Demolitions of historic structures are happening with such frequency now, it’s almost as if an award were being presented each month along the lines of “Demolition of the Month.”
The current owner of the Villa Maria site in Water Mill, a former Dominican Sisters convent, has submitted an application to demolish all of the accessory structures on the now subdivided property. Two of the three structures are the surviving, intact, original accessory structures built for Josiah Lombard and Marshall Ayres in 1887 in coordination with the construction of the main house. The third was built in the 1980s, does not match the architecture of anything, and would not be a loss to Water Mill’s architectural heritage. (I didn’t even take a picture of it.)
Originally known as “Red Gables” for the color of the roofs, the main house and accessory structures were designed by George H. Skidmore, a very well-known East End architect. Present day local architect and author Anne Surchin wrote about this house in her book, Houses of the Hamptons. “In the late 1890s, Lombard and Ayres, whose company had gone into receivership, sold Red Gables to renowned New York urologist Edward L. Keyes … After deciding to build a new, smaller house on the edge of the Art Village in Southampton, in 1909 Keyes sold Red Gables to Brooklyn shipbuilder Edward Phinley Morse. A decade later, Morse commissioned well-known Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman to completely recast Red Gables into an estate house.”
George Howell Skidmore (1841-1904) built many beautiful structures on Long Island, many of which still survive, in addition the two Villa Maria accessory structures, such as in Sag Harbor, Southold Savings Bank, Riverhead Savings Bank, Mattituck Methodist Church, Center Moriches Presbyterian Church, Westhampton Presbyterian Church (in Quiogue), the on South Main Street in Southampton Village (now being repainted), and many others. The fact that these surviving accessory structures are among his surviving body of local work makes them eligible to become Town Landmarks. We could even create a "George Skidmore Historic District."
Even though the main house has been stylistically changed and added onto, the compound remains intact, and the accessory structures are extremely important surviving physical evidence and narrators of the historic personal associations and stylistic evolution of the property.
Each of the accessory structures are quite large and would make wonderful, attractive, and valuable houses with careful renovation and conversion, coupled with the appeal of prominence and cache. These structures should not be permitted to be demolished.
It seems the reason for their demolition is to largely accommodate the location of a new shared driveway to the two adjacent newly created properties. Torn down to make way for a driveway? Really? That’s like tearing down a building to put a parking lot in its place, isn’t it? Each of the two accessory structures could be placed in a corner of each lot and be used as guest houses. There seem to be many alternatives available requiring minimal creativity in order to ensure the survival of these historic structures.
This will be another tragic demolition, only two months after losing the blacksmith’s house a stone’s throw away in the same hamlet. And the last historic demolition I wrote about? 130 Jobs Lane in Bridgehampton? That demolition permit was issued two days after the Southampton Town Landmarks & Historic Districts Board submitted its objections. Two measly days. Harrumph.