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Dec 16, 2008 11:15 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Calvin Klein plans to tear down controversial house

Dec 16, 2008 11:15 AM

Fashion designer Calvin Klein is seeking permission to demolish his oceanfront home in Southampton Village, one with a controversial history, with plans to replace it with a house half the size.

The application before the village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review calls for tearing down the Meadow Lane house, which resembles a castle more than a single-family home, in favor of a much more modest and modern retreat for Mr. Klein.

The historical integrity of the house has been compromised over the years as ownership changed and alterations were made to both the exterior and interior. The home has been known by several names. Some names were bestowed on it by its owners, others were eponymous with those owners.

Former Worldcom director Francesco Galesi, the owner before Mr. Klein, dubbed it Elysium. Henry Francis du Pont originally built the house in the mid-1920s and called it Chestertown. A year after his death in 1969, the estate was sold to “Baby” Jane Holzer, a Warhol Superstar. When Holzer and her husband, Leonard, defaulted on their mortgage a few years later, the house was auctioned to coal industrialist John Samuels III. In 1979, financier Barry Trupin purchased the estate, eventually renaming it Dragon’s Head—a name which overshadowed the others, in part because of the controversy that surrounded its reconstruction by Mr. Trupin.

Mr. Trupin put a huge shark tank into the house, which the Trupins said they would swim in among the sharks amid boulders and banyan trees.

The biggest alterations, which resulted in $1 million worth of legal costs and years of litigation for Southampton Village, happened in violation of zoning code during the 1980s. Mr. Trupin added 20,000 square feet to the house before the village stopped him in 1984 for working without a building permit. The remolded house, which resembled a Norman castle and violated zoning ordinances, was referred to as “the height of hideosity” and “Disneyland on LSD.”

In 1992, Mr. Trupin, who was convicted in 1999 on tax evasion charges, sold the house to Mr. Galesi for $3.3 million.

Mr. Galesi, who had scaled back some of the house’s most extreme features, put the estate on the market in 2000 with an asking price of $45 million. He eventually sold the property to Mr. Klein in 2003 for $28.9 million.

According to town records, the 6.6-acre property, which is classified as an “exceptional home,” is assessed at $32 million and comes with a tax bill of more than $104,000.

The plan filed with the village Building Department promises to reduce building mass on the property by 50 percent and meet Federal Emergency Management Agency standards. The new house would be 17,250 square feet, with a 1,500-square-foot attached garage.

Mr. Klein’s architect, Michael Haverland of East Hampton, declined to comment on the application.

Many neighbors have written letters in support of the demolition and replacement. Hotel magnate Ian Schrager, who owns a nearby property, wrote the existing house is “over scaled and garish,” and the planned house is “beautifully designed.”

“I strongly believe that his proposed demolition of his over-scaled home, replaced with a more scaled and refined property, will help our neighborhood improve aesthetically,” Manhattan real estate mogul and Meadow Lane resident Aby Rosen wrote.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said Friday he is also in support of the plan, noting the property’s marred history with the village. The house is historical in the sense that it divided the village dramatically, he said.

Mayor Epley added that the cost of demolishing such a large house raises eyebrows and he is curious to see the entire project completed.

Board of Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Chairman Curtis Highsmith advised on Tuesday that community opinion is not directly involved in board decisions. He said that while the board takes public comments and written submissions into consideration, final decisions are made according to village code.

Before the review board can make any decisions regarding the new design, it needs to approve a certificate of appropriateness to allow the demolition of the existing house, since it is in a historic district, Mr. Highsmith noted. Historic counsel Zachary Studenroth is investigating the historic nature of the house and will likely present his findings to the board at its January 12 meeting, the chairman said.

Mr. Highsmith, while not specifically commenting on the Meadow Lane application, also said smaller does not necessarily mean better, and that a smaller replacement house is not a guarantee a design will automatically be approved. The board still needs to consider if the design is in keeping with the community, he said.

Unlike some other areas of Southampton Village, Meadow Lane’s houses are not uniform in architectural design. Mr. Highsmith said the designs range from very modern to eclectic: “All anyone has to do is drive down Meadow Lane to see the different styles.”

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Curt Highsmith is delusional, when he says the "final decision are made according to village code" there are numerous examples of crap houses that don't fit the venacular of the village that his board has agreed with. Most boards accross the state have an advisor ( who is usually an architect, historian or both) to advise the (lay) people onthe board as to the appropriateness of individual projects based upon a professinal objective opinion. I n So Village we have Curtiss, an engineer, and a ...more
By eastender09 (22), southampton on Dec 17, 08 4:48 PM
how about they get a building mover to cut the house into about 30 different pieces and have the pieces transported to different struggling families throughout the island.
By remington (5), manorville on Dec 17, 08 7:28 PM
the castle has been here for a long time. it is a landmark for boats on the water and for people to see. it brings personality to dune rd (meadow lane).
By inletkid (1), southampton on Dec 18, 08 4:19 PM
ANY type of dwelling should not be built that close to the ocean - period. Tear it down, no new building. Managed retreat.
By Undertow (64), Southampton on Dec 19, 08 11:33 AM
Get rid of that castle and let CK build a more modest home.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Dec 20, 08 1:51 PM
It his property, let him decide the style of dwelling he wants, Plus, such a large project, both demolition and building will provide work for many people here on Long Island!!
By julie (2), East Hampton on Dec 21, 08 2:40 PM
I lived in the house with my wife and first child where I worked as caretaker for the Holzers. At the time, the house had something like 50 rooms. Seemed quite large enough. We had a marvelous time there. Jane and Lennie were lovely to us. We have gone back from time to time and cannot fathom what sort of mind would do some of the things that were done. Mr. Klein should be allowed to do as he asks. Whatever he does will be quite tasteful and livable. Something like Mr. Du Pont's vision of ...more
By Mfinn (1), Garden City on Jan 6, 09 11:22 AM
Firecracker 8K run & 3 Mile Walk Southampton Village 4th of July weekend