As a child in the 1950s, Southampton native Brenda Simmons went to her aunt’s barbershop—known locally as “The Barbershop”—to answer phones and do small errands on weekends. The old barbershop, now boarded up and empty, will soon be reborn as the home of the Southampton African American Museum.Town officials recently allocated money to develop renovation designs for the historic building, located on North Sea Road in Southampton Village.
Ms. Simmons, the founder of the Southampton African American Museum, also known as SAAM, has worked to get the building declared a historic landmark and built into a museum for more than 12 years. “It’s been a long journey,” she said, laughing. “It was never opened.”
Southampton Town purchased the property at 245 North Sea Road in partnership with the village, using Community Preservation Fund revenues, in 2006, with the intention of building a museum there, after Ms. Simmons pushed to save the building from demolition.
Over the past decade, Ms. Simmons said she has worked to build up the reputation of SAAM, which operates virtually, by holding local film festivals and coordinating with the Southampton School District for programs and field trips. She said it took seven months just to complete a survey of the property on North Sea Road and get Health Department approval—and even longer to get the property historically designated.
In 2010, the Southampton Village Historic Preservation Board designated the building as the first African-American historic landmark in the Village of Southampton. “It was a gathering place for a lot of African-American members of the community on the whole East End of Long Island,” Ms. Simmons said.
According to architect Siamak Samii, the majority of renovations will focus on the building’s interior, as there are certain restrictions on what they can do to the structure due to its historical designation. Minor updates to the exterior, including fixing broken shingles, also will be completed.
The space will be small—1,450 square-feet—but Ms. Simmons said she intends to pack a lot into the old barbershop. The multi-purpose building will feature a genealogy research section, a media area where interviews with community members will be screened, a computer station for teaching purposes, and space for special art exhibits.
“This building is for the community—not just the black community,” she said. “I think the most important thing is for all of us to learn and embrace each other’s cultures. We have more in common than different.”
Work on the museum was expected to begin last year but was delayed, in part, due to funding issues. Mr. Samii said the town still has to open up the public bidding process for the construction work. He added that he expects the renovations to begin within the next four to five months and take about a year to complete. He declined to provide a cost estimate, although previous estimates for the project in 2015 were approximately $600,000.