The Southampton Town Board is working to secure landmark status for the former Neptune Beach Club building in Hampton Bays, a move that should help potentially free up about $500,000 in Community Preservation Fund money to renovate the century-old structure so it can eventually reopen as a concession stand and museum.
Last month, the board approved the purchase of the oceanfront property that the former nightclub sits on, using $3.2 million from the CPF, with the idea of converting part of the space into a museum honoring the all-African-American Coast Guard crew that manned the former station during World War II. The board’s tentative plans also call for the addition of a beach concession stand, as well as a boardwalk that would cut through the protective dunes to the east of the building on Dune Road.
But in order to tap the CPF to cover some of the proposed building renovations, which are expected to run around $1.2 million when including the proposed boardwalk, the town must demonstrate that it purchased the building for its historic merits, Sally Spanburgh, chair of the town’s Landmark and Historic Districts Board, explained on Tuesday. The CPF is a land preservation fund accrued from a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers in the town.
“If the town wanted to buy up property with buildings on them without historic significance, they could be torn down,” she said. “It’s only when they’re historically important that they have to be landmarked to be purchased with CPF funds.”
The nine-member Landmark and Historic Districts Board, whose members are appointed by the Town Board and asked to make recommendations about such historic designations, has been examining the building since September 17, Ms. Spanburgh said. In early December, shortly before the Town Board announced the museum proposal publicly, her board was given a directive from Southampton Town CPF Manager Mary Wilson to assemble a pitch for the building to earn landmark status.
Former Town Councilman Jim Malone walked on the resolution that called for the museum, concession stand and boardwalk that would connect the building to nearby Tiana Beach. He said Wednesday morning that the idea of creating a pavilion with a museum element came together in November, but the historic element of the building had been under consideration since the board first took interest in the property early last year.
Mr. Malone also noted that Ms. Wilson, who was on vacation this week, was an advocate of preserving and honoring the history behind the building, and one of the first to inform the board about the building’s historic significance. He also gave credit to Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst for seeking out a productive use for the structure.
The other board members, including Ms. Throne-Holst, this week could not recall who first suggested that part of the building be converted into a museum.
“Ever since Neptune’s hit our radar as a potential purchase by the town and CPF, it was basically a no-brainer that the board was committed to changing the face of Neptune because of all the problems it caused,” Mr. Malone said, alluding to quality-of-life issues created by the former club.
The pavilion plan calls for the building to be restored so its facade will resemble the way it looked when constructed in 1912 as a life-saving station, Jennifer Garvey, a spokeswoman for Ms. Throne-Holst, said. Visitors would be able to take self-guided tours of the museum that would feature old photographs and antiquated pieces of Coast Guard rescue equipment.
Though formal plans have not yet been drawn up, the proposed concession stand would take up most of the renovated space, according to Ms. Garvey, who also noted that it is not yet known if the museum would be open year-round.
No studies have been completed focusing on how much it would cost to run the museum, or how much money it would potentially bring in. Ms. Garvey said she expects those points to be finalized once the town officially closes on the property, possibly by next month.
A life-saving station was first built on the land in the mid-1870s, at a time when such facilities dotted the coasts of Long Island and New Jersey, generally between three to seven miles apart, Ms. Spanburgh said. Coast Guard crews were supposed to look out for the large number of trans-Atlantic ships transporting goods to New York City. The current structure was built in 1912—although there is some indication that it might have been constructed earlier than that—and operated as a life-saving station until 1937 when it closed for several years before reopening in 1942 during World War II.
Between 1942 and 1944 an all-black crew manned the station and, at the time, it was only the second all African-American Coast Guard station in the country, according to a report prepared by Ms. Spanburgh. The first was located in North Carolina. The federal government abandoned the Hampton Bays station after World War II and, by the end of the decade, it became the Southampton Beach Club. It remained a beach club, in some form or another, for the remainder of its existence. Ms. Spanburgh said the true historic significance of the building is that it is one of the few early 20th century life-saving stations that remains fully intact and in its original location. “It is significant that the African-American crew manned the building, but it was a pretty brief period of the time,” she said. “It only adds to the property’s significance as one of the oldest remaining life-saving stations on Long Island.”
Ms. Spanburgh will make her landmark pitch for the property to the Town Board on Tuesday, February 11.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who helped clarify CPF regulations for the five eastern towns in 2011, said the museum element is not necessary for the town to purchase the Neptune building as long as it remains open to the public. He added, however, that the proposed museum is a nice addition to the concession stand element.
Before unveiling the town’s plans last month, Ms. Throne-Holst floated the idea of using the building for a waterfront dining facility, a proposed use that, according to Mr. Thiele, would be too commercial for land purchased with cash from the CPF.
“I think the museum, from a legal perspective, wouldn’t change anything if it weren’t included, but I think the addition of the museum adds some nice balance and it puts to rest the idea of having a standalone restaurant,” he said. “That’s really not what the purpose of the CPF is for. It’s for parks and recreation, historic preservation and open space.
“It’s one thing to have a concession stand for the patrons of the beach or of the museum,” Mr. Thiele continued, “but it’s quite another thing to have just a restaurant.”