Photos by Robert Strada
With the help community members, Robert Strada and his wife, Michelle, saved a 1740s residence in Southampton Village from literal demolition in 2006. They deconstructed the home piece by piece during a particularly hot and dry August and have since preserved it in storage in Amagansett.
It was a passion project for the architect, who runs a firm with carpenter and fellow historic preservationist Dick Baxter. It was also a way to ensure the precious building was not torn to the ground to be replaced by yet another McMansion.
Now, years later, through a simple newspaper advertisement, Strada and Baxter have found a new home on John Street in Sag Harbor for this Colonial-style gem on a piece of property owned by friends Joe Pintauro and Greg Therriault.
According to Strada and local historian Zach Studenroth, this move will return the building to Sag Harbor, which was the home’s second location during the course of its long history. The house came to Sag Harbor from Connecticut, and it was in Sag Harbor that a woman from Texas fell in love with house, and her husband, in love with her, agreed to move the structure to Little Plains Road in Southampton.
In 2006, Strada was working on the preservation and restoration of The Henry Rhodes House in Southampton Village when he became aware of the fact that the new owner of 444 Little Plains Road had secured a demolition permit to take down an 18th century home.
Despite how painfully, and exquisitely, it had been preserved, Strada said he learned the new owner had earned a demolition permit from the Village of Southampton simply because the 266-year-old house lay just outside of the historic district. In this case, just outside the historic district was actually across the street from the historic district.
“It was literally outside of the historic district by feet and inches,” said Strada in an interview on Wednesday.
Working with village officials, Strada was finally able to secure permission from the property owner to let him save the house by taking it apart stick by stick. At the same time, Strada began working with Studenroth to trace the history of the building’s journey from Connecticut, where it was constructed in 1740.
Through oral histories, Studenroth and Strada learned the house was moved to Sag Harbor sometime in the late 19th century where it remained for several years. Then, according to Strada, a member of the Dixon family — a wealthy, Texas clan with property in Southampton — spotted the structure.
One of the stories Studenroth and Strada were told was that moving the house from Sag Harbor was a literal labor of love.
“It was Mrs. Dixon who loved the house and her husband loved his wife,” he said.
Strada credits that family for preserving the building and its minute detail that make it an early American classic. Finding a new home for this residence has been a goal of his since rescuing the structure. Little did he know a newspaper advertisement in The Sag Harbor Express would bring him together with mutual friends to find a perfect solution for preservationists looking for a place to put a historic home, and property owners looking for the right development on a sensitive piece of waterfront property.
“I remember, years ago, having a conservation that there must be a place in Sag Harbor for this home to go,” said Strada. “It belonged in the village’s historic district.”
To that end, Baxter and Strada took out a real estate listing in The Express featuring the home, and lo and behold Pintauro and Therriault, friends of Strada and Baxter for 20 years, came calling.
“That they were the ones that responded to our ad blew our minds,” said Strada.
Hoping to develop the land, Pintauro and Therriault have already secured all the permits they need to reconstruct the home on the 59 John Street property, expect for approval from the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB).
On November 28, that board was more than enthusiastic about the project, urging them to come back with a formal application for approval.
Therriault said he and Pintauro have long been trying to find the right project for the property, but it didn’t come together for one reason or another.
“Maybe this house is the reason it has taken us so long to come up with the right plan,” said Therriault. “Because this is an incredible project for a beautiful piece of property.”
The house is so perfect for the property that it meets all setbacks and conforms to wetland setbacks asked for by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. In order to make the house fit on Pintauro and Therriault’s original site plan, Strada said all he had to do was move the building six inches.
“Kudos,” said Sag Harbor ARB Chairman Cee Scott Brown. “And thank you. This is very exciting for Sag Harbor.”