More review before potential Dragon’s Head demolition


Fashion designer Calvin Klein’s plan to demolish his oceanfront home in Southampton Village—which a previous owner converted from a prim, brick Georgian house in the 1980s into a Norman chateau to hold his collection of medieval armor and a huge aquarium—and replace it with a modern, more modest structure will undergo further review before the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review gives a green light to razing it.

Because the estate at 650 Meadow Lane is in the village’s historic district, the Building Department cannot issue a demolition permit until the Review Board grants a “certificate of appropriateness,” finding the house is not a locally relevant historic structure.

Historic counsel Zachary Studenroth said at the board’s Monday meeting that the exterior of the mansion is not of architectural importance, because it was radically changed in the 1980s, but he will not be ready to advise that the house is of absolutely no historic consequence until he can examine its interior.

Mr. Studenroth said that when Henry Francis du Pont built the house in the mid-1920s and named it Chestertown, he brought in and used examples of 18th century American architecture in the interior. If any of those elements, such as wood panelling, mantels and doors, are “still in existence, it would be important to identify and save it,” he said.

Mr. du Pont may have moved all of the historic architectural elements to his Delaware estate and museum, Winterthur, before he died in 1969, or it could have been compromised when Barry Trupin renovated the house in the 1980s, Mr. Studenroth said.

He said Tuesday that the Review Board’s jurisdiction does not extend to the interior of houses, but in cases when the interior architecture is of historical value it is appropriate to address it.

Mr. Studenroth will meet with Mr. Klein’s architect, Michael Haverland of East Hampton, to investigate the mansion before the board meets again on January 26, he said.

Mr. Haverland said at Monday’s meeting that, sadly, no historic traces of the original structure remain. Barely even any of the brick skeleton of Chestertown was retained, he said.

Besides physical transformations to the mansion, it has also gone through some name changes. Mr. Trupin, whose renovations were done in violation of zoning codes and without a permit, named the estate Dragon’s Head. After he sold it, former Worldcom director Francesco Galesi, the owner before Mr. Klein, dubbed it Elysium.

Mr. Haverland, armed with a dozen poster boards to display the plans for the property, told the board that four years were spent researching what could be done to rework Elysium before it was decided to tear it down and start fresh. “It was a challenge that was just too difficult to overcome,” he said.

The design calls for three parts to the new home: a main building, a studio wing and a guest wing.

The two wings will be one-story tall with green roofs so that they will disappear from sight, Mr. Haverland said. The three parts of the new house will be sprawled out across the property. But the floor area above grade will be 60 percent lower than Elysium was, the architect said.

To minimize the environmental impact of the demolition, the building materials in the existing house have been catalogued so they can be salvaged and recycled if possible, Mr. Haverland noted. “If it has any value, it will have a second life.”

Though most of the response to the proposed demolition of Elysium has been positive, Mr. Klein’s Meadow Lane neighbor Williams J. Williams Jr. said he did not find the new, modern design to be preferable to the existing structure. In a letter to the review board, Mr. Williams wrote that the proposed new buildings do not fit into the neighborhood and that he found Mr. Haverland’s attempts to connect the architecture of the proposed buildings with the original du Pont mansion to be very strained, “to say the least.”

“If approval of the proposal is inevitable, I wonder whether Mr. Klein might be persuaded to have the buildings be sand-colored to fit in with the dunes behind and wetlands in front, instead of in-your-face white, which makes the buildings look like a hospital clinic or Florida office building,” Mr. Williams wrote.

Mr. Haverland said the stucco the plans for the new home call for will use local sand, and the house will, in fact, blend in with the sand and the beach.

Once the application gets the green light from the ARB, the next stop is the village Zoning Board of Appeals. Mr. Haverland wrote to the ARB that he plans to seek height and area relief from the zoning board. He said at Monday’s meeting that he is already seeking a wetlands special permit from the zoning board to increase native planting.

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