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Hamptons Life

Feb 14, 2015 3:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

After A Long, Troubled History, Morpurgo House In Sag Harbor Has An Uncertain Future

Feb 16, 2015 10:09 AM

The fate of a long-vacant, dilapidated structure on Union Street in Sag Harbor–known widely as the Morpurgo House–should become clear soon.

Deemed “unfit for human occupancy” by Sag Harbor Village several years ago, the Morpurgo House captured the attention of Sag Harbor’s new senior building inspector, Tom Preiato, after recent complaints about the home’s appearance. Mr. Preiato inspected it late last year, then brought the matter to the Village Board's attention. Ceilings have caved in, doors and parts of the floor are missing, and the outside is overgrown with vegetation. Parts of the house are in danger of collapsing, and a cesspool behind the house is uncovered.

The Village Board on February 10 held a public hearing on the prospect of demolishing parts of the house. “It’s in serious disrepair, to the point that something has to be done right away,” Mr. Preiato told the board that night.

No community members took the opportunity to speak about the building, which has been hung up in a messy web of legal actions for more than a decade. However, an attorney who represents the property's mortgage holder did shed light on why nothing has been done to tidy up the house—a pending foreclosure judgment against the investors who've owned the crumbling house since 2008.

David P. Fallon, a Sayville-based attorney, represents Atlantic View Holdings LLC, the property's mortgage holder. According to Mr. Fallon, the property's owner, Captain Hulbert House LLC, owes nearly $1 million in mortgage payments that Atlantic View Holdings wanted paid in full by December.

When those payments were not made, Atlantic View Holdings sought a judgment of foreclosure. Mr. Fallon's client had acquired the mortgage last year from an investment group represented by Samuel Glass, an attorney from Brooklyn, that had tried to foreclose on the house for years.

Mr. Fallon said that no one, not even Sag Harbor Village officials, can go onto the property without legally being considered trespassers until the foreclosure is settled. However, he also said he was willing to work with the village to at least put up a fence while Atlantic View Holdings waits for the judgment.

Noting many years of problems with the house, Mayor Brian Gilbride said the village will have an engineer look at it to verify Mr. Preiato's findings and determine if it has to be torn down. But the mayor ultimately left the bulk of responsibility in Mr. Fallon's hands.

“I would prefer not to have to remedy this. I would prefer that you or some agent do it," Mr. Gilbride told Mr. Fallon. "This has been a point of discussion here many times.”

Tale Of Two Sisters

If the house is demolished, that could mark the end of a long and twisted tale involving two sisters, Annselm and Helga Morpurgo.

In 1965, the Morpurgo family purchased the Federalist-style, post-and-beam house, which was built around 1810. It is suspected that the house originated in either Connecticut or Sag Harbor’s Mashashimuet Park and had been moved to its spot on Union Street, Annselm Morpurgo said last week from her present home in Riverhead. The residence was reputed to have at one time been the home of Captain John Hulbert, who designed one of the first American flags. For that reason, Ms. Morpurgo said, the house should be "a national shrine."

By the time the sisters inherited the house from their parents in 1975–Annselm acquired two-thirds and Helga the remaining third–it had already begun to deteriorate. Ms. Morpurgo said she and her sister did not have the money to fix it up, so they legally leased out seven of the eight bedrooms as apartments and collected rent. She lived in the eighth bedroom.

In 1987, Ms. Morpurgo filed suit against Sag Harbor Village for “corrupt political action forcing her to sell the property for nothing.” The suit has never been settled.

All was quiet for several years—until the late 1990s, when the John Jermain Memorial Library, which is next door to the Morpurgo House, expressed interest in purchasing the Morpurgos’ quarter-acre property to expand the library. The library committee and the sisters could not agree on a price, though, so no deal took place.

That interest in the property drove the Morpurgos to try to auction off the house in 2003. The starting price was $1.5 million. No bids were placed, not even by the library.

Treading Water

With the prospect of selling now in the picture, the two women could not agree on what to do with the house—Helga definitely wanted to sell, due to rising taxes and debt, but Annselm wanted to sell only for the “right” price. She even floated the idea of demolishing the house and putting up condos; she said last week that the property's size and nature would allow for a “Manhattan-style” building. The sisters’ dispute eventually ended up in a lawsuit against each other.

While that suit was still going on, the house went up for auction two more failed times, in 2005 and 2006. Annselm and Helga Morpurgo would stand at the steps in front of the village's Municipal Building on Main Street while residents gathered around, hopeful that the house would sell and that the property would be cleaned up.

Finally, in 2007, the house was sold at auction to Captain Hulbert House LLC for $1.46 million. Annselm filed an injunction against the auction shortly after, but she and Helga each received 37 percent of the sale as stipulated by a judge’s order, with the rest going to the county treasurer, presumably for taxes.

Annselm lived in the house without permission from the new owner until 2008, when she was evicted after refusing to leave. Once the house sold, the sisters shifted their fight from the property to the money earned from the sale.

The Morpurgo House was also tied to a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme involving former Suffolk County Legislator George O. Guldi, whose own crumbling home in Westhampton Beach is soon to be demolished.

A Brighter Future?

Looking forward, Mr. Fallon said that Atlantic View Holdings' intent is to take back the house and fix it up, possibly into a quaint bed and breakfast. A stumbling block would be if Captain Hulbert House LLC files for bankruptcy, which would “freeze everything,” Mr. Fallon said, adding that that is unlikely to happen, however.

The Morpurgo sisters have put the mess of the house behind them. Annselm said she and Helga, who has moved to Arizona, have dropped the charges against each other. “We saw there was no point in fighting anymore,” Annselm said.

Ms. Morpurgo noted that she would be willing to put her grudge against Sag Harbor aside to help refurbish the property with help from profits that her organization, the Savant Garde Institute, a non-profit educational foundation, makes from charity auctions.

“Until that happens,” she said, however, “6 Union Street will continue to blight and punish Sag Harbor Village for the sins of its grandfathers.”

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