composed of some of the wealthy summer residents, is to drive out the saloon run by John Henry Hildreth, at the foot of Job’s lane and Monument square. For the past fifteen years Hildreth has been located at this one spot, and his friends say he cannot be driven away. Hildreth’s place is near the aristocratic colony, and those colonists want the objectionable saloon removed. Accordingly, the association, which filed its certificate with the Secretary of State last week and is capitalized at $5,000, has purchased some land nearby and is seeking more in the vicinity in order to gain the desired majority to prevent the reissuance of Hildreth’s license. It is said that the association raised $3,500 among the wealthy New Yorkers and sent circulars to the local people to subscribe the balance of $1,500, which was quickly taken. Among the directors of the Realty Association are former Collector of the Port of New York, W. F. Kilbreth, Salem H. Wales, Frederic Betts and Samuel L. Parish.
It is claimed that the low lands in the vicinity of Hildreth’s place are marshy and malarial, and that it is desired to fill in the land to prevent the disease germs spreading, but the ostensible object, as told by a local resident, is to make at least one less saloon in the village.” 
I don’t know about you, but I found that article very interesting for several reasons: for the comments regarding being a ‘native,’ for the general insight into the temperance movement here in Southampton Village, and for Mrs. Kleisler’s involvement – albeit potentially unintentionally – in the hilarious ‘portable building’ scheme. And it’s the portable buildings (along with the photo in the old article) that lead me to really be curious about the barns at 32 Armande and 57 Walnut. They fit the description. Were they originally intended as saloons? Maybe.
Now comes the part when I sound like a 'broken record.' These accessory structures, especially if they've been modified in the least and not referred to on the 1979 inventory forms, are very easy to be permitted to be demolished, and yet they contribute as much to the narrative of this village as the homes and commercial buildings. The accessory structures that survive today are incredibly unique and rare. I applaud everyone who has held on to them and values them!