Long one of the sleepier enclaves amid the mega-mansions and beach estatesof Long Island’s East End, the tiny village of Sag Harbor has found itself at the center of a red-hot real-estate market as of late. Shnayerson investigates how the un-Hampton is coping with a demand that’s pitting neighbor.

The evidence is on every old Sag Harbor street. Little houses torn down or built up, big new ones dwarfing their neighbors. The whole East End of Long Island has been under siege for years, but until recently most wealthy weekenders chose brand-new mansions in former potato fields over tight-packed, 19th-century whaling-era historic village houses. And wasn’t Sag Harbor a bit blue collar still, with boats in front yards and plumbers in pickups, unfashionably north of the highway? Now the un-Hampton, as Sag Harbor has long been known, is the hot Hampton, where hedge funders embrace the charms of village life. They want a nice old house—just not one of those small ones. “People want to be surrounded by quaintness—but not live in it,” one Sag Harborite says with a sigh.

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of village life. They want a nice old house—just not one of those small ones. “People want to be surrounded by quaintness—but not live in it,” one Sag Harborite says with a sigh. Better to build out the cottage into a hulk of a house with en-suite bathrooms and media rooms. And so Sag Harbor, still a relatively sleepy village of 2,268, plunged this last year into its biggest crisis since kerosene

relatively sleepy village of 2,268, plunged this last year into its biggest crisis since kerosene displaced whale oil: How to keep the new arrivals from loving the place to death? Locals blame this sea change on the rehab of the old Bulova Watchcase factory. A block-size, red-brick ruin for decades, it is now Sag Harbor’s SoHo, with 64 lofts, bungalows, and brand-new town houses, all at SoHo prices. This is its first really up-and-running summer, but its asking prices have already had an impact: 3-bedroom apartments at $2.5 million, penthouses at up to $7.9 mil.! Now every old fisherman’s cottage seems worth a fortune—and the fortunate have come.

As ever, the bigger the house, the higher the premium. Consider the grand white Italianate whaling captain’s house at 238 Main Street. A decade or so ago, socialite Nancy Richardson shocked the village by paying $1.3 million for old Captain Howell’s pile. She’s since sold it to a fellow for about $9 million—who’s turned around and put it up for $21 million. And why not? Unlike stocks, Sag Harbor house prices just keep going up. Along with historic charm, an overpaying buyer may get to play backgammon at the American Hotel or buy lobsters at the wharf with new, high-profile homeowners from Hollywood (Drew Barrymore), Wall Street and fashion

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buy lobsters at the wharf with new, high-profile homeowners from Hollywood (Drew Barrymore), Wall Street and fashion (Richard and Lisa Perry), tech (angel investor Eric Hippeau), hip-hop (producer Lyor Cohen), and media (ex-Murdoch advisor Joel Klein), all happily joining the old guard: Richard Gere, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, 60 Minutes anchor Steve Kroft, fashion designer Nicole Miller,

Richard Gere, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, 60 Minutes anchor Steve Kroft, fashion designer Nicole Miller, writers Alan Furst and Ivana Lowell, and painters Eric Fischl, April Gornik, and Donald Sultan. Yet the number of authentic whaling captains’ houses is limited, and so demand is high. Locals have seen larger houses, new or expanded, sprouting up all over town more—far larger than the standard historic Sag Harbor home. “Our Village Is at Risk!” cried a double-page ad in the Sag Harbor Express as the onslaught wore on. Soon, Save Sag Harbor, the group behind the ad, had more than 1,000 signatures. The board of tru

more—far larger than the standard historic Sag Harbor home. “Our Village Is at Risk!” cried a double-page ad in the Sag Harbor Express as the onslaught wore on. Soon, Save Sag Harbor, the group behind the ad, had more than 1,000 signatures. The board of trustees took heed. A six-month moratorium was imposed on all major projects. In the lull, the town’s trustees would attempt to draw up a new code to combat the big-house blitzkrieg. That was when aggrieved residents hoping to build their own dream houses cried foul. Lawsuits were unleashed—along with 40 subpoenas, landing at the doorsteps of virtually every Sag Harbor officeholder and board member of Save Sag Harbor. And so unspooled a small-town story of pettiness, factions, and threats, as each side fought for its version of what this iconic village should be. Back in the 1950s, when editors from Time and Life first drove their families out the two-lane blacktop to summer cottages rented for a pittance from farmers and fishermen, there was no such place as “the Hamptons,” just a cluster of villages, some of them Hamptons, some not. Old-moneyed Southampton had oceanfront mansions for Brahmins like Standard Oil partner Henry Huddleston Rogers Jr. Farther east was humble Bridgehampton, a mere cluster of roadside stores, backed by open fields, then East Hampton, where, historically, newer money mixed with artists like Thomas Moran, Winslow Homer, and Childe Hassam. Sagaponack and Wainscott weren’t towns at all, just outposts amid furrows of corn and potatoes, nursed by the region’s rich glacial topsoil, sea air, and abundant light. Still, the Time-Lifers sensed change. Jackson Pollock’s deadly car crash in 1956 only brought more attention to the area and, soon, other colonizing artists—Roy Lichtenstein and Larry Rivers in Southampton, Willem de Kooning in the Springs, Jane Freilicher in Watermill. The writers they drank with included a whole contingent in Sagaponack: Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, Kurt Vonnegut, James Jones, Willie Morris, William Gaddis, and John Knowles. As for Sag Harbor, it had John Steinbeck and a young E.L. Doctorow, then still an editor wondering how well he could write.

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The battle of sag harbour

Historic homes, pricey houses & subpoenas

The battle of sag harbour

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Historic homes, pricey houses & subpoenas

The battle of sag harbour

Historic homes, pricey houses & subpoenas