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Jul 1, 2019 10:02 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Breathes New Life Into Historic Life-saving Station In Hampton Bays

The Town of Southampton purchased the former life-saving station with $3.2 million in funds from the Community Preservation Fund. PEGGY SPELLMAN HOEY
Jul 5, 2019 4:47 PM

The sun shone over the sprawling dance deck and tiki bar at the former Neptune Beach Club in Hampton Bays one recent Saturday morning.

Absent blaring techno music and hordes of revelers, it was strangely silent—DJs’ competing beats had long since expired. The sounds of waves could be heard crashing along the shoreline and the wind bashing against the main structure’s watchtower.

Gone are the white shingles, sea green roof trim, and the building’s signature multi-color tropical fish. Returned was the building’s original visage as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Tiana Life-Saving Station, once manned entirely by an all African-American crew.

“They had the perfect view,” said Matthew Jedlicka of the Brookhaven-based LK McLean Associates, engineers hired by Southampton Town to manage the building’s structural restoration, during a tour of the property, as he peeked out of a gabled window inside the crew’s second-floor sleeping quarters overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. His eyes squinted in the sunlight. “But maybe they didn’t know it.”

The scenic view might have been lost on the crew because of a sense of duty—their eyes were panning the distant horizon for signs of boaters in distress, or foreign boats, for that matter, that could pose a threat.

The crew manned the station during World War II and would have been the first line of defense in the event of an unfriendly landing during wartime. It was likely a looming threat for the men, as, farther east, German agents and supplies were discovered near the Amagansett Life-Saving Station, and the potential saboteurs were arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in 1942.

Though the building has been returned to its former glory, there are still some lingering traces of the nightclub that must be tackled before the restoration is completed in time to open to the public next summer. A large portion of the outer deck once used as Neptune’s dance floor, parts of which have signs of buckling, will be removed, and the property returned to its natural state so that visitors can walk down to the beach.

“The final phase will make it look like it was,” Mr. Jedlicka said.

A smaller, higher deck where the tiki bar is located will likely remain on the property so that people can have a better view of the ocean. The property’s parking lot will be designed, and a handicap-accessible access ramp will be reconfigured.

What now lies beneath the deck—the former club’s underbelly—is a series of sandy tunnels staff used to run alcoholic libations from a giant walk-in cooler to the service bars through hatches opening up in the floor above them. Seven years after the music stopped, the tunnels are still strewn with debris, including a collection of straws stuck in the decking and graffiti words like “Underworld” written in neon green.

While the main history is the life-saving station, there is a secondary history of the scene that Neptune was: hundreds of people, some standing on the roof of its accessory structures, fist pumping, long before the Jersey Shore made it a “thing”; the maze of trails under its massive party deck; and police outside with a mini-substation doing crowd control.

“It must have been crazy,” Mr. Jedlicka said.

The history of the property started not with a DJ saving someone’s life on the dance floor, but the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the forerunner of the Coast Guard, in 1871. The life-saving station itself was constructed in 1912.

“There was a series of life-saving stations on the Eastern Seaboard. Before the Coast Guard was active, the U.S. Life-Saving Service would patrol the beach and use the tower to look for ships in distress,” said Ben Chaleff, an architect from Chaleff & Rogers Architects of Water Mill, responsible for the drawings and specifications for the restored building.

Noting the structure has had a varied past most people would not realize, considering its entirely different lives, first as a life-saving station, then as a nightclub, Mr. Chaleff said, “It’s pretty amazing.”

The life-saving station was deactivated in 1937 but then called back into service during World War II. Between 1942 and 1944, it was manned by an all African-American crew, including its commander, Chief Petty Officer Cecil R. Foster, CBM. The station was the second of its kind in the country, after Pea Island in North Carolina.

“There is a lot of black history on the East End that is not being told,” said Brenda Simmons, executive director of the Southampton African American Museum, noting that she would like to see the project come to fruition. “Just to inform and to educate that African-Americans in this area contributed a lot to the East End,” she said.

The former life-saving station was abandoned in 1946 and was transformed thereafter into the Southampton Beach Club, and was a series of nightclubs over the years before Neptune opened in the 1990s. Together with its neighboring club, Summers, Neptune became a bother for neighbors, who voiced complaints about noise and drunken party-goers, and most summer weekends the Southampton Town Police Department had its hands full keeping the peace when the club let out in the wee hours.

The idea of purchasing Neptune was first floated in 2006. The music finally stopped for Neptune in 2013 when the 2.8-acre spit of land it sits on was purchased by the town for $3.2 million from the Community Preservation Fund. The sale was finalized the following year in 2014.

