s local history tells it, the Canoe Place Inn in its day was the Ritz of the Hamptons, a favorite haunt of longtime New York State Governor and presidential hopeful Al Smith. Legend goes that no one danced before Smith and his wife took the floor for almost three decades.
Located a pebble’s toss from the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, the old inn was illuminated at night with sparking reflections off the quiet, dark water. In its heyday it attracted such larger-than-life-characters as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Cary Grant, Babe Ruth, Helen Hayes, Lou Gehrig and Gary Cooper.
Brenda Sinclair Berntson, President of the Hampton Bays Historical & Preservation Society and an advocate of the plan to restore the old inn, has been trying to save this building for years.
“It would be great to have this history here. This building is a piece of Hampton Bays’ history,” says an enthusiastic Berntson. “Until I started researching the old inn, I had no idea who stayed here—the Duke of Windsor stayed here!”
A few years ago it looked like the Canoe Place Inn was going to be demolished against Berntson’s and many locals’ will. However, the newest plans will not only save the building, but also restore it to its former grandeur.
“The developers are really doing this, down to the keenest detail like matching the moldings from old photographs,” exclaims Berntson. “It is a really beautiful plan they have going.”
The Inn’s original structure burned down on July 5, 1921, when a vicious fire completely destroyed the building, killing a maid and cashier. The headline in The New York Times on July 6, 1921 read: “Destruction of Canoe Place Inn removes an irreplaceable landmark of colonial history.” The replacement building tried its very best to recapture the spirit and vibrancy of the original structure.
The current construction project is led by property owners-developers Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, whose development plan includes a full restoration of the Inn and 30 existing condominiums, as well as seven new units along the Shinnecock Canal.
By classifying these units as townhouses, the taxing structure is different, and since summer residents will probably live there, the new units will create more money for the local schools without increasing its population.
“The Rechlers are going to build a floating dock walkway that will allow open access. The new townhouses won’t cause a social problem, like overcrowding,” informs Berntson.
The Rechlers’ ideas seem to encompass a compromise for almost all village residents, which is important for the Hampton Bays community.
Berntson and many local residents have their own fond memories of the old Inn. “One night, Governor Smith, with his wife not there, asked a local Hampton Bays woman, Miss Warner, who was working as the inn’s bookkeeper at the time, to open the night of dancing with him. Warner was so proud that after that night of dancing, she went home and put the shoes in a box and placed it in the attic, where they still are today,” said Berntson.
Berntson has her own family memories of the Canoe Place Inn. “My aunt would go and sneak up to the Inn with her friends, and they would lift each other up and peek into the windows and look at the fairytale princes and princesses,” relates Berntson.
Maybe the next generation will have the same opportunity to peek in at the Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays.