By Kathryn G. Menu
The historic bones of a building that date back to the 18th century have been exposed on Main Street, Sag Harbor. What has become an excavation site — floorboards, radiators, windows, nails, recovered glass bottles and even animal bones carefully collected and stored — is actually the beginnings of a project aimed at saving a historic building that has long sat, aging, sagging and literally rotting into the dirt beneath its floorboards.
Almost four years ago, local real estate developer Jim Giorgio embarked on a project to update, and rebuild 125 Main Street, located next to The Latham House. After two years of exploring the building, poking through its white walls and its foundation with the idea of renovating the building in-kind, architect Chuck Thomas announced in 2011 the building was in far worse shape than originally believed. To salvage the project, he and Giorgio proposed to deconstruct and rebuild the building stick by stick and with as much reclaimed material as possible.
The question is, would what was rebuilt in its entirety in 2011 still be considered a historic structure dating back to 1750?
For the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the not for profit Save Sag Harbor, as well as members of the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board the answer was a resounding “no.”
Giorgio — a man who discovered Sag Harbor as a boater in the 1970s when he was stranded here for a week during a rainstorm — considers Sag Harbor his home and is proud of its authenticity. He and Thomas quickly revisited the project.
Originally, they discussed raising the building off its foundation, rebuilding the base and then tackling the renovation. After they began to peel away layers of wood — occasionally literal branches — it became clear the first floor skeleton would not be able to withstand being lifted from its base.
“We found a lot more damage than anticipated,” said Giorgio, standing at the rear of the building on Wednesday morning. “You can see there is no foundation in the back or at the corner. You can’t put untreated lumber in dirt — you can see how rotted it is.”
Instead, a temporary wall will be built to support the structure while the rotted wood is removed. A new foundation will be poured, and the building will be rebuilt from the inside out.
The wooden skeleton of 125 Main contained first floor pieces of un-milled lumber, bark still visible; a corner post closest to The Latham House is marred by holes and pathways of rotted wood. However, the roof, said Giorgio is in remarkably good shape, as is the second floor. Everything else is being saved in an effort to see what materials can be reintroduced into the building.
Piles of saved lumber — some believed to date back to boats that docked in the deep water port of Sag Harbor in the 1700s — and masonry reclaimed from the site remain in neat piles behind the building.
In a small, modern shed at the rear of the property, everything else from the building is stored — windows, radiators, doorways, two fireplace frames, even rotting banisters in wood have been saved so their decorative details can be replicated and restored when the building is completed.
A collection of small white paper bags host a copper bell, glass bottles dusty with earth having been removed from their graves under the building after perhaps as long as a century and even bones, many believed to have belonged to raccoons. Even a bucket of nails plucked from the building’s walls is nestled among the treasures.
Giorgio hopes the majority of the exterior work will be completed this summer and is anxious for his tenant WellNEST to be able to return to its restored home.
“We haven’t figured out how everything is going to be reincorporated back into the building yet, but we will do as much as we can,” said Giorgio. “The shell — the heart, core and soul of the building will remain intact and when we are done it will appear from the street as it always has.”