Moving On: A Tribute to Bridgehampton, Home to Dan’s Papers for 40 Years

moving on

Dan’s Papers will be leaving Bridgehampton, as you probably know. It’s headed for Southampton, to the Ocean Electric Building at 158 County Road 39, to bigger and better quarters. We’ve outgrown our present building. There’s only so much you can build on this site.

I’ve loved Bridgehampton. Still do. And so, since I bought our present building in 1971 and have had my business here since, I thought I’d write why.

At the east end around the Founders’ Monument, I love watching Bill Campbell, Lenny Ackerman and the Bridgehampton Historical Society bring back three of the four corners there at the crossroads of the town into wonderful restorations of 19th century mansions. One will be a small hotel and spa, one a museum and one an office building. All three projects are underway at the same time and all should be open by this time next year.

I love the monument itself in the middle of the street. There are plaques and stones to the memory of the veterans of eight wars. And atop the 17-foot obelisk is a bronze eagle with its wings spread. Only once in 40 years did anybody drive into it. It moved 19 inches on its platform. They slid it back. [expand]

I love Starbucks, and what they have done with the old and very substantial Bridgehampton Bank building when they came here 12 years ago. I got my first loan at that bank. The giant safe, where they lent me the money from, is still there, behind glass in the wall. Now I love the baristas, and, of course, Howard Schultz, the founder of the company who has a house in East Hampton but who, as it happens, I have never met. I write him letters.

Across the way, I love Almond, the restaurant that currently occupies that site on the corner. It was a meat market when I got here. I also love the little park behind Almond. It honors The Triangular Commons, where the Bridgehampton militia mustered during the Revolutionary War.

On the north side of the street, I love the changes made to the Hampton Library. It was originally a small 19th century home, but it’s been expanded without a loss of its character. Out back, for years, people sat under a big shade tree in the summer for Fridays at Five, lectures given by local authors. They still do.

Next door is the flamboyantly French restaurant run by Pierre Weber. You can sit out front at café tables and admire Pierre’s Deux Chevaux, an impossibly antique French automobile, or on certain nights enjoy a chanteuse singing old jazz standards with a small band inside. Boy has this place had a history. Once it was Billy’s Triple Crown Bar, filled with baseball memorabilia from its owner, Billy DePetris, who was a fan and classmate of Boston Red Sox star Carl Yastremski, the last man to win the Triple Crown—most home runs, runs batted in and highest batting average in the league in the same year. All of his memorabilia was about this man. Both Bill and Carl played ball at the Bridgehampton School where they grew up. Billy DePetris ran that bar for about 20 years.

I love the great white Presbyterian Church in the center of town, with its porte-cochere on the eastern side, originally built so that women and men arriving in their Sunday finest aboard horsedrawn carriages could disembark on rainy days for church without getting wet. I also love that a whole array of churches sit on sites in the center of town. There’s even a council of churches.

I loved Townie and now Roger “Fresh Out” Thayer who runs the hardware store in town. I love spending time in there shopping for stuff to do things with. The Thayers show you what to do. Men and hardware stores are like peanut butter and jelly. Women don’t understand this. One year, amazingly, a tornado came up Main Street. It knocked down some trees, but all it flattened was the hardware store annex. I mourned. They rebuilt it.

What is now one of the Golden Pear Cafés used to be the home of The Bridgehampton News, the hometown paper for this town from about 1900 to 1960. When farming declined, it went out of business, and it was only 10 years after that that I opened our newspaper office in town up the street. Many years later, the great iron flatbed press from The Bridgehampton News was removed from the back. It had sat there idle a quarter century after the paper closed and nobody knew it was there. It had just been too big to move.

World Pie, the restaurant, bar and café, has been a fixture for 12 years further down the street. This had been the original Bobby Van’s, the famous literary bar founded in 1967 that thrived on the site, home to Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, James Jones, Peter Maas, George Plimpton, Irwin Shaw and many others. As a youngster, I got thrown out of there once by the owner Bobby Van for something I wrote in the paper. A week later, he let me back in. Before that, I have a memory of that place being Basso’s, a restaurant with an oompah band—banjo, bass, men in white hats and striped jackets singing barber shop tunes. The potato farmers loved the place. The things you remember.

Around the back was a beautiful wooden building that for a time was a tiny church, but was bought by the de Menil family and made into an art gallery for Dan Flavin. That’s still there today.

Across the street is the Candy Kitchen, the classic ice cream parlor and luncheonette run for many years by George Stavropolis and before that his father. Who can not love that? The street alongside, School Street, has a second street sign, named for George, who in retirement served as Town Supervisor. Gus Laggis and his wife have carried on, running the CK in the same tradition George and his wife Bridget did.

I love the present Bobby Van’s next door, bigger than the old one, all wood paneled with the television over the bar. It’s an anchor in town. Great steaks and chops, with an outdoor café out front on sunny days.

Next door to the east is Yama-Q, a Pacific Rim health food restaurant. Been quietly there for years, a secret favorite of many. When I first got here it was a bakery, run by a Dutch woman, with fresh delicious sugary treats, all baked right there early every morning. Coming out of the ovens, the smell wafted through town.

