This story was supposed to be titled “Won’t Somebody Please Rent This Building?” The building in question is on the corner of the center of town next to Starbucks in downtown Bridgehampton, an absolutely perfect reproduction of a classic Greek Revival 19th century private mansion, now completed and available for commercial use. It’s been on the market for two years, and every time I would go by it I’d ache for it to be rented. I was involved in the design of it. And I hated the idea that I might have helped make it so beautiful and classic that it was, perhaps, un-rentable.
But now, it turns out, this building is in the process of being rented to a medical company called NYU Medical. It is intended to become doctors offices, and an application for this has been approved by the Town, according to Claire Shea of the Planning Department. Detailed interior plans are currently being drafted.
I am thrilled to hear about this.
My interest in the property goes back to the days when I first set up the Dan’s Papers office at the western end of Main Street in 1968. What was on the eastern end of Main Street at that time was architecturally just awful. Though it had not always been thus.
Earlier, when the 20th century began in Bridgehampton, this crossroads at the center of town was the pride of the East End. On the northeast corner was the white three-story Greek Revival mansion of a local judge named Abraham Topping Rose. On the southeast corner was the white three-story Greek Revival mansion of a prominent citizen named Nathaniel Rogers. Both these homes had been built around 1840.
On the northwest corner was Wick’s Tavern, sometimes also called Bull’s Head Tavern, a famous eating and drinking establishment built in 1695 that had been active as a meeting place for patriots during the Revolutionary War. And on the southwest corner was the mustering ground of that war’s Bridgehampton Militia. They saw action in the battle of Fort Ticonderoga. They escorted British prisoners down the Hudson to New York, and what might have been their battle flag, an early American flag, unbeknownst to anyone at that time, was up in a trunk in somebody’s attic in a house nearby.
As if this were not enough history, in 1910, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bridgehampton, the community built a grand 20-foot Founders Monument capped with a statue of an eagle spreading its wings, in the very middle of the street. It is there today.
But here’s how far things had fallen at the time I got here in the late 1960s. The descendant of the Topping Rose mansion had rented the place out to a Mrs. Carpenter, who had renamed it, inaccurately, the Bull’s Head Inn. But it was closed and falling apart. The police had arrested the cook for selling drugs out the back door a few years earlier. And now there were plans to rent out the front lawn for a gas station.
The descendants of the Nathanial Rogers house across the street had sold it to a man named Hopping, who lived in it but had also let the building fall into disrepair, and, to make ends meet, had rented out the front lawn. On it, in front of the beautiful old white columns of this place, was a gas station. If the proposal across the street at the Topping Rose House had gone through, there would have been two gas stations facing each other on the front lawns of two beautiful mansions.
Also, on the northwest corner, there was another gas station. The Wick’s Tavern had been torn down in 1941 and replaced with a gas station. A historic marker was in front of the gas station announcing it had once been the location of the Wick’s Tavern.
And on the fourth corner, the strip of the Bridgehampton Militia’s mustering ground had been bought up and turned into a row of shops. The building was white stucco and fairly attractive. It might be something you’d see in Palm Beach. But the mustering ground was now out back where nobody could see it.
I observed, as did many others in those years, that both East Hampton and Southampton were as beautiful as they had ever been since their founding in 1648 and 1640, respectively. But Bridgehampton, from an architectural perspective, was a disaster facing out at the Founders Monument.
Since that time, the existence of the early American flag used by the militia was found in that attic, brought to a museum in Riverhead and put behind glass in a display case there. The plan for the gas station to be built on the front lawn of the Rose House was withdrawn. And the Rose House was restored as the Topping Rose House, a stunning hotel and restaurant.
Across the street, the Nathanial Rogers House was bought by the town, the gas station bulldozed down to be replaced with a lawn, and the building is now going through renovation to become the new Bridgehampton Historical Museum. On the southwest corner, the row of white stucco stores remains, attractive anyway, and a sign of the commercial nature of the town. But behind it, on a half-acre, they’ve turned the mustering ground into a little park called Militia Park. You can go back there and contemplate that war on park benches.
As for the corner where Wick’s Tavern had been, the gas station went out of business to become, for a while, a beverage distribution business in a gas station, which in turn had been bought by a developer named Len Ackerman, who tore that down, leveled the land and hoped to make it a row of retail shops. A plan showed a very unremarkable brick building. But it had not been approved yet.
And at that point, I thought this as a wonderful opportunity. The row of stores was white. The two mansions, both three stories high, were white. Why not build a third white mansion where the Wick’s Tavern had once been, in the same style as the other two? A center of town with four white buildings on each corner, three of them historic old Greek Revival mansions, now wouldn’t that be a real treat for the eye?
I spoke to Len Ackerman to suggest he have his architect redesign the building to look very similar to the other two white mansions facing out on the Founders Monument. And he did that. It still hadn’t been built, but it was now approved and CVS soon became interested in making it a pharmacy there. On the other hand, there was a lot of objection to CVS. People holding signs had demonstrated in front of that property against CVS. There was limited parking in the back, yet this would be a high-volume establishment.
Where would these crowds of people park? CVS eventually withdrew, but what happened next was that the stunning white three-story mansion, with all its approvals, got built. A For Rent sign was put out front. But nobody rented it. I’d drive by it. It remained unrented for two years. Wouldn’t somebody please rent this building?
A series of doctors’ offices is low intensity and does not require a ton of parking. This will be the perfect tenant.
In another year or two, the center of downtown Bridgehampton should have rows of elms planted and prepare to have all the utility wires put underground.