Preservationists have asked the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review to order an archeological survey of this property at 11 Eastville Avenue before a new house is built in its place. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
By Stephen J. Kotz
The increasing number of teardowns in Sag Harbor has become something of a hot-button issue. But last week, the discussion was expanded to include what do about a house that is literally collapsing onto itself.
The house in question, a derelict cottage at 11 Eastville Avenue, is owned by Matt and Ed Mulderrig under the name Eastville SH LLC. They have proposed demolishing the house, whose roof and rear walls have already caved in, and replacing it with a new one designed by Sag Harbor architect Anthony Vermandois.
But when Matt Mulderrig and Mr. Vermandois appeared before the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review last Thursday to discuss those plans, the conversation quickly turned from things like whether the roof of the new house should be made of cedar shingles to what should be done to best preserve the history that is hidden behind and under the rubble.
The Reverend Karen Campbell of Christ Episcopal Church told the ARB she believed the house is one of the oldest in the village and may have predated the Revolutionary War.
She urged the board to order the Mulderrigs to undertake an archeological survey of the house and property “before it is demolished and the artifacts are buried under a beautiful modern home with no history.”
Board members said they thought it was too late in the process to require the archeological survey, but they did table the application until Cee Scott Brown, the board’s chairman, could discuss the matter with village attorneys to make sure the board was not “starting down a slippery slope.”
“This conversation should have been forty years ago when this house was still solid and standing up,” said Mr. Brown.
“I don’t know that we can transfer the burden of all that to the people who bought it,” added board member Penni Ludwig. “Now we’re going to stop their project? It’s sort of too late.”
“If you look at the picture, there isn’t much to demolish,” added board member Tom Horn. “I grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930s, and it was falling down then.”
“It’s been 300 years, what would one month do?” asked Reverend Campbell.
She was joined in her effort to slow down the application by Terry Fraser, a Hampton Street resident. Both said they had sought to reach out to the ARB earlier but had been told at the time there was no application pending on the property, so there was nothing for them to comment on.
“It really is a treasure trove,” said Reverend Campbell, who described her self as an early American history buff. “I know it looks like a wreck when you drive by.”
Reverend Campbell said the house included such intact features as six-over-six window panes, which were common during the colonial period, hand-forged latches on the doors, and a hand-dug well lined with brick.
If the house is simply demolished without an archeological record, “we will lose an important of not only Sag Harbor history but of American history,” she told the board.
Mr. Mulderrig was not too keen about the idea. “I respect the historical significance,” he told the board, “but if you do look at the picture it’s a liability, it is falling down. I don’t even want to go into that place, let alone try to take anything down.”
Later in the week, Mr. Vermandois opened a new front in the battle, submitting a detailed report that sought to debunk Reverend Campbell’s claim that the house pre-dated the American Revolution.
“I believe that while the house is old, it is likely not quite as old as [the Eastville Community Historical Society] suspects, most likely being of early to mid-9th century in date,” he wrote.
This week, Reverend Campbell said she stood by her belief that the house pre-dates the Revolution. “Experts do disagree,” she said.
At Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Vermandois said that if the board were to require an archeological survey of the Mulderrigs, it would be bound to require that of “every house that is on the market.”
He also suggested the ARB would be well-served by getting a “non-voting historic preservationist who comes to meetings and makes these sort of calls before we get to this stage.”
While the board seemed to be of a mind that it was too late to require the archeological survey, it was united in asking Mr. Mulderrig to use cedar shingles for the roof.
The board also retroactively approved a demolition permit for Teresa Romanelli for a house at 51 Palmer Terrace that was torn down.
Mr. Vermandois, the architect for the project, told the board, the house was originally built in 1915, but that most of it dated to the 1960s. He said he had planned to keep some of the foundation and walls “not because there was significant value but I wanted the builder to use them as a frame of reference.”
“There was frankly a miscommunication between me and the builder,” he told the board. “I wasn’t on the job site the day of the demolition.”
The board agreed to issue the permit, although Mr. Brown said that he wished Mr. Vermandois had explained to the board the reason for keeping the walls. “I wish you had been forthcoming with us about that,” he said.