Over that time, the town has spent $815,290 to restore the property, which included some demolition work and the removal of non-historic structures such as bathrooms, a kitchen, and the main bar outside, as well as exterior and interior restorations, the latter of which is currently underway. This last year, the building’s exterior was restored with cedar shingles, its tower reconstructed and raised, and gable windows with bronze screening, boat ramps and barn doors were all installed.

Currently underway is the fourth phase, which includes a restoration of the building’s interior.

“It’s pretty important that the town has chosen to preserve it and tell the story of this unique building,” Mr. Chaleff said.

During his process, Mr. Chaleff was guided by photographs as well as original specifications for the building, which were “incredibly detailed,” he said. From there, restoring the building to its former glory was a matter of concessions in terms of the choice of materials. Not everything could be exactly as the original building.

For example, its windows were a compromise; instead of single-pane glass, they were restored with insulated glass panes. In the current restoration phase of the interior, there is not as much compromise.

There is original flooring, and beadboard wood paneling, which is similar to wainscoting, and wooden posts, though covered with multiple layers of paint including Neptune’s signature sea green. As for the barn doors, they are not original, but care was taken to find a craftsman who could outfit them properly to the building. They were installed on the building several weeks ago.

Mr. Jedlicka said workers also used the life-saving station’s sister station in Quogue as a point of reference in the restoration and the owners of the structure, which is now used as a home, have been “very instrumental with the design” as Mr. Chaleff was allowed to go inside and take measurements. “They have left the house pretty much the way it was so they had not redone anything and destroyed the integrity,” Mr. Jedlicka said.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman credited the consultants for their combined efforts. “They did an excellent job on the restoration. It’s beautiful,” he said.

Councilwoman Christine Scalera, one of the original council members who voted to purchase the property back in 2013, said it was nice to see the Town Board’s plans underway at the life-saving station. “It’s great to see it come to fruition,” she said. “Hopefully, next year we will have it open for everyone to enjoy.”

Over the next year, the town’s consultants will complete the property’s restoration work on the interior portion of the building. At a work session sometime this month, the board is expected to hammer out the finer details of how the building will be used. At that time, officials will also discuss how their plans will be funded, whether it be by CPF money, which has restrictions on how it can be used, grant funding, which can have restrictions of its own, or from another budget line in the town’s coffers.

“All of that is being analyzed as to what can be and what can’t be used,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

The Town Board has previously entertained using a portion of the building as a museum containing historical maritime artifacts relative to the U.S. Life-Saving Service and the specific time period from when the building was manned by the all African-American crew. Possibilities have included having the building curated by an outside organization, in similar fashion as the Lyzon Hat Shop nearby, which is run by the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society.

Previously, there was some mention of involvement by the Southampton African American Museum, which is currently spearheading efforts to preserve its home base, the former Randy’s Barber Shop on North Sea Road in the village, as well as the Pyrrhus Concer homestead.

Ms. Simmons said there were some initial meetings about the stewardship of the property, but then the momentum was lost, and a meeting to tour the property ended up being canceled. In her initial research, she learned there may have been a connection between the men at the life-saving station and the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

Mr. Schneiderman said he is not sure if there has been any one group that has been advocating for the museum; however, he noted the Hampton Bays Historical and Preservation Society could also be a natural partner for the town, although other groups that could come into the mix include the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.

Another component of the property the Town Board must decide on is whether the building will be open year-round or just during the warmer weather, and what kind, or if any, heating and air conditioning system will be installed on the premises. The board also must decide whether a food concession will be outfitted with a full kitchen on site or just a kiosk with refrigeration to keep grab-and-go meals and drinks from spoiling.

Mr. Schneiderman said that yet another possible concept could include a food truck, a concession the Town Board has used more recently at other locations, such as Hot Dog Beach in East Quogue and Good Ground Park in downtown Hampton Bays.

Mr. Schneiderman said he was pleased to see the building restored because it dovetails with much of the progress the town has spearheaded along Dune Road, such as the opening of the Marine Education and Outreach Center, fishing pier restoration near Ponquogue Bridge, the renovated pavilion and the transfer of the commercial fishing dock from Suffolk County to the town.

“This is an example of the positive things happening on Dune Road,” he said.

Lighthouse aficionado Sharon Mills of Kittery, Maine, ambled up the driveway of the property in her van while Mr. Jedlicka was closing up the site, just in time to get a sneak preview of the work that’s been done. Ms. Mills, who has visited many other lighthouse locations, said it was a natural progression for her to become interested in life-saving stations, considering she lives near Wood Island Life-Saving Station, which is also under renovation and there are plans to open that station next summer also.

