By Douglas Feiden
The Amagansett resident and developer, who along with partners Mark and Lee Egerman won the storied Morpurgo house at a public auction in June for $1.325 million, talks about his hopes and dreams for the rescue of 6 Union Street — as well as his other careers as a musician and memoirist.
The Morpurgo house was a scary, dangerous eyesore. Why did you want to buy it?
I learned almost everything I know about real estate from my dad, Marshall Winston. As a developer with a kind heart, he enjoyed taking on properties that were distressed, or, as he called them, “Deals with hair on them.” I also know personally how one eyesore can cause stress and negativity to an entire neighborhood and town, and have heard many Sag Harbor residents express these feelings about 6 Union.
Regarding the Morpurgo house, I had driven by it for years, but didn’t know much about it. But when I heard the property was coming up for auction, my partners and I quickly got educated on its history and the strong desire of the residents of Sag Harbor to fix this problem. Acquiring it and fixing it up suddenly became an obsession. We wanted this project to clean up a landmark and restore it to its former glory, for the good of Sag Harbor and, admittedly, ourselves as developers.
Any second thoughts when you walked in for the first time and saw the wreckage?
I can’t lie and tell you my first visit to the Morpurgo house was pleasant. The amount of raccoon feces, dirt, garbage, mold and gunk was unsettling. However, my experience in prior projects as a developer had already thickened my skin a bit. I remember my dad and I being shown some run-down brownstones in Harlem by a broker many years ago. They were so run down that when I asked the broker where I could use the bathroom, he suggested I use the floor! It was a sign my dad and I should leave immediately and not look back. This wasn’t our deal. However, we had just walked away from the best opportunity of our lives. While I’m sorry to take away a wonderful gathering place for the raccoons to relieve themselves, I can say 100% I have had no second thoughts on doing this deal. In fact, our desire to do it has grown steadily from Day 1.
You’ve promised to restore and preserve what you can. Won’t a big chunk have to be demolished?
In preliminary site visits, we found that the front part of the house that may have been built in the 18th century is in better shape than the back parts built in the 19th century. I guess the expression, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” applied back then, too! To this point, it looks to me like the back section of the house is way too far gone and water damaged to be saved, but we have a great deal of back and forth ahead of us between the Architectural Review Board, Building Inspector, Zoning Board, Village Attorney, our architect and various other interested parties to help us determine the best way to go. The challenge is to make the village happy, and proud of what they will eventually see at 6 Union — while not losing our shirts as developers in the process! A great project will benefit Sag Harbor and its neighbors both financially and aesthetically, as well as the developers. And the only ones who will benefit from failure or inertia here are the raccoons.
We are in the process of hiring an engineering firm to give us a structural assessment of the building. Without this information, it’s impossible to answer the question properly. There are also many non-structural components of the old house, including beams, railings, doors, etc., that may be re-purposed in different areas of the house. This is a great way to keep some additional historical charm of the house. At the suggestion of our architect, Anthony Vermandois, we will also consider donating some materials to other historical projects in the area, if the time periods are consistent and a need exists.
What’s the next step and what are the hurdles?
My partners and I are working closely with our architect to come up with a floor plan and site plan that we love, and that everyone else loves. We’ve already met with the Architectural Review Board in discussion sessions, as well as the Building Inspector, Village Attorney and other interested parties. We plan to maintain constant dialogue with individuals and organizations in the entire process to make sure we come up with a great plan that works for everyone. I am hoping we will have our plan completed this winter so we can all get to work as soon as possible. This will truly be a team effort.
What will it look like in the end and what will you do with it then?
My partners and I have promised from the beginning to present the final exterior of 6 Union Street as identical as humanly possible to its former glory. As for the interior layout, it’s premature in the design phase to present anything concrete. But we will restore the glory of 6 Union Street to the skyline of Sag Harbor.
The final step will be to sell the house. I would love to keep it and live there, but unfortunately do not have the financial means! But if you’re interested, Doug, we’ll give you a great deal!
You have another passion: Guitar player in The Band of Natural Selection. Tell us about your other life.
Besides real estate, I have had a lot of passions and adventures throughout my life. One of them has been as a singer-songwriter, and I have always been inspired by great musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Pink Floyd. Currently my band is collaborating with local legend Fred Raimondo and The Woodworkers to create a very intimate, heartfelt concert series that incorporates some experimental acting and contemporary dance to accompany our original music. We plan to hold a concert at the Southampton Cultural Center on February 17th. I will let you know when we have more details!
As if you’re not busy enough, you’ve written a memoir, “Kid Lightning and the Wave of Peace: Right Back.” What’s it about?
As I mentioned earlier, my life has been a bit adventurous. Besides music and real estate, I’ve been a student in rabbinical school, boxing promoter, golf teacher, manager of various artists and record label owner. In fact, we released the only screenplay Jack Kerouac ever wrote. It was a huge financial failure for me, but it made a good story. This memoir is about my first 30 years alive, and you can get it on Amazon! Please buy it, because our basement is filled with thousands of copies that I have to unload!