Watchcase Construction Revealed in Sag Harbor

Bulova Construction
Bulova Construction. Photo Oliver Peterson

After years of struggling for approvals and financing, the once deteriorating Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor is well on its way to becoming a world-class and historically sensitive apartment complex in the heart of the village. The “Watchcase” site will include a total of 64 units—47 lofts within the factory and 17 units in adjacent townhouses and bungalows—a recreation center with pool, underground parking and more.


On Thursday, June 6, Cape Advisors, the developers responsible for the project, invited assorted guests and members of the press for a tour of the former factory building and a completed apartment within it. While the building is still surrounded by scaffolding and blue plastic mesh, and nearly all of it is still under construction, the spec apartment is complete, with no detail ignored.

Each loft will be unique, but all of them will feature high ceilings, exposed brick, private outdoor space and garden with lovely views of Sag Harbor and a mix between the historic and the new—a theme that’s at the core of the entire development. Some apartments, for example, will make use of the watchcase factory’s four precious metals vaults as kitchens, including the massive, nearly impenetrable stone walls and muscular iron door frames. The main factory lofts, 46 of which have yet to be finished, are already available for sale, in one-, two- and three-bedroom options.

A representative from Corcoran Sunshine, the firm marketing the project, said on Thursday that 19 of the 47 units went into contract within the first 10 days of becoming available. The purchases were based solely on the one spec apartment and a number of computer-generated images of the completed project, but those involved with the development don’t seem surprised.

“There is nothing comparable,” the marketing rep said, adding, “It’s exotic, that’s why it’s valuable.” He noted that 17 townhouse units, which line the streets around the factory building and remain under construction, have not yet hit the market.

Nick Racanelli of Racanelli Construction, the company actually building the project, agreed that the units would sell out quickly. He called the project “a feather in the cap” for his company and promised that Sag Harbor will behold a “living, breathing monument” when the factory’s scaffolding finally comes down in July.

The entire project is expected to reach completion around Memorial Day, 2014.

What is known by most as the former Bulova Watchcase Factory has a long history in Sag Harbor. The site started as a cotton mill in the 1850s, when the village was a whaling port and industrial center on the East End. It became the Joseph Fahys & Co. watchcase works later in the 19th century, and then Bulova took over, according to Jack Beyer of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects. Beyer said the Bulova factory saw its heyday around World War II, when it employed some 500 workers from Sag Harbor and the surrounding areas.

Over the decades, the village shifted from an industrial center and factory town to a summer resort and haven for artists and writers. The new apartment complex looks to bridge the old and the new, giving a nod to its rich history and accommodating the needs of this new residential demographic.

The brick factory building is being lovingly restored and made structurally sound with careful consideration of its 19th century industrial character. The updated design makes good use of the building’s many windows, which allow sunlight to pour in and helped workers see their intricate watchcase materials.

By raising the floor, the designers have made it possible for residents to easily look out the windows and enjoy the expansive view, while at the same time creating a cavity underfoot to store plumbing, HVAC and other equipment needed for state-of-the-art household functionality.

High ceilings feature old-growth southern yellow pine beams, salvaged from around the site, and the cornice outside has been restored to nearly the exact specifications and materials of the original.

Surrounded by Washington, Division, Sage and Church Streets, Watchcase will be a “village within a village” when it’s finished. The complex will feature a large, concealed underground parking garage with designated and/or private parking. The central courtyard and pavilion will include a year-round heated, 62×24-foot outdoor pool, a fitness room with yoga/aerobics studio and locker rooms with sauna and steam rooms and a private spa treatment room.

An attractive club room, designed and furnished by interior designer Steven Gambrel—the man who decorated, beautifully, the spec apartment shared with guests on Thursday—will have a lounge and catering kitchen for private parties and meals.
The main factory building will have a large lobby area with lounge, “monumental” fireplace, “inglenook” seating area and wine bar with local wines in one of the former precious metal vaults.

Residents will enjoy a variety of services and resort-style amenities, including concierge services, doorman, resident superintendent, a “house” driver in the summer season, poolside chair, towel and beverage service in summertime, private storage and fully-managed household services upon request.

The nine townhouses were designed to appear very different from one another in order to maintain the neighborhood’s eclectic and historic charm. Cape Advisors notes that the homes are inspired by the many sea captains’ houses that populate Sag Harbor, and each will have private parking. Units will have 10-foot ceilings, large multi-level terraces and garden, spacious interiors and wood-burning fireplaces.
And the entire Watchcase site will feature thoughtfully planned landscaping year-round, including 50 varieties of native plants, shrubs, flowers and trees by award-winning landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners.

Perhaps the project’s biggest draw (and one of the reasons it was even possible), Watchcase is just a minute’s walk from Sag Harbor’s Main Street and its many shops and restaurants.

Without this nearby attraction, brimming with history and life, it’s doubtful anyone could accomplish a project of such magnitude. Beyer opined that the factory’s new construction and use could be the most important thing to happen in the community since the factory was first built.

Much work remains, but the former Bulova Watchcase Factory is clearly destined to make its mark. What Beyer called a “deteriorating, threatening, hulk of a building” and “eyesore” when he started the project in 2006, will stand as a stalwart bastion of old Sag Harbor, and a brilliant symbol for the new.

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