“I am interested in that part of maritime history,” she said.

Last year, she visited the restored life-saving station in Amagansett, and drove by Tiana to see how the project was progressing. “When we came last year, it was a very rainy weekend,” Ms. Mills said. “[The town has] done a lot of work since we were here last year, I can see. It’s great.”

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A monument to the days when Hampton Bays was a thriving community.
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 5, 19 1:16 PM
This is a BIG failure. After $4 million dollars and 5 years this is still not completed with SHTB having not having a clue. What is the political payoff budget on this project?

What waste of CPF for political games by SHTB as pay back to those wealthy demos just west of of this site. This is why the road was paved. SHTB is shameful and EQ will be free from you shortly.
By Hamptonsway (107), Southampton on Jul 6, 19 1:57 PM

A building of NO historical or architectural significance, bought by the town because of complaints by $elf-entitled neighbor$.

Honest observers will admit that the site's most memorable metamorphosis was as the emblematic, delightfully tacky, stereotypical, rock-and-roll mosh-pit that attracted hormonally-overloaded twenty-somethings from all over the metropolitan area to live out their fantasies before they all got married, had kids, gained a significant amount of weight, ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 5, 19 2:20 PM
Put a kitchen in aboardwalk and let people use the damn thing to go to the beach. Now it is a waste of almost 5 million
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 6, 19 9:52 AM
1 member liked this comment
That would be too much fun. Southampton Town can't let HB have too much fun.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Jul 6, 19 9:56 AM
They are outrageaous. The beach clubs just sit there rotting away. Hot Dog beach gone, piping plover allegedly everywhere and access being closed. If you want to revive Hampton Bays the bea hes need to be open.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 6, 19 12:25 PM
Do you remember all the drunks around when the big clubs were open? If that’s a way to revive anywhere, it’s the wrong way.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Jul 6, 19 3:09 PM
Fred, there was no reason to close those clubs just because of a few "drunks" - apparently you haven't see the HB LIRR train station on Sunday night when the Boardy Barn closes. Things were getting out of control with the illegal group houses, but that was not a reason to close the clubs. cheif1 is right, they provided great access to the beach, but I suspect the residential neighbors to the west were not happy....Maybe instead of buying the clubs, the Town should have bought the residential houses....
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 19 3:23 PM
You kinda made my point. There were many “ boards barns” bars in Hampton Bays. It’s not what you want your area to be known for. When I said a few drunks, I was being kind.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Jul 6, 19 3:55 PM
@ Fred s

Has the DWI arrest rate declined west of the canal since the Neptune Beach Club and Summers closed? If so, I haven't noticed. The fact is that when these clubs were open, the STPD had units PERMANENTLY stationed outside of them eyeballing every departing guest. Not only were drunks unlikely to get on the road, but those who foolishly attempted so to do became a healthy source of revenue for the town.

These clubs weren't closed because they were a menace to society. ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 6, 19 4:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
I remember people complaining about all the drunks puking and generally screwing up in the parking lot by the boardy barn, that was just one bar of many. I’m sure there are many sides to this.i still stand by my point, you don’t want your area to be known as a giant drunken party. Just to state, I was part of the giant drunken party back then.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Jul 6, 19 4:24 PM
I remember crowded stores in Hampton Bays and full motels. I remember people on Main Street in and out of the shops and restaurants. I remember people having fun and supporting local businesses.

I remember many of these summer visitors coming back later in life buying houses and raising their own kids in what was a vibrant place. I'm one of them. I remember an infinitesimal number of drunks sometimes causing a small problem or two that could have been and normally were controlled ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 6, 19 10:42 PM
VOS, Hampton Bays is known for the best public beaches and waterfront restaurants and both were very busy. I went to Kreig's bakery at 11 AM this morning and they were sold out. Last weekend I was at the new restaurant, the Standard, and they were busy too. This is all DESPITE what the Town has done to ruin the hamlet. Some of the retailers have to deal with the amazon effect and that cannot be avoided. This last urban renewal a/k/a overlay district plan on Main Street will wipe out all the ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 3:13 AM
I don't argue with what you say but you are a bit late to the party. There used to be a diner with a waiting line and a busy luncheonette and Pancake Cottage and busy delicatessens and the Hampton Maid. There were four or five times as many customers as there are today. And at night there were a half dozen or so local places to go for people whose party did not end when the sun went down.

