Sunday, March 25, 2012

Memory Lane, circa 1888

I'm going to take a brief pause from building histories and current events to share another old newspaper article. I stumbled upon this one doing research a few weeks ago and found it interesting for several reasons: for its enchanting description of Southampton village, for its description of Dr. T. G. Thomas' house as ugly, for its mentioning of there being only three Fair Lea cottages then, and others. Here it is, practically in its entirety, sprinkled throughout with some related photos. Enjoy.

“How breathable the atmosphere!” Tired, hot and dusty, after a long ride through flat and uninteresting scenery, how delightful to stand on the little station at Southampton and inhale a good long breath of the delightful air. Right from Old Ocean himself it comes laden with the fragrance of the new mown hay – leaving a taste of salt upon the lips, sweet to the nostrils, grateful to the lungs. Again with Christopher North, I exclaim: -- “How breathable the atmosphere” – “Dies Borealis.”

            One of the numerous conveyances in waiting drive one through the pretty, drowsy little village, with the stores either side of the irregular sreet and the dwellings straggling off in every direction, and one would think from the number of roads and by-ways that every house has its highway and each highway its own names for. At each corner hangs a gibbeted sign with a legend, as “North Sea Road, opened 1712;” “Job’s Lane, opened 1663;” “Windmill Lane, opened 1659;” “Shinnecock Road, opened 1650,” all bearing testimony to the antiquity of the town and conservativeness of the inhabitants who cling fondly to the old names.


            Southampton boasts two liberty poles and a charming old windmill (above), which stands at the junction of the street bearing its name and the old Shinnecock road, with sails spread and flapping its ancient arms disdainfully and amazedly at the strange houses and strange doings all around about it, wondering what has become of the familiar faces and the hands that built it, unmindful that they are resting peacefully in the old cemetery on the North Sea road, with moss-grown tombstones from which Time’s slow but cruel finger has erased all record and inscription.

            Passing through the village proper, beyond the Presbyterian church, adorned this summer with a new town clock, we come to the summer colony, clustered thickly around a pretty little sheet of water, once humbly designated the “Town Pond” but now bearing, with the dignity of a bantam, the high sounding title of Lake Agawam (below).


            Here we find a tiny city – a toy Newport – beautifully situated on either bank of the little lake, with the beach within easy walking distance, the ocean is full view, the sound of the breakers distinctly to be heard, not only by the people living right on the sand, but by those even at the remoter end of the pond.

            The whole gamut is run, from hideousness and bareness and glare to beauty and restfulness and shade, this last exemplified by Mrs. Frederick Betts’ gabeled vine-embowered house, Mr. Barney’s granite cottage, Salem H. Wales’ large and straggling but thoroughly picturesque home, J. Hampden Robb’s expensive dwelling, the Schieffelin cottages, the McKeevers, the Schermerhorns, the Kilbreths, the Moerans, the Murdocks, the Bacons and others too numerous to mention.


            Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas’ square, ugly, but very comfortable house (above), is most delightfully situated on an elevation immediately on the beach, and overlooks on one side the ocean and on the other the pretty lake, dotted all over with tiny sails, where the youth with aquatic tastes can indulge them to his heart’s content, his pleasures unalloyed by the terrors of squalls and sea-sickness, and at no greater risk than perhaps a sudden duckling in the tepid water.

            Dr. Thomas’ house marks the centre of what are called the beach cottages which stretch away on either side, and are delightful residences for those devoted enough to the sea to stand its roarings so very near. To the east are the three cottages called Fair Lea, one occupied by Professor Boyesen, of Columbus College, and still prettier is Mr. William Douglass’ large house and stables, just finished and now occupied by the family.


            Westward is the Episcopal church, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, (above) formerly the life saving station, and now enlarged and altered and improved by the addition of some memorial windows, a musical bell and an eloquent preacher, for Southampton this year has the Rev. Dr. Rainsford to minister to her spiritual needs. Indeed both spiritually and physically we are well tended, for the D. D.s are represented by Mr. Wilson and Dr. Rainsford and the M. D.s by Drs. Thomas, Markoe, Delafield and Porter.

