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Aug 14, 2014 3:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Demolition Underway on Historic Concer House In Southampton Village

Aug 20, 2014 9:44 AM

Demolition has begun on the historic Pyrrhus Concer homestead on Pond Lane in Southampton Village.

Although pieces of the home across from Lake Agawam are being preserved by village officials, large chunks of the house were visibly missing on Thursday afternoon, August 14.

This week, Mayor Mark Epley confirmed that the original portion of the house still stands, but he said that additions made over the years were demolished last week. Now, preservationists are going in and carefully deconstructing the oldest part of the house; the pieces will be stored in a secure location before being reassembled by the village on another property.

“We are talking about very important components to that building,” Mr. Epley said. “It is a job disassembling it by hand, which is time-consuming and fragile work. Everything has been properly marked and identified, and they are taking it apart piece by piece.”

Born a slave in 1814, Mr. Concer was later freed and went on several whaling expeditions, most notably when he was part of a crew that saved stranded Japanese sailors and returned them to their country, becoming one of the first Americans, and one of the first black men, to visit then-restricted Japan.

The house has been at the center of controversy since last September, when the Architectural Review Board hosted its first public hearing on a proposal by the property’s new owners to demolish the house and replace it with a new, larger one. Demolition opponents said the house is an integral part of African-American history on the East End, while others said that additions made in the 1920s leave questions about the dwelling’s historical integrity.

Opponents of the proposal said the property would not be in jeopardy if it had been included in past historical references—and noted that information related to African-American history, particularly where property ownership and residency are concerned, was often left out of such records. At the time of the public hearing, the ARB denied the application to demolish the structure, after which the owners filed a $10 million notice of claim against the village.

According to the settlement of that claim, which was filed with the State Supreme Court on May 21, the ARB had to immediately grant a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the structure, which it has already done. As a condition of the certificate, the village or a designated party had 60 days to investigate the house and remove anything believed to have been put there prior to 1890.

The house is being cleared to make way for a new, single-family, two-story home. A marker honoring the legacy of Mr. Concer will be placed on the property.

Originally, the village planned to store pieces of the house at the Southampton Historical Museum, but this week Mr. Epley said plans have shifted such that they are likely to be stored at the African-American Museum of the East End, which is also in the village. While nothing is finalized, the mayor said he has had preliminary meetings with the museum and that the village has looked at several locations where the house might be reassembled, although a spot has not yet been chosen.

This week, an advocate for preserving the Concer house, Georgette Grier-Key, who is director and chief curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society and president of the Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies, said she was sad the house is going, and that it is a piece of history the African-American community will never fully be able to recover.

While Ms. Grier-Key said she is appreciative of the effort to preserve and rebuild the core structure, she also said there was no transparency in the processes of applying for demolition or the lawsuit, with the African-American community paying the price.

“I am deeply saddened by looking at the structure coming down,” she said in an email this week. “To me, it’s symbolic of lost history that I often come across, that it’s gone forever.

“Equally important was the fact that once again, the perspective and inclusion of a African-American presence in preserving and documentation was null and void,” she continued. “This is a bittersweet response to a missed opportunity, and I have mixed feelings, because I know that artifacts are being preserved. But, again, I cannot be totally grateful, because on Long Island, and throughout the country, African-Americans aren’t given the opportunity to tell their own story.”

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great site and well written post..... thanks from man and van london
By JoaoFaria (2), London, United Kingdom on Aug 14, 14 5:34 PM
Black history nor culture is not important. The black community is marginalized at all levels. Witness what is going on in Ferguson.
By TaximanLindsey (3), Keene, New Hampshire on Aug 14, 14 5:56 PM
This is disgusting. The village handled it badly from start to finish, from long ago to today. The owners knew well what they had bought. They just didn't care. They are only focused on the almighty dollar.
By oystercatcher (126), southampton on Aug 15, 14 12:09 PM
The property had no restrictions on it when the owners bought it. The Village illegally tried to put restrictions on it ex post facto and lost.

While the property was once owned by Mr. Concer, the the structure on it post dated his passing. IE he never lived in that house.

Should we commemorate and celebrate Mr. Concer? Absolutely. Not only an historical marker in front of the proprerty, but an even larger monument across the street in Agawam Park telling hos whole story.
By smacw (240), New York on Aug 16, 14 11:42 AM