The decades-old Bouwerie mansion on Meadow Lane in Southampton Village was demolished about two weeks ago, with a new modern home to go up in its stead.
The current owner, listed as 1280 Meadow Lane LLC, was approved for a demolition permit in July by the village’s historic consultant, the village Architectural Review Board and the village building inspector.
The homeowner, who purchased the oceanfront estate for more than $25 million in 2011, referenced the precarious location and condition of the home as reasons for demolition. The Bouwerie had been perched seaward of the coastal erosion hazard line, right up against the dune, which had inched its way toward the structure over the years, according to Jon Foster, Southampton Village building inspector.
“As part of the applicant’s due diligence, it was determined that … the size, location and state of disrepair of the existing structure made the enlargement, renovation and/or reconstruction of the existing dwelling not practical, especially given the value of this oceanfront property,” Wayne Bruyn, attorney for the homeowner, stated in a letter to the ARB in July.
Built after 1930, the home had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986. However, it was not recognized on either inventory of historic resources in the village—a map of the village’s historic districts and a residential map from 1926.
“Anything after 1926 is not considered historic,” Mr. Foster explained on December 1. The year 1926 is considered to be a suitable cutoff, because the associated map is “as far back a record that we have,” he said.
The village’s historic consultant, Zach Studenroth, also makes a recommendation based on a variety of landmark criteria, including whether a structure has special character, historic or aesthetic interest, or value as part of cultural/political/economic or social history; is identified with historic people; embodies the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style; is the work of a designer who has significantly influenced an age; or has a unique location or physical characteristic that represents a familiar visual feature or neighborhood. Mr. Studenroth determined that the Bouwerie did not meet any of this criteria.
The village has been criticized in the past for failing to be more aggressive in preserving its historic homes. A notable incident in recent years was when it signed off on the demolition of the Pyrrhus Concer house, stating that it had no historical significance.
That decision set off a chain of events. David and Silva Hermer purchased the house and applied for a demo permit. When it turned out the property had been previously inhabited by Mr. Concer, an African-American indentured servant born in 1814, rendering the house historical, the ARB denied the demo application. In return, the Hermers sued, referencing the village’s determination, and the village settled. The homestead was demolished, and the Hermers put the cleared property back on the market for slightly less than $5 million.
The demo permit process for the Bouwerie appears to have been a sleeper, with few local historians realizing it was at risk. This may be partly due to it having been set far back from the road, not visible to passersby. Still, news of its removal has rankled some.
“It’s disgusting. Only in Southampton Village is the destruction of such important historic resources so easy,” said Sally Spanburgh, who chairs Southampton Town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board and authors a blog that tracks the preservation and destruction of historic homes in the village.
“My God, what an interior, it was unlike any other house in Southampton,” said Tom Edmonds, director of the Southampton Historical Museum. “What a terrible loss. Every loss of a historic building in Southampton destroys the reason people come out here.”
The Bouwerie belonged to Dr. Wesley Bowers, an ear, nose and throat physician, and his wife, Gladys Seward Bowers. They were active members of the summer colony, a high-society enclave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1930, after spending many summers in Southampton, the Bowerses commissioned New York architect Leroy Ward to design a Spanish Revival house in the dunes. Mr. Ward fashioned a 3.5-story Mediterranean-style villa, with hipped roofs made of red Spanish tiles, carved wooden balconies and mottled stucco. They nicknamed it “The Bouwerie,” a play on the family name and an allusion to the concept of a quaint cottage, according to “Houses of the Hamptons, 1880-1930” by Anne Surchin and Gary Lawrance.
Local legend has it that the inspiration for the house came from a villa the couple saw while on their honeymoon in the south of France.
With the mansion gone, the cleared 6.2-acre property is getting prepped for a new home, which will be set farther back from the dune and behind the coastal erosion line. Made primarily of limestone and glass, the 18,000-square-foot manse, the largest a house can be in the village, will have an X shape.
Amenities will include 11 underground parking spaces, two elevators, plus two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bar for the wait staff on the first floor. There will also be nine bathrooms on that level. The second floor will include eight bedrooms and another eight baths as well as a wine room, set adjacent to an office.