One of East Hampton Town’s most storied marine buildings, second only to the Montauk Lighthouse in importance in the opinion of local historians, is undergoing a restoration that will bring it back to 1902, the year it was built as “United States Life-Saving Station #10 . . . abreast of Amagansett.”
Construction began last week on what will be at least a yearlong project — the blink of an eye compared to all the time and hand-wringing that led up to it. It’s been five years since Joel Carmichael’s heirs gave East Hampton Town back the decommissioned station he’d bought for a dollar in 1966. The town then accepted bids totaling $141,269 to put it into some kind of usable shape, not a cent of which was ever spent. Ever since, preservationists, town officials, Coast Guard veterans, civic activists, neighbors, even an entrepreneur or two, have fretted over its weather-beaten condition and wondered where to find the money to overhaul it.
The answer walked in a month ago, soon after the Nazi re-enactment, a deus ex machina in the person of the contractor and builder Ben Krupinski of East Hampton. “I am committing to do the exterior,” he told Kent Miller, who chairs the nascent Coast Guard Station Restoration Committee.
“The fact that Ben Krupinski is volunteering to do this is terrific,” Robert Hefner, the historic-preservation consultant, said last week. “It’s the only way that anything would happen there. And it was really no closer now, after all that planning and work, and the building looks kind of sad — to get the exterior done is fantastic.”
“Marvelous,” said Mr. Miller. “Incredible.”
Many people here know bits and pieces of the old building’s story, especially about the foggy night in June 1942 when a German U-boat surfaced no more than a quarter-mile from it and four would-be saboteurs waded up onto the sand, where they were confronted by a 21-year-old coast guardsman out on patrol. This past spring, at a meeting of the committee to save the station, it occurred to someone that to re-enact that confrontation — this year being the 70th anniversary of its occurrence — would be a good way to draw attention to the building’s unhappy condition. Mr. Miller would play John Cullen, the coast guardsman, and East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the liaison between the committee and the town and a rock of support, would be the Nazi leader, John Dasch.
Much to the committee’s surprise and delight, over 200 people turned up in gathering darkness to watch. One of them was Mr. Krupinski, whose wife, Bonnie Bistrian, had told him, “You have to come.”
“I knew about the Nazis,” he said recently, “but to be there and think, ‘This spot?’ I was amazed. I didn’t realize they’d moved that building down there. I said, what a wonderful thing.”
“To me it was a no-brainer. I’d get the outside done.”
At least twice in its long existence the old Life-Saving Station has just dodged destruction. In 1963, a federal government appraiser deemed it “in such a badly deteriorated condition that it is a menace to health and safety. It should be destroyed as soon as possible. . . . It is very possible that the local fire department could use this as a training lesson.”
Instead, as Mr. Hefner explains in a 2011 historic-structure report that includes both original and existing floor plans, East Hampton Town applied to the Department of the Interior to acquire the station (along with what is now the Town Marine Museum and the building next door where the town trustees have their office) for “parks and recreation.” Those three buildings were deeded to the town in 1964. Mr. Carmichael bought the station about two years later and moved it to a nearby site off Bluff Road, where it was used as a family residence for the next four decades. “Mr. Carmichael undoubtedly saved the Amagansett Life-Saving Station from being demolished,” writes Mr. Hefner.
Providentially, he made few major alterations, but time and northeasters and boisterous grandchildren took their toll. According to Mr. Hefner, who will stay close to the restoration as it progresses, “the highest priorities are to restore the windows, the entrance doors, the boat-room doors, the porch, and the varnished interior of the boat room, where the surfboats were kept.” The next step will be to reconfigure the space beyond the 30-by-34-foot boat room, to house a museum dedicated to the history in Amagansett of the United States Life-Saving Service, later the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as administrative offices for East Hampton Town lifeguards and a community meeting space. Mr. Hefner found the 1902 architectural drawings and specifications for the building, right on down to the plank walkways around it, in the National Archives — invaluable documentation that will be relied upon throughout.
Work began last week with the reconstruction of the wraparound porch, much of which had to be removed before the building could make the turn at the Bluff Road corner in 1966. Work on the exterior, including reshingling the sides and roof — Riverhead Building Supply has donated the lumber and roof material — should be done before winter, said Mr. Krupinski. The frame of the building is in good shape and needs no structural alteration.
Next will come the windows, “which are another story,” said the contractor. Michael Reilly of Reilly Woodworks in Calverton is custom-making them to the old specifications, again at no cost, and they will take time. Mr. Hefner calls Reilly Woodworks “top of the line”; Martha Stewart used the firm when she renovated her historic house in Bedford, N.Y.
Members of the restoration committee and those who have contributed their expertise include Mr. Miller, Mr. Hefner, Hugh King, executive director of the Home, Sweet Home Museum; Isabel Carmichael, who with her brother, David, donated their family home back to the town; East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, Councilman Stanzione; Robert Strada, a design consultant specializing in historic buildings; Peter Garnham, director of the Amagansett Historical Association; Michael Cinque, an Amagansett civic activist; John Ryan Jr., head of East Hampton Town lifeguards; Carl Irace, an attorney who is shepherding the committee, pro bono, through its incorporation as a nonprofit in Albany and Washington, D.C., and Richard Barons, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, which holds a $1-a-year lease on the building through 2029.
There will be a celebration on Sunday, to which the public has been invited, of all that has happened to date, with lemonade, cookies, and more information about what the future holds. The free event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at the nearby Town Marine Museum on Bluff Road, Amagansett. “We hope this will create a momentum,” said Mr. Krupinski, “and people will say, ‘What about the inside? What do you need?’ ”
Of the thousands of people who come to swim and sunbathe at the Atlantic Avenue beach every summer, probably just a tiny fraction ever stopped to wonder what the hulking building with the boarded-up windows was doing there by the side of the road. Now they all will know.