Whenever I am in the Hamptons and have some time on my hands, I like to drive around and see what is going on architecturally. What houses are being renovated, what empty lots are now sprouting new multimillion-dollar summer cottages, and often to my surprise, what houses that I always admired have vanished?
At 1280 Meadow Lane, near Road D in Southampton, there was a unique jewel of a house called The Bouwerie. Built in 1930, the house was a love affair for the builders, Dr. Wesley Creveling Bowers and his wife Gladys Seward Bowers, a socially prominent local couple in the Southampton Summer Colony.
According to my book (written with Anne Surchin), Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930, “The inspiration for the house came from a villa the couple saw on their honeymoon in the south of France. ‘The Bouwerie,’ a play on the family name, also alluded to the idea of a quaint cottage.” Their architect, Leroy P. Ward, designed a Mediterranean-style-villa that used the dune to nestle the house into its surroundings.
The chapter on The Bouwerie in Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930 describes it best: “From the time it was built, The Bouwerie was conceived to seem antedated, its exterior massing resembling a collection of additions that accrued over time. Low-pitched gable and hipped roofs descend and spill onto smaller hipped roofs alongside a projecting bay and entry. Shutters and carved wooden balconies exposed to the elements, antique tiles, time-worn timbers, mottled stucco, and ancient hardware contribute to the aged appearance. A small, square garden pavilion with stucco columns and a hipped roof of red Spanish tiles sits just to the south. The house is pure American Riviera, antiquated yet engaging, with a European pedigree applied to a picturesque, vernacular Revival style immensely popular in the 1920s and 1930s.”
The house also had a unique interior layout, antiqued rooms and a most unusual staircase with wrought-iron railings.
The Bowers family owned The Bouwerie until the 1960s, then later owned by the Kulunkundis family. In 1986, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house over the years became somewhat of a hidden mystery. The lot filled in with trees and shrubbery, and the house was only visible from the beach or a short, fleeting glimpse driving east on Meadow Lane. Strangely enough though, the one part of the property that was very visible to everyone was an old dilapidated boathouse on the north side of Meadow Lane. It stood for years as a romantic ruin until being destroyed in Superstorm Sandy.
The Bouwerie was always one of those houses I made sure to visit, to see if it was still there. But a few weeks ago I was making one of my drives around and, to my great surprise, the overgrown landscape was completely denuded and The Bouwerie stood out like a newly built house. I assumed that maybe it was going to be restored to pristine condition, and new landscaping with the usual modern amenities, a tennis court and swimming pool, would be erected.
I parked my car and got out to take photographs of the now exposed villa. I knew I would be in the Hamptons again very soon and I planned to watch it carefully to see what would happen next.
About a week ago, I drove by and was certain I had missed the location. I turned around, and if it were not for a new house under construction next to The Bouwerie, I would have thought I did. Sadly, the ancient dune that once embraced the historic home was now alone, the site swept clean with not a piece of the house left standing. The Bouwerie had been demolished, and the site was now being prepared for a new 18,000-square-foot modernist mansion to take its place.
It’s really sad that a truly unique building that survived almost 85 years is being replaced by a structure that easily could have been built on any other sandy lot along the ocean—even if it had to demolish another existing dwelling, but one without the historical significance, charm and pedigree of the older home.
Many people will ask how this could have happened. It seems that any house, no matter how architecturally significant, unique or important can be easily demolished if it was built after 1926. That is the cutoff year for the Village of Southampton to consider a building historic. If Frank Lloyd Wright or some other world-renowned architect had built in Southampton after 1926, that wouldn’t be protected either.
When passing through a local street lined with picturesque homes or walking the beach lined with magnificent old summer mansions, I suggest that everyone take a photo—they may not be there the next time you pass by.