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Hamptons Life

Jun 22, 2012 12:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Remembering, And Preserving, Gin Lane Cottages Through Writing

Jun 25, 2012 11:51 AM

While working as an architect, first in Manhattan and then in Southampton, Sally Spanburgh had a revelation: rather than designing new buildings, she should be fighting to save the old ones.

One part of her battle plan is serving as chair of the Town of Southampton Landmarks and Historic Districts Board. The other is documenting the stories behind the village’s historic homes—not only in terms of their architectural style and significance, but also with regard to who built and inhabited them.

That is exactly what she has done with her debut book, “The Southampton Cottages of Gin Lane: The Original Hamptons Summer Colony,” the first in what she hopes will become a series cataloging the entire village, she said during an interview in the backyard of her Southampton home.

“I know the book won’t appeal to everyone, but as long as there are people who are curious when they pass by old houses, then there will be an audience for this book,” she said. “If anything, it’s a great beach read, but what I really hope people get from this book is an increased sense of value of these old houses, which is why I did the book. You don’t write books like these to earn money, because you have to be Danielle Steel to earn any money writing a book. So, it’s a labor of love.”

The soft-cover book is a narrated walking tour, from the west end of Gin Lane to the east, of its 34 original cottages dating between 1877 and 1927. All but four were built before Southampton Village was incorporated in 1894, and 19 of them survive today, albeit in varying conditions.

“Most of the houses in here have a great story,” Ms. Spanburgh said, flipping through the book. “Let’s see, good stories. Of course, that’s a great story—the Cryder story, ‘Sandrift,’ the murder. There has to be a murder in every book.”

In 1885, a casual shingle-style home named “Sandrift” was built for Duncan Cryder and his wife atop the dunes with views of the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Cryder was a sports enthusiast and charter member of Southampton’s exclusive Meadow Club, and served as its president in 1888. He went on to help establish a 12-hole seaside course, which eventually became Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

The Cryder family’s tragedy began to unfold in 1902, when their son, Ogden, was run over by a streetcar and killed at age 17. About 40 years later, Mr. Cryder’s grandson, William “Billy” Woodward Jr., who, before his marriage was considered one of the most eligible bachelors in America, was fatally shot by his “actress/showgirl/social-climbing wife” in 1943 when she mistook him for a thief in the middle of the night, the book explains.

Her days of high society were over, especially after the scandal became the basis for three different books—one of them Truman Capote’s “Answered Prayers”—and she committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills in 1975. Later, her two sons killed themselves by jumping from windows.

“Sandrift” no longer survives. And though many of the other cottages do, some of them are unrecognizable today.

“I’m not against these things evolving and growing and being added onto and suiting contemporary needs, but once they go too far from what they originally looked like, I think that in some cases, that’s bad,” Ms. Spanburgh said. “Some have been transformed a little too much.”

There is one addition onto “Halcyon Lodge”—a stick-style cottage at 436 Gin lane, which is one of maybe two still remaining in the village—that makes the house what it is, Ms. Spanburgh said. But that’s because the add-on was designed by the late modernist architect Philip Johnson when Henry Ford II and his wife owned the house.

“The Fords wanted to tear the addition off before they moved and take it with them,” Ms. Spanburgh laughed. “The owners were like, ‘Nuh-uh.’ I would be that way, too. ‘Hello? I’m buying it because of Philip Johnson.’ They weren’t buying it because whoever else built it. They were buying it because Philip Johnson touched it with some glory.”

Other cottages are pristine and preserved with a careful eye, such as the carriage house on the Barnes estate at 88 Gin Lane. In 1893, Henry B. Barnes Sr. bought 9 acres on the ocean side of Gin Lane—not named for the spirits but rather for the old English term that refers to a common grazing area, which is exactly how the street began: as a place for animals.

Shortly after, Mr. Barnes had built two shingle-style cottages—“Edgewater” by the dunes, which no longer exists today, and “By The Way” near the center of the parcel—and one shared carriage house in the northeast corner of the property.

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