Events are moving fast on the northwest corner of Montauk Highway and the Sag Harbor Turnpike here in the very center of downtown Bridgehampton.
Since before Labor Day Weekend, the Town of Southampton has held meetings with some very angry citizens about the possibility that a CVS Pharmacy might come to that corner. The CVS would face out to the Topping Rose House and the Nathaniel Rodgers House, the two historic 19th-century Greek Revival mansions that define that intersection and face out to the Founders Monument that separates them. CVS needs a special exception to the law to be allowed to occupy both floors of the new building.
That northwest corner had been a vacant patch of weeds for the past three years. But then, last Tuesday, September 16, just a week after the town board meeting, a construction company moved onto the property and the dirt began to fly. The building that could be rented out to CVS was underway, with the Nesconset Construction Company Inc. of Yaphank clearing the land.
By late Saturday morning, when protesters began arriving in cars intent on carrying signs protesting CVS, the protestors were greeted not with a vacant lot but with piles of earth, concrete cesspools and earth diggers. There were also two signs. One, an iron historic marker by the curb saying Wick’s Tavern had been there before. And the other a sign, on the property, that showed what the new 9,000-square-foot building would look like. It’s actually a nice brick building in the 19th century Greek Revival style, with white columns out front. The protesters, confused, drove off.
I wrote two weeks ago, when the site was still a vacant lot, that I felt this property’s best use would be as a historic site, particularly a historic site celebrating Bridgehampton’s extensive role in the American Revolutionary War. Now what?
Here’s why this construction has suddenly begun. In 2006, a developer bought this lot and soon tore down the decrepit buildings that were still on it. They applied for a building permit and site plan approval. They got them. In 2013, the word leaked out that CVS had signed on to be the tenant for both the first floor and second. The approvals the developer had gotten were for roughly 4,500 square feet of stores on the ground floor and 4,500 square feet for a tenant on the second floor, presumably office tenants. CVS would need a special exemption permit to get permission to have such a grand store there, with an elevator or escalator between the two floors, presumably. So far, from the looks of it, it seems they may not get it. And maybe it would get worse. There has been talk that there might be oil spills on the property from the half-century it was a gas station. Indeed that issue was brought up at Bridgehampton’s Community Advisory Board meeting last Monday, according to Cary Millard, the former co-chair, who attended that meeting. She said Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst was also there and the matter was put to her. Throne-Holst said that this was not in the purview of the town and the town can’t touch it, it’s an environmental issue. In any case, there is a SECRA being done.
John Bennett, an attorney representing CVS, told 27East he was not surprised the developer was putting shovels in the ground at this time. “Naturally, there’s so much shenanigans going on, so they’re going to build it before they get that taken away,” he said. The process begins. And the CVS application for a special exception permit is pending. If they don’t get it, they could still legally move in, but only on the first of the two floors. And at least there would be a building.
Is the idea to make this a park celebrating Bridgehampton’s history not going to happen? Well, it’s not often that a new building gets torn down after it’s been built. But it happens. Also, the Nesconset Construction Company is a company specializing in “clearing, demolition, excavation, drainage, utilities, concrete, paving and landscaping,” according to their Facebook page. Maybe there is to be no construction above ground at this time. So it still could be bought and saved. Well, I’ll cross my fingers.
When I first arrived here in the Hamptons, in the 1960s, the property was occupied by a Shell gas station. In front of it, by the curb, there was a historic marker sign made of iron. It read WICK’S TAVERN—BUILT IN 1686 BY JOHN WICK AND USED BY AMERICAN AND ENGLISH SOLDIERS DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. I also learned that across the street, during the Revolution, members of the Bridgehampton Militia trained in what was then an open field. Well, I thought, that was nice to know. There are historic markers about historic buildings that existed long ago in our community. I just assumed that Wick’s Tavern was gone long before they put up that ugly gas station.
But now, I have discovered (also last week), that is not what happened. The tavern stood nearly 300 years, until 1941. And that year, they tore it down for the gas station. Amazing.
Most people don’t know this, but there was a time in America, not so long ago, when people didn’t care at all about preserving historic sites. Instead, there was “progress.” Out with the old and in with the new. Old historic stuff, if in the way, could get torn down. Perhaps the most blatant example of this on the East End was a Coast Guard order back in the 1960s that would have them abandon the Montauk Lighthouse, dynamite it and then clear away the rubble. It was a wake-up call at the time. And ultimately, after much protest, the Coast Guard rescinded that order.
On a larger scale, there is the example of what happened to the magnificent Penn Station in New York City, as beautiful in every way as Grand Central Station across town. Penn Station got torn down to make way for a new Madison Square Garden. Everyone today acknowledges that this was a disgrace. New York City lost one of its greatest treasures.
What I found (available to see online) are the plans for Wick’s Tavern. In 1940, at the very tail end of the Great Depression, the government sent teams of men, probably unemployed surveyors and draftsmen, out to survey and make architectural diagrams of many important historic buildings in America. One of them was Wick’s Tavern. So here they are. (See below or click here for more.)
Just one year after the plans were made, the wrecking ball took down Wick’s Tavern, a victim of “progress.” Replaced by a shiny new gas station!
As the years went by, the gas station aged, more gas stations were built in Bridgehampton—at one time in the 1970s and 1980s there were six of them—and then in the 1990s this gas station went out of business. The building was then leased to a beverage distributor, and after that it was purchased by a developer who in 2010 cleared the site (but saved a barn that was also on the property by taking down the beams and posts and piling them in an empty lot across the street) then got permits for building this two-story Greek Revival building with stores and tenants. No tenant or tenants, or not enough of them, came along to trigger construction. Now comes CVS, which wants both floors and has drawn demonstrators, as many as 50 on some Saturdays, who believe the site has insufficient parking for a high-density drugstore on that corner.
Accompanying this article are details and elevations of Wick’s Tavern made just months before its final destruction. We await developments.