            Indeed it is a childrens’ paradise. To see the myriads of rosy-cheeked, bright eyed babies frolicking on the beach, playing in the sand, tucking up their little petticoats and toying barefooted with the chilly waves, running shrilly screaming and laughing back to their nurses, rocking in the great life boat always in readiness in case of need, making tunnels and burying each other in the clean, dry sand, makes one wish more regretfully than ever that Time is so relentless and will not turn backward to let us once again enjoy the blissful, simple pleasures of a child.


            But in my enthusiasm for the dainty mites of humanity I wander from a far more important subject, the far-famed Meadow Club (above). To tell the truth the old sight on Dr. Thomas’ grounds was far more convenient and accessible. They are now in larger and doubtless better quarters, but are so fenced in by barbed wire and red tape that, except to the initiated, they are not of much account. Even as a picturesque feature of the landscape they have lost most of their charm, for to see the players is next to impossible from the roadway, a fact that is thoroughly agreeable to the members, who pride themselves on their exclusiveness. Most of the “Pond” people are enthusiastic players, and the annual championship games are just over.

            The drives are … innumerable and branch out in every direction along the well built turnpike to Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, through the woods by many and devious paths to North Sea and Rose’s Grove, over the hills to the Shinnecock Inn, a quaint little hostelry, delightfully situated on a bluff directly over the water.

            During the afternoon one meets enough swell equipages to remind one of Newport. Mrs. Willie Douglass with her well matched team of calico ponies, driving a spider-phaeton; Mrs. Louis Murdock, in a towering dog cart; young de Garmendia, driving tandem; Miss May Brady, pretty as a picture in her natty habit, accompanied now by her white-haired father, but oftener by her “cavalier servante,” young Stevens, a representative of the Hoboken family, whose devotion is tireless, and who is said to have secured – but, avant! This is what the dickie birds say, and too trivial to get noted.

            Southampton is essentially a place for open air sports. Except on very rainy days it is delightful to be out of doors, for the sandy soil precludes mud, and the atmosphere has always that saltiness that robs even dampness of its terrors, and it is rarely uncomfortable warm. In the morning pretty women galore adorn the beach, though the “Pond” people never appear before noon, just about the time the boarders are being packed into stages and driven back to a hustling match, more politely termed dinner.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sad News for 95 Layton Avenue


Not such a happy St. Patrick’s Day for this house. The Irish Fannings have decided to amend their approval to renovate their house at 95 Layton Avenue and, at the next ARB meeting on Monday, March 26th, will ask to tear it down instead. I’m guessing they plan to proceed with their original designs and replicate it (proposed drawings pictured below), but it’s tragic nonetheless. Another authentic piece of architecture lost, and another that may have been protected had the historic district boundaries been expanded awhile back – an endeavor that was supposed to occur over the last several years but which seems to have been abandoned.


In case you missed the previous blog post about this house and its twin, immediately to the west, 95 Layton Avenue is a lovely Queen Anne Style home built in 1888-9 by and for Harry Clancey. It is two-stories tall with a primary front-facing gable and a shallow side cross-gable. Its double-hung windows are symmetrically arranged and it has eaves which turn out slightly at their ends. It has an entry porch which wraps around its front and west side, a centered chimney, and a bay window on the west side. It is clad in cedar shingles which have different patterns for the first, second, and attic levels, a typical Queen Anne feature.


Layton Avenue was laid out about 1895 and was named for a beloved local Methodist minister, Rev. W. A. Layton. Before the turn of the century this “North End” community experienced a building boom and was mentioned in the local papers as “taking the lead in new buildings.”

