A More Public Space

Posted on 18 November 2011

On Monday, textile artist and businesswoman Elizabeth Dow sealed the deal, and is now the official owner of the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church.

We are happy to be among the first to congratulate her and officially welcome her to the neighborhood.

Dow, a textile and wall covering designer whose work is in the White House, has big plans for the building, which will house her business, a studio, a retail space, internship program and an apartment.

Last December, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees officially changed the zoning of the property from residential to village business district in order to allow for Dow’s conversion. The trustees were very careful in their language and in order to protect neighbors, put specific covenants in place to ensure the property will never become a more intensive commercial use should it change hands.

The closing this week represents yet another major step forward in Dow’s long journey to make her vision a reality. But some neighbors were less than thrilled by the idea of Dow taking over the space and would rather have seen it become a private residence.

But we disagree.

It’s not everyday that we advocate for the conversion of a historic church turn into the headquarters for a business, but in this case, we feel it is an appropriate and in fact, ideal use for the space for many reasons.

First of all, Dow is well suited to the task. On the outside, Dow plans to get rid of the vinyl siding — installed as a cost saving measure years ago — and replace it with wood, which the building was originally clad in. She is also considering placing a sign in the parking area detailing the structure’s history. With a background in 18th century restoration and an interest in history, as she looks to the future, she also plans to honor the church’s past inside by creating custom wallpaper for the lobby area using newspaper articles, records and photos of the building. Though we don’t yet know much about other plans for the interior, we suspect Dow’s sensitivity to the property’s history will continue to be a guiding force.

While as a home, any buyer that could have afforded it would surely have done a spectacular renovation on the building. But it would have also been a private endeavor. The community’s relationship with the structure would have ended with the view from the sidewalk, and, depending on the sensitivity of the owner, it’s possible the interior could have been so thoroughly altered that no resemblance to the building’s original use would remain.

The Methodist Church building is truly a beauty and we feel that given her passion for history, Dow’s vision will preserve the structure in a way that not only serves her professionally, but also reflects the building’s hallowed past. And because it will be a business — not a private home — community members will still be able to have access to and a relationship with the beloved old building and its occupants, rather than just be resigned to ogling it from behind the picket fence.

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