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Thank the L.V.I.S. Watchdog

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 09:58


The brawl over the black paint job at Rowdy Hall reminded us this week how aesthetic taste isn't just totally subjective, but shifts with the passing of years. "What is a 'historically accurate' color, anyway?" the public wanted to know. Well, that question is actually answerable: Scientists at places like Williamsburg use chemical analysis and mechanical excavations to determine precise pigments. The surprise is that the past was vastly more colorful than we imagine. As proven in an exhibit called "Colour Revolution" on view at the Ashmolean Museum in London, Victorian fashions in clothing and decor, for example, weren't all black and gray (as we have been tricked by antique photographs into believing), but a riot of absinthe-green, purple, sky-blue, and sunny yellow. Those who remember the last major paint-color controversy in Amagansett — when the Presbyterian Church shocked the neighborhood with a redo in historically accurate powder-blue and buff — already know that the taste of 1723 or 1923 doesn't often match that of 2023.

Even so, there is a lot to be said for a coherent, collective, community consensus on how public buildings and public spaces should appear. Around here, the question of what constitutes a place-appropriate building exterior is often, happily, answered with one word: shingles. Faded wood exteriors, whether on windmills or houses, always look right. Meanwhile, for the last century or so, East Hampton Village has maintained an atmosphere of slightly austere beauty by sticking, in a general sort of way, to whites, deep greens, the sort of mustardy-buff you see on Clinton Academy, and Ye Old Williamsburg blue on anything that isn't just plain wood, from house shutters to fence posts. 

How was this visual cohesion maintained, and by whom? Again, one name: the Ladies Village Improvement Society. The L.V.I.S. used to take a strong, leading hand in all municipal matters of what was quaintly called "beautification," from the selection of wild blue irises at Town Pond to the banishing of neon from Main Street. For decades, a deep-green exterior paint — to match the grass and blend in harmoniously — was the norm on lampposts, garbage cans, bike racks, and anything else that could be attacked with a paintbrush. You know what? It worked. "Beautification" sounds a little silly, but without the L.V.I.S., our village would look a lot more like some UpIsland burgs, with rainbow-colored storefronts and a vista cluttered with gas stations, high-voltage lines, and billboards. (That's not an exaggeration. The L.V.I.S. actively campaigned to get all those things banned.) 

Do you like the lingering rural aspect of East Hampton Village? Thank the L.V.I.S. for its watchdogging of not just open vistas but signage, preservation, and paint colors. Thank the L.V.I.S.'s aesthetic control for a fair percentage of your property values. 

We at The Star believe that it would be wise for village and town worthies to turn again to the L.V.I.S. when aesthetic decisions are to be made. Consult them. They have the institutional memory. Finally, if asked, would the L.V.I.S. recommend that Rowdy black be added to the broad-guideline palette of cohesive and place-appropriate paint colors? We think the L.V.I.S. would say "yes."

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