I assume the owners have changed their minds being convinced that the house is in “too poor condition” to be renovated. I suspected it was going to be stripped-down to a frightening extent anyway. With all due respect, I know rehabilitation is expensive, but it is more environmentally friendly. Did you know that restoring a window is half as expensive as new windows? Easy for me to say when it’s not my wallet, but for every expert that says a structure can’t be saved, I could provide one that says the opposite. I really wish the expansion of the historic district boundaries would become more important to village officials; this replication trend is unsettling.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Renovation" (Demolition)

Last December, the Town of Southampton amended their building codes to include several new definitions related to renovation. These include actually defining the words definition, renovation, restoration, rehabilitation, and so on. This was a much needed change and now provides real clarity to all construction projects, because as we have seen, "renovation" can be fatal to a historic structure.
Here in Southampton Village, we should also encourage the adoption of these definitions. I know I have spoken about it before, but now the Village can see that the problem of dismantling a building down to one wall is widespread, and others have now actually done something about it.

Here are several examples of historic buildings that have been renovated to such an extent that they can now no longer be considered as contributing resources and which pictorially demonstrate the need for these definitions in the village:
98 Lewis Street, Southampton Village, Before Renovation

98 Lewis Street, Southampton Village, During Renovation

67 Layton Avenue, Southampton Village, Before Renovation

67 Layton Avenue, Southampton Village, During Renovation

475 Flying Point Road Before Renovation

475 Flying Point Road, Water Mill, During Renovation


Here are the specific definitions adopted by Southampton Town:

DEMOLITION- to dismantle, raze or remove of all or part of an existing improvement or structure at once or in stages, including deconstruction as defined herein. 

Demolition by Neglect-the consistent failure to maintain a structure that causes, or is a substantial contributing factor of, the deterioration of building materials to such an extent that the structure is no longer safe or restoration is no longer feasible, and ultimately leads to the need for physical demolition. 

DECONSTRUCTION-the disassembly of all or part of an improvement or structure for the purpose of reusing its components and building materials.

Historic Property- a district, site, building, structure or object significant in American history, architecture, engineering, archeology or culture at the national, State, or local level.

Integrity- the authenticity of a property's historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property's historic or prehistoric period.

Preservation- the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. New exterior additions are not within the scope of this treatment; however, the limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a preservation project.

Reconstruction- the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

Rehabilitation- the act or process of making possible a compatible use through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.

RELOCATION-the act of moving a building or structure from one location to another location either on the same parcel or to a different parcel.

RENOVATION- any change, addition or modification in construction or occupancy or structural repair or change in primary function to an existing structure that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility or part thereof. Renovations include, but are not limited to, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, changes or rearrangement of the structural parts or elements, and changes or rearrangement in the plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions.

Restoration (HISTORIC)- the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of the removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period. The limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a restoration project.

SUBSTANTIAL DAMAGE- Damage of any origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred.

SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENT- any repair, renovation, reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition or improvement of a building or structure, the cost of which equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the improvement or repair is started. If the structure has sustained substantial damage, any repairs are considered substantial improvement regardless of the actual repair work performed. The term does not, however, include either:

1. Any project for improvement of a building required to correct existing health, sanitary or safety code violations identified by the code enforcement official and that are the minimum necessary to assure safe living conditions.

2. Any alteration of a historic structure provided that the proposed alteration will not preclude the structure's potential or continued historic designation, as determined by the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board.

Some of you might be wondering, why is the replacement of original architecture with similar new architecture a problem? Because Southampton did not become popular as a town filled with copy-cat buildings. The slow disintegration of historic structures and the constant watering down of authentic historic architecture diffuses our village and town of the character which makes it so valuable and so beloved. And besides, "there's nothing greener than an existing building."

The way I see it, just as a project is considered new construction when it is improved by more than 50%, it should be considered a demolition when 50 or more percent is removed.  Let's encourage our village trustees to adopt these definitions in order to prevent continued losses of historic buildings under the guise of "renovation."