In its heyday, it was a popular gathering place.
Lifelong Southampton Village resident Bonnie Cannon fondly remembers getting her hair curled, pressed and tied into a ponytail there, while elders discussed current events and shared tales of relatives moving from the South.
Another village native, Brenda Simmons, recalls getting her hair straightened with a hot comb, while simultaneously being taught how to be polite, respectful and keep one’s head held up high.
And yet another local, Randy Conquest, recalls popular hairstyles changing as rapidly as clothing fashions, though the camaraderie of the place was a reassuring constant.
The old barbershop and beauty parlor at 245 North Sea Road share not only a building but historical significance as a meeting place for the local black community. Though shuttered in recent years and once threatened with the prospect of demolition, the site was recently granted a distinction that will help it become the new home for the African-American Museum of the East End.
On Monday, December 13, the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review designated the property a landmark. According to village code, such a designation is bestowed on properties that possess special character, or historic or aesthetic interest or value. Those property owners who wrongfully demolish such protected structures, or allow them to fall into disrepair, face penalties of up to $100 each day a violation continues.
The village and Southampton Town joined forces to purchase the property, which measures less than one tenth of an acre, on October 4, 2006, with $500,000 in proceeds from the Community Preservation Fund. Both have agreed to lease the 720-square-foot building, which was built in the 1950s by Emanuel Seymore, as part of a stewardship agreement with the museum. Both the village and town had applied for the landmark status, and the ARB concluded almost two weeks ago that the building is a “familiar visual feature of the neighborhood.”
With the new title just bestowed on the single-story, shingled building, Ms. Simmons and Ms. Cannon—founders of the non-profit museum, along with Ms. Cannon’s mother, Gloria Cannon—are looking forward to restoring some glory to the spot. To that end, they hope to secure new funding that could come thanks to the new status, such as a matching grant with the National Trust for Historic Preservation that could arrive in February.
The women credit Gloria Cannon with hatching the idea to use the building as the museum’s base. The nonprofit organization, whose mission is to promote an understanding and appreciation of African-American culture, has no physical home at the present time.
Ms. Simmons said she envisions certain elements of the building’s interior being kept intact. “We want to keep the black-and-white tile that signifies a barbershop,” she said. “So much richness came out of that barbershop and beauty parlor.”
Though they are working with a small building, officials have a wealth of ideas for the new museum, including one to allow visitors to contribute to computerized records of African-American family histories.
The transition to a museum will take a while, noted Bonnie Cannon, who is also a Southampton Village trustee. Still, she said the pieces have been falling into place one piece at a time.
Mary Wilson, the administrator of the town’s CPF, said the landmark status makes the property eligible for inclusion into the historic property and places target area of the town’s CPF project plan. That plan will more accurately describe the value of the property and guide its future use.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s very exciting,” said Ms. Simmons, who works in Village Hall as the assistant to Mayor Mark Epley.
The barbershop had just three seats, but was often filled with as many as 10 to 15 people at a time, while the beauty parlor had only two beauticians for its many patrons. The beauty parlor occupied the northern side of the building, while the barbershop filled the southern portion.
From the late 1970s until he retired in 2006 and sold the building, Randy Conquest owned the structure, which, during the mid-1980s, housed a nail salon where the beauty parlor once stood, he said.
“Back in those days, when I first opened the barbershop, it was more or less a place where guys would come to discuss sports and whatever, but mainly it was a service for the black community,” said Mr. Conquest, 73, who lives on Miller Road, which intersects North Sea Road one block south of his old business. “A lot of history is in that shop.”
He spoke of discussions of world events taking place inside his shop between clips of the scissors. While popular hairstyles shifted from chemically straightened to the afro, to the Jheri curl, and then to more close-cut styles, conversations at Randy’s Barber Shop, as it was known, were always interesting. “Whatever was happening in the world passed through my shop,” he said.
Today, when he drives by the building, Mr. Conquest said he feels blessed for having been able to run a business—one that is full of good memories—for so long. “Too many for me to tell you,” he said. “I can’t really put it into words.”
For Ms. Simmons, many of her fondest memories involved her late aunt Evelyn Baxter, whose Hillcrest Avenue home abutted the north side of Ms. Simmons’s family’s Miller Road home. Ms. Baxter ran the beauty parlor for many years with her business partner, Katherine Spellman. In between parting hair, Ms. Simmons’s aunt, known by patrons as Miss Evelyn, also imparted life lessons.
“Some beauty shops were used a lot as teaching places,” said Ms. Simmons, 55, brimming with pride as she talked about her aunt. “We’d gather around and be taught about life. She taught me how to be a lady, how to walk, how to dress.”
Ms. Simmons added that she loved the peaceful atmosphere of the parlors, where she would spend her time as a young girl in the 1960s.
Bonnie Cannon, now 47, said she learned discipline there as well from Miss Evelyn, her hairdresser, all the while amazed at how Ms. Baxter would run a hot comb through her hair, while never burning her.
“I see it as a gathering place once again,” said Ms. Cannon, noting that she passes by the building almost every day. “It’s interesting how it’s kind of coming around full circle as a gathering place not just for the specific African-American community but for the entire community.”