By Hank deCillia
Next August, my sister Cathy and I will celebrate 60 years of coming to or living in the Sag Harbor area. Our parents, Kay and Harry de Cillia, brought us here in the summer of 1951 from our crowded apartment in the Bronx. We rented a cottage in Pine Neck about a block from Noyac Bay and a short walk to Long Beach. The following summer we rented a place right on the water. Not only did we have a waterfront home, dad rented a boat with a small outboard motor at Barry’s Marina. We moored it right in front of our cottage and went fishing just about every day, occasionally catching porgies. It was very brave of my father to be in a boat because he couldn’t swim. We only spent three weeks there each of those years, but by the end of the second summer we were all hooked.
Just before we went back home, Mom and Dad told Cathy and me they had a surprise. They drove us down Noyac Road heading towards Sag Harbor Village, made a right turn on a dirt road (at the time) called Locust Drive and stopped in front of the first little house on the left. Then they announced they had bought it! Along with four other identical bungalows, it was built on a tract of land previously owned and farmed by Mike Bildzis, who still lived just down the road. They bought the place for the princely sum of $7,500 from George Wells Sr., a realtor who had bought the land from the developer, Harold Robertson. They gave Mr. Wells $50 as a deposit. Later, he held the mortgage on the entire balance, which truly made it possible for my parents to own a second home. If Mr. Wells didn’t do that, they never would have been able to afford it.
From that point on, for the next fifteen years, we would spend all our free time in Sag Harbor, almost every weekend and each summer. During those years, we lived almost as much in Sag Harbor as we did in the Bronx. Of course, when I say Sag Harbor, I don’t just mean the Village; I’m also talking about Noyac, Bay Point, North Haven and even some parts of Sagaponack and Bridgehampton. I think most everyone who lives in the surrounding area sees Sag Harbor Village as the “vital center” of daily activity.
Growing up in the fifties and sixties in Sag Harbor is filled with wonderful memories. Here are just a few of my recurring images, mainly as a teenager:
• Playing hide and seek with Cathy and our friends in Soah’s cornfield across Noyac Road from his farm. When the corn was plowed, we actually had a waterview of Noyac Bay from our backyard, before the field was sold and developed as Turtle Cove.
• Going ice skating right behind our house in the small pond on Soah’s farm. In those days, the water froze in winter, even Noyac Bay!
• Endlessly roaming through the woods near the house, including the trail that led up to the Bridgehampton racetrack, where we built a tree fort to watch the sports car and motorcycle races for free after it opened.
• Getting a hot dog at the stand in the rear basement of the Noyac Casino on Long Beach.
• Going the “The Shack” on Long Beach for an ice cold soda, and ogling the local girls who sunned themselves on the beach across the road, when there was only one road.
• Going with dad to see Frank Santacroce at Lester Motors on Division Street to buy our new Chevy every two years without fail. Learning how to drive my father’s ’57 Chevy station wagon with Power Pak on our dirt road before I got my learner’s permit.
• Later on, driving along Long Beach Road from the North Haven side and giving rides to the prettiest girls walking to the beach, when I could get up the nerve.
• Working two summers for retired NYPD officer Frank Gilligan at the Hamptons Drive-In movie in Bridgehampton — parking fancy cars for the rich women who couldn’t get into their space, repairing speakers ripped out when people left them in their car after the show was over, working in the concession stand during the intermission between features, mowing the lawn around the parking area, and, best of all, changing the sign out front on the Montauk Highway every week when the new movies arrived. Every night, Frank would have me open the back exit to let in the sharecroppers who would walk in with blankets and take the back row, putting the speakers on the ground because they didn’t have cars.
• Water-skiing on Noyac Bay just about every day with “invited out” city friends in my boat, a “16 foot MFG with a 40 horse Johnson”, the perfect complement to working at night in the Drive-In. I don’t know how mom and dad afforded it, but I’m very thankful.
• Going with mom to the Sag Harbor movie theatre one rainy Saturday night, waiting in line for the 9 p.m. show and turning around to see Arthur Miller in line with his new wife, Marilyn Monroe — unquestionably my greatest celebrity sighting ever in the Hamptons!
• Going to the “real” Whaler’s Festival parade on Main Street in the early sixties and seeing the North Sea Fire Department float with the actual burning house and the clown firemen trying to put it out. Can you image how “unsafe” and “politically incorrect” that would be today?
In 1966, I married the former Pat Flanagan from my Bronx neighborhood and we moved to Massachusetts two years later on a job transfer. But we always came to Sag Harbor for our vacations, even though our New England friends could not figure out why we would ever want to vacation on “Long Island.” Little did they know! Pat had fallen in love with the Sag Harbor area too and we raised our daughter Amy by bringing her here weekends and summers, just as my parents brought Cathy and me here from the Bronx.
In the late sixties, my parents moved to Sag Harbor full-time. After sweating out the Civil Service exam, Harry became Town of Southampton Building Inspector, in the good old days when they only needed one. Kay had a series of jobs in the Village, including the Grumman Agawam plant on Long Wharf, the Bulova factory and the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, where she was the “voice of the pharmacy” on WLNG announcing the weekly specials. Kay and Harry had a wide circle of friends they had gotten to know when coming here part-time. Sadly, Harry died prematurely in 1975, while visiting us in Massachusetts. Kay passed away in 1987. Neither of them had nearly enough time living in Sag Harbor. They are both buried in St. Andrews Cemetery on Brick Kiln Road.
My sister Cathy also moved to Sag Harbor in the late sixties after she graduated from high school, and she has lived here ever since. In addition to working for the Telephone Company, she and her first husband, Brian Kelly (who tragically died in an automobile accident), owned the infamous Black Buoy during the seventies, which they purchased from Rose Black. Cathy now lives in the Village with her second husband, Brian Montaldo, and she is the business manager for St. Andrew’s Church. They raised their two children, Kate and Vin, in the Village, both of whom still live here.
In 1976, after dad had died, mom decided to move down south and we bought the family home on Locust Drive from her. Now we were second homeowners, just like my parents. We became regulars on the Cross Sound Ferry and Shelter Island ferries as we drove down from our home in Northborough, MA as much as we could.
By the time our daughter Amy graduated from high school and she was getting ready to go off to college, we were itching to move to Sag Harbor full-time. In September 1990, we drove Amy down to her freshman dorm at George Washington University in D.C., came back to Massachusetts, packed up our clothes and moved to Sag Harbor as an ‘experiment’. The so-called experiment lasted about two weeks before we decided to sell our home up north. Amy spent her college year summers here working in just about every Village restaurant, including Ryerson’s (the former Black Buoy!) and La Superica.
We have lived here full-time since 1990 — first in Noyac, then North Haven and now Bridgehampton. But whenever asked where we are from, the answer always is “Sag Harbor.” We even kept our Sag Harbor P.O. Box and “725” telephone number when we made our most recent move to Bridgehampton. Maybe we’ll actually live in Sag Harbor Village someday, too! I will be forever grateful to my parents for having the foresight to bring us to Sag Harbor. There are now well over 30 extended family members and friends from our neighborhood in the Bronx who live here full-time or come here regularly. They can all trace their roots back to my parent’s decision to vacation in Pine Neck in 1951. Many of us will be raising our glasses to toast Kay and Harry de Cillia on Long Beach in the summer of 2011 for our 60th anniversary of living in paradise.