Dan Rattiner's Stories

20 Years Later: Nathaniel Rogers House Restoration Nears Completion

The cost per square foot has now far eclipsed Ira Rennert's Fairfield Estate.

The most expensive home ever built in the Hamptons is the Rennert mansion in Sagaponack. And at 110,000 square feet, it is the largest. It has also been thought to be the most expensive per square foot. The cost has been estimated at about $120 million. That translates to about $1,090 per square foot.

However, the restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House, built as a private home in 1840 in the center of downtown Bridgehampton, is proving more costly per square foot, longer to complete and is still not done. Last week, it was announced that the last big round of fundraising, which was supposed to finish the building, had not done so. They will still need another half a million dollars.

The Nathaniel Rogers House is only 6,000 square feet, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and when finished will be the new headquarters of the Bridgehampton Museum. So far the restoration has cost about $11 million. That’s $1,833 per square feet, and now rising again.

In total cost it pales against what Ira Rennert is estimated to have spent to build his home for his family in Sagaponack. But the Rennert house, which includes statuary, paintings from the Renaissance and sculpture from antiquity, doesn’t even come close to the Nathaniel Rogers House project in dollars per square foot.

As the years have rolled by, I often drive down Main Street from west to east and read the large billboard placed on the lawn of the Nathaniel Rogers House, describing in large letters the name of the company doing the work. I sometimes thought since no work was visibly being done, this company had signed on just to get their names facing the considerable oncoming traffic. They’d be up there for years. Then the billboard would come down and a billboard for a new company would go up for a few years.

But I should have thought it through further. This building has been falling into disrepair for more than three-quarters of a century. In the late 1960s, when I first started an edition of Dan’s Papers in Bridgehampton, I knocked on the side door—why it wasn’t the front door I will describe in a minute—and was let in by the owner of the place, John Hopping. There was a Hopping Real Estate sign alongside that side door. I wanted to sell him an ad in the paper.

I still remember that occasion because I was very spooked to be inside that house. The place had already become a catastrophe. There were spider webs, stains on the walls, cracks in the ceiling, windows partially broken and held together with tape, and dust everywhere. A single lightbulb was screwed into an electric wire that came down from the 18-foot ceiling over his desk and chair. Somebody barefoot upstairs rattled around every once in a while. Hopping bought a small ad in the real estate section.

The reason you couldn’t get in the front door was because the entire front lawn, or what would have originally been the front lawn, had a large gas station blocking it. Eastbound traffic could pull right in. When I later asked locals about this, I learned that Mr. Hopping had leased out the front lawn to pay for the whopping heating bills of that home. In addition to the gas station, some of the magnificent two-story-tall Greek Revival columns holding up the portico out front were crooked, but reinforced by raw two-by-fours attaching the columns to the house.

That was the only ad that Hopping ever took, and after a second visit confirmed that, I decided I would not go back. Neighbors on Main Street told me Hopping lived there with his family and just couldn’t afford the… repairs, so that was that. In 2001, the New York Observer reported that Hopping had signed an agreement, pending approval, to sell the land to a developer who wanted to tear the house down and put a large shopping center in its place. The townspeople objected, and more than 300 letters went to the Town Board demanding they deny the shopping center project. They did.

Two years later, in 2003, Hopping sold the place to the Town of Southampton for $3.1 million. The Town said it was their intention to restore it using both private and town funds and lease it to the Bridgehampton Museum. Around 2005, the lease ended with the gas station so that got bulldozed down. They also patched the home’s roof.

People in charge say delays have been caused by inadequate fundraising, problems inside the walls, and technical issues. When done, the first floor will be devoted to whaling artifacts, paintings from local artists, auto racing memorabilia, and metal toys. The administrators will be on the second floor, and the heating and cooling equipment on the top floor.

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