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Connections: Going West

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:25

Visiting Quogue recently with friends who had summered there from childhood was eye-opening for my husband, Chris, and me — a pair of longtime East Hamptoners whom you might characterize as East End snobs. East Hamptoners tend to think we have the corner on geographic and even architectural beauty here on Long Island. Not so.

Quogue rhymes with “fog.” An incorporated village with its own bureaucracy and management, it is much closer than East Hampton to overbuilt metropolitan areas, but preservation there has been effective. The Quogue Wildlife Refuge is picturesque, with an Old Ice Pond, and there is a long stretch of pristine ocean beach at Quogue, too — undeveloped acreage that reminded me of the Napeague stretch between Amagansett and Montauk.

I was lucky on this junket to be in the company of Quogue aficionados: Louis Oliver Gropp, the retired editor of House Beautiful and author of several books on design, and his wife, Jane G. Gropp, whose credentials include management of the famous Riverside Church in Manhattan.

Lou was able to point to a number of very large houses at which his family had summered in Quogue. One had a three-story turret; he explained that each of his siblings had been able to claim a level. The Gropp family summer places were certainly as grand as or grander than anything East Hampton’s summer colony produced.

I was particularly intrigued by Quo­gue’s Dune Road. The residences along the road are a remarkable mix of new and old, including a few houses so small that I suspect they would fail the building-code size regulations of the South Fork. There were huge condos and houses that looked more like public buildings. On the other hand, we also drove by an original Gwathmey-Siegel house, which piqued my interest.

Jane, who kindly chauffeured us around like a pro, was happy to stop in at a funky Quogue coffee shop reminiscent of Bridgehampton’s Java Nation and to take a few turns around the

idiosyncratic, multishingled Episcopal Church of Atonement so we could get a good look at the architecture. We also stopped at a stylish, snail-like public building on the oceanfront, where massive erosion control is planned.

My companions seemed interested in what I had to say about the first house built by Charles Gwathmey, the modernist architect who lived in Amagansett. It was on Bluff Road, and only a few decades ago its design seemed almost shocking, because it had a wall of glass facing the ocean wind. Charlie had designed tiny, dormitory-style bedrooms at ground level. Although his mother, Rosalie, was known as a fine cook, he allowed only a narrow slot of kitchen appliances and had anchored the dining table to the floor. (You might expect a house of this description to be uncomfortable, but, on the contrary, it was snug and uplifting.)

It sounds rather funny to admit it, but — other than enjoying the way the train conductor shouted “Quo-o-o-ggue! Quuuuu-ogue!” when I happened to ride the Long Island Rail Road — I had never spared a thought for this neighboring resort community before this enlightening outing. The villages to the west of Southampton? They always seemed remote, and likely to be somehow lesser. Well, I had a lot to learn. Maybe next outing we will get really daring and check out Remsenburg.

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