Skidmore's probably sold fifty beach chairs a day in the past, boat dealers and Jet Ski operators ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 7, 19 4:56 AM
1 member liked this comment
Do as I say not as I did. You are only young once. Let the young have their fun.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Jul 7, 19 7:50 AM
VOS, I started to come out east from NYC in 1976 and bought my first house in HB in 1999, so I am not that late to the party. I raised my head out of the sand in around 2013 when I saw HB not keeping up with the recovery after the "great recession". I went back in history and read all the Town Plans, read all the old reports and now am fully engaged. Retailers have to accept the amazon effect - it is easier and cheaper - I try to shop locally, but there is a point to which it is easier to point ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 8:16 AM
Nobody who is here now is spending that money. That's the problem.

Those who came to enjoy the beaches and nightlife came with money and spent it here. Amazon would have had minimal effect on how that money was spent. When you need a beach chair or cooler, you stop in town and get one. I doubt if anyone has bought a Jet Ski or boat on Amazon.

Of course the diner was lousy in it's demise, there were not enough customers left to support it - chased away by the political hacks ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 7, 19 2:45 PM
We are agreeing on that and that is why we need the tourism and 2nd home owners to support the community. Commercial properties and underutilized single family homes fund the community....otherwise HB will collapse like Detroit.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 2:49 PM
I care about the Lifesaving Station-how much tax revenue did it remove from the budget? Along with all the other clubs. This is why CPF was wrong to buy these locations and not open space. The intent was raped by SHTB. The best the SHTB can do is drop workforce housing upon the hamlet to call it a plan to protect those east of the canal.
By Hamptonsway (107), Southampton on Jul 7, 19 9:11 PM
I agree the CPF has become another slush fund. The Town Board completely ignores the recommendations of the committee. The residents of Hampton Bays need to shine the spotlight on the "bait and switch" from a commercial revitalization plan to dense workforce housing. This needs to play out in the court of public opinion as Jay Schneiderman and John Bouvier run for re-election and any other court available. They have held commercial property owners and residents hostage and we now need to turn ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 11:05 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 6, 19 3:40 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 19 6:31 PM
I heard at the local watering hole that this propert is being considered as affordable housing.
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on Jul 6, 19 6:46 PM
Your watering hole buddies have this confused with the workforce housing on Main Street...maybe emergency housing....
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 19 8:32 PM

"Another component of the property the Town Board must decide on is whether the building will be open year-round or just during the warmer weather ... "

Any town board member who votes to keep this thing open in winter should not just be removed from office, he should be committed to a lunatic asylum.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 7, 19 8:23 AM
1 member liked this comment
OK, I will repeat my comment from above without reference to BF's use of a certain word...The Town of Southampton thrives on its tourism and 2nd home market. It is even documented in the recent Moody's report. This Town Board has hidden behind the recovery from the "great recession" plus low interest rates and pat themselves on the back for doing a great job. No one I know cares about the Lifesaving Station. Hampton Bays NEEDS their fair share of the tourism and 2nd home market just like the rest ...more
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 8:31 AM
Is describing the buffoons that came here in the late 70's and early 80's Guidos somehow inaccurate? Steroids, 90 mile an hour haircuts and the ubiquitous Monte SS , yo dose was da dayz.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 7, 19 8:37 AM
Hey BF those were my peeps in Brooklyn and I agree 100%. Saturday Night Fever in Hampton Bays, but I agree with HHS, most of those people turned out OK....they were harmless. The group houses got out of control due to the lack of code enforcement and landlords who didn't care about anyone but themselves....oh yeah..that is still the case, but know it is all year long and we have the students in the school district and the middle school we are paying for just to put the cherry on the cake.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 7, 19 10:23 AM
1 member liked this comment
Everything the Southampton Town Board idiots touch turns to crap.
By themarlinspike (542), Northern Hemisphere on Jul 7, 19 8:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
4 million plus already on this project? To what end, look at how PC we are? Use this amazing property for something that people can actually enjoy. To those who are happy "group houses" are gone I guess you haven't taken a drive around town and noticed multiple pick ups, cars, and even RVs parked in driveways all over the place...the new group house house includes countless stressing the environment and homeowner's wallets on a daily basis, not for a few weekends in the summer.
By joeg (31), Hampton Bays on Jul 8, 19 9:18 AM
and now we have the Town Board rationalizing the group homes as long as unrelated people live as a "family" - sharing a kitchen...they will do anything to keep HB as the workforce housing for the entire Town - their version of "economic segregation" - they should be ashamed of themselves, but there is no shame for career politicians anymore.
By G.A.Lombardi (575), Hampton Bays on Jul 8, 19 9:24 AM
1 member liked this comment
The story should have started...…. Once upon a time.. Then ended Trump did it, darn him anyway...…. Oh..yep I was there Tommy Martin
By Tommy Turbo (60), Deep River, CT on Jul 13, 19 12:20 PM