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Jul 20, 2011 11:11 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Epley Envisions Historical House As New Chamber Building

Jul 20, 2011 11:47 AM

The Southampton Chamber of Commerce has for years envisioned having more space than its tiny headquarters on Southampton Village’s Main Street currently provides.

Now, Village Mayor Mark Epley has hatched an idea that would provide more space—while also returning to prominence one of the village’s oldest structures, and removing what is arguably one of its greatest eyesores.

Mr. Epley has focused on the boarded-up building at 22 Windmill Lane. Behind the dilapidated 20th century façade at that site sits the historical Henry Rhodes House, dating from the 18th century.

The mayor said he has received verbal approval from the building’s owner, the Demetriades family, to set the transformation in motion. Mr. Epley said he would like to have the family donate the building to the village. He would then demolish the 20th century portion of the structure, along with the chamber’s current building at 76 Main Street, and then transplant the Henry Rhodes House to the chamber’s current site for use as its headquarters.

Efforts to reach Alex Demetriades this week were unsuccessful.

“Wouldn’t it be really cool that now you have on Main Street a chamber building that would be fully handicapped accessible and up and operational, but a structure from the 1740s …?” Mr. Epley said. “And that building would be a couple of hundred feet from where it was built in the 1740s—that’s the ultimate goal.”

The Henry Rhodes House was originally built on Hampton Road, where the building that used to house Southampton Town Hall and, later, Saks Fifth Avenue now stands.

The village is drafting a Request for Proposals seeking help for the project, the mayor said. The new—or rather, old—chamber building would also have new restrooms installed behind it. Southampton High School students are expected to build the new restrooms in the upcoming school year.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karen Connolly said she had no comment on the mayor’s plan. The chamber is a private organization, but its building is village owned.

In 2006, Amagansett residents Robert Strada and Michelle Murphy Strada put in a bid to restore the historic building. The Stradas have a history of preserving and renovating historical houses. They did not buy the property outright, Mr. Strada said, because he knew it would be a daunting challenge to secure all the necessary permits and perform other tasks related to saving the structure from commercial development.

When reached this week, Mr. Strada said he had not yet heard of the mayor’s plan, but was delighted. “If this is the plan, that’s wonderful, but it should be preserved no matter what,” Mr. Strada said. “I think this building is so important to the culture and the development of Southampton and its many hundreds of years of existence. To lose this building would be a tragedy.”

The house is completely intact, according to Mr. Strada, and is historically significant for its original architectural details, including its post and beam structure, corner cupboard, wainscotting and paneling. He added that the Henry Rhodes House is a shining example of why historical preservation lists were created.

The house, which historians have estimated was built sometime between 1744 and 1799, was moved to Windmill Lane in the 1920s to make way for the construction of the former Town Hall. Over the next several decades, the house evolved into a hotel, a multifamily residence, and, at one point, a brothel and speakeasy.

It was condemned several years ago and marked for demolition in 2003, but historic preservationists asked officials and Mr. Demetriades to allow them to extricate the historical structure before it was destroyed.

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Sounds expensive, at a time when the Village's legacy retirement etc. costs are in the process of skyrocketing.

Nice idea perhaps, but can we afford it? Perhaps private donations should pay for the entire project?
By PBR (4921), Southampton on Jul 20, 11 6:17 PM
What a sensational idea....the town should jump at it....it solves at least 3 or more major problems: 1. a "new" historic larger chamber of commerce building in the center of town which would be a grand & impressive welcome to visitors (what we have now is an embarrassment) 2. gets rid of a lingering eyesore on Windmill La., which is a hazard 3. preserves one of So.H's oldest buildings which is hidden, and restores it to prominence dignity and usefulness also, 4. sets the tone for honoring ...more
By antonia (1), amagansett on Jul 21, 11 12:34 PM
Great idea. Why not put the illegal immigrant hiring hall there too. Matter of fact, let them do the renovation.
By c'mon now (46), southampton on Jul 21, 11 7:07 PM
I love it. The historic buildings in the village should be restored and to have the Chamber there is a wonderfull idea.
By fritzdaddy (34), southampton on Jul 26, 11 7:32 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser