Thursday, April 9, 2015

Good & Bad News: 500 Head of Pond Road, Water Mill


500 Head of Pond Road, Water Mill, 2010
The good news is that this house, which Southampton residents and visitors have watched while biting their nails for several years now, is NOT being torn down, but is being renovated instead ensuring that it will remain, if not technically a landmark, an iconic home in its existing location for several more years – maybe even generations.

The bad news is that A LOT of its original fabric has been removed inside and out, leaving it only a ghost of its formerly authentic, original, early 1700s self which is heart-breaking…….and honestly, it’s the Town’s fault. The Town of Southampton has a process in place that requires any work to buildings seventy-five years old or older to be reviewed by the Landmarks & Historic Districts Board (LHDB) before receiving a building permit. Shockingly (I jest), this house “fell through the cracks” depriving the LHDB the opportunity to 1) document the house before work began, and 2) (and worse) educate the owners and their contractors etc. about the significance of the home, what it’s most valuable parts are, and what the best methods are to improve such a structure (i.e. The Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Historic Structures).

500 Head of Pond Road, April 9, 2015
A few weeks ago I heard that the roof had received new shingles. Hallelujah! A sign of hope after years of absolute stagnancy. But today I rushed over to visit the property after receiving an alarming email from a friend. The roof hasn’t just been re-shingled, it’s been entirely removed and reconstructed. The foreman at the site said the roof was “old trees” that needed to be replaced. Ouch. Sistering the former glorious timber-frame system with new rafters would have been better, allowing the house to continue to describe how New Englanders used to build these great buildings while getting some much needed structural support after years of deferred maintenance. The chimney was entirely removed from the new attic floor up. What you see now is a plywood box instead, insulting the community into believing it survives. The chimney from the attic floor down survives, but it has been sealed off and covered up by new frame walls because it no longer operated, was crumbling and leaking.

A view of the magnificent attic/roof framing from an old Corcoran listing of the property.
Interior view of second floor. Notice one of the original fireplaces, the wide plank floors, and gunstock posts.

A surviving 1700s door handle on a board door that has been removed.
The interior trim and the board and paneled doors, some with original forged latches and pulls are all gone, and the windows are next. Yes, many of them are probably from the late 1800s, but I asked the foreman if he knew that restoring a window costs half as much and still meets energy ratings and he said no. Most people don’t realize this, and the window manufacturers sure aren’t going to tell you.
The main stair, right inside the front entrance, remains intact. Notice the moldings, the thin spindles, and the storage provided behind the paneling, a trademark of thrifty Yankees.

The original stair, right inside the front entrance, remains intact and in full glory (the icky carpet runner on top probably even helped preserve it to some degree), the incredibly wide floor boards survive on the second floor, and the original gunstock posts continue to intrude inside the corners of each room.
This house predates the creation of the United States by about fifty years and is therefore a rare and precious relic of early American history. It should have been treated like what it was, a museum quality heirloom of incalculable value for which the Town would have PAID the owner to preserve. But the owners didn’t know, and no one, including the Town despite its legislated processes, told them.

Southampton, the oldest English settlement in New York State (1640), has about twenty-seven homes that were built before 1730 surviving in various states of wellness. To see a glorious example of another early 1700s structure – a role model for what 500 Head of Pond could and should have been (and on the market for $12M), look up 853 Cemetery Lane, Sagaponack on the internet. Wow.