Across School Street is the Bridgehampton Community House, a grand old Georgian structure you can rent out for weddings or dances or performances. Upstairs, for 27 years, ballet has been taught, the major event of the year for that group being a performance of The Nutcracker at a nearby high school around Christmas time. They used to have a bowling alley in the basement. I think that is still there too. Who tears out bowling alleys?

Next door is the firehouse. I love the idea of a volunteer fire department with the men and women dropping whatever they are doing to head over to assemble, take out the trucks and put out the fire. My favorite fireman is John White, a farmer, environmentalist and town character. He married my first wife after our divorce.

And behind the firehouse is the baseball field—hardball—for the various little leagues and other league kids. There are some bleachers and it always seems to be a sunny day when the games are being played. Years ago, high schooler Carl Yastremski hit towering home runs over the fences in deep center field. Billboards are on those fences, all paid for by various businesses in Bridgehampton. I’ve driven by there for 40 years and each time think—I’m gonna buy the space on one for Dan’s Papers to support the field—but never got around to doing so. Didn’t seem there was any unsold billboards available anyway.

Pulver Gas has a big commercial building to the west of all this. It’s the biggest commercial building in town at 28,000 square feet. It was originally built as a Studebaker dealership car showroom in the 1930s. The Enstines owned it and ran it for many years and delivered our propane.

The Farrell Building Company building now occupies the site where the Elaine Benson Art Gallery complex stood for 40 years, from 1965 to 2006. That gallery was the centerpiece for culture between East Hampton and Southampton during its time. It was also the first city-type business that moved into the town in the 1960s. Bobby Van’s was the second. Dan’s Papers was the third. Elaine and Emanuel, the founders, didn’t allow dogs in the sculpture garden for obvious reasons. But they made an exception for my dog, a sheep dog, when I demonstrated that he had a great respect for the arts, carefully walking around even a piece of paper on the ground, never peeing on anything unless asked. I loved the gallery and I must say the Farrell Building is a beautiful thing too.

A few doors further up, in one of the turn of the century homes along that strip, lived Mr. and Mrs. Dick Sandford. Sandford owned the Bridgehampton Water Company. A taciturn fellow, he was always seen around town tending to the below ground water lines wearing overalls and a railroad engineer’s cap. He charged you so much a month for water, a random amount, it seemed, depending upon whether he liked you or not, but it was somewhere more or less around $12 a month.

I love the Boxwood, the beautiful old Bed and Breakfast cattycorner across Butter Lane from where our office is until this Friday.

Next door to Dan’s Papers for many years was a gas station run by Junior Johnson, a handsome African American man with a great sense of humor who seemed to have a way with the ladies. It’s now Urban Archaeology, a lighting, tile and bathroom store in an award-winning piece of architecture which was built on the site of the old gas station. I don’t know the people from the store very well, but I loved Junior and I love Louis Meisel, a SoHo gallery owner who built the new building and many others in this community, including the fabulous Ateliers buildings in Water Mill. There’s a wonderful story about how Urban Archeology came by the great French cherub statues you see out front. They once stood around L’Etoile, the plaza at the end of the Champs d’Elysee in Paris.

On the other side of Dan’s Papers is now the Citarella Gourmet Market, in a commercial building now all fixed up which was originally built in the 1950s as a showroom for Caterpillar Farm Tractors and other farm machinery. I love what Joe Gurrera, the owner of Citarella, has done with the place.

Further down the street, and across from Citarella, sits the new headquarters building of the Bridgehampton National Bank. If the original bank building ushered in the 20th century as the great presence in town, this new one, five times as big with columns out front and a great clock tower on the top, has done the same for the 21st century at the other end of town. I still bank there.

When it had its grand opening party in 1997, I went there and delivered a letter to the president of the bank at that time, Tom Tobin, telling him I loved the building but could he move it about 100 feet to the north? Where it was built, it blocked the view of sunsets from the second floor of the Dan’s Papers building. He never replied.

Further West, where Milt Cooper and his partners built the Bridgehampton Commons, there used to be a drive-in theater. As a youth, I often went there. It was a great treat going there at night to watch horror movies or war movies or monster movies on the giant screen from your car, then drive right into the Carvel across the highway when you came out for an ice cream. Some of my friends told of smuggling others in in the trunks of their cars into the drive-in so they wouldn’t have to pay. I never did that though. Last year somebody else literally drove into the Carvel, shattering half of its big windows. They fixed it up though, and it’s still there.

As for the Dan’s Papers building itself, I bought it in 1971 from a Mr. and Mrs. Danowski who lived in it. Houses on the highway were being sold in the early 1970s—people no longer wanted to live by the now-heavy highway traffic—and Mr. Danowski said he had a price and they’d take no less and I said I’d pay it. We were standing by the big Greek columns that supported their big wrap around front porch when we made that deal.

People ask me if I am sad leaving our office and Bridgehampton. About the office, I am nostalgic for the times we had, but not sad. Times change. Things change. I am very excited about the beautiful new quarters we will have in Southampton.

As for Bridgehampton, I would really be very sad if I were leaving, but, personally speaking, I am not. I’ll always be around and you’ll find me in Starbucks or Pierre’s or Bobby Van’s or the Candy Kitchen or the Library from time to time. I love this town.

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