On Road to Restoration, Sag Harbor’s Morpurgo House To Be Lifted

An overhead photo of the derelict Morpurgo House as seen from the roof of the John Jermain Memorial Library. Jason Crowley / Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities
Heller - Morpurgo House
The Morpurgo House as seen from the adjacent John Jermain Memorial Library. Michael Heller photo

By Christine Sampson

Almost a year to the day since it was purchased at a public auction, the historic Morpurgo house at 6 Union Street last week cleared its final regulatory hurdle before restoration work can begin, with its owners receiving permission from the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review to lift the house in order to put down a new, sturdy foundation.

Work will now start in the realm of “days or a couple of weeks, not months,” according to the project’s architect, Anthony Vermandois.

“It’s going to be lifted to put a new foundation underneath it and then put back down into the spot it was,” he said by phone on Monday. “It’s not being raised or moved, just temporarily lifted to put a sound foundation down. The end product is all approved.”

The Southampton-based engineer Stephen D. Lemanski, who previously sent a letter to the ARB stating his opinion that the Morpurgo house should be lifted, appeared before the board on June 22 to reiterate and support his claim with additional information. Mr. Lemanski, who visited the house three times, called the foundation “patchwork,”said it sustained water damage, and needs to be replaced entirely with reinforced concrete. He said many of the beams in the basement have been affected by insect damage and rot. About 10 percent of the beams are beyond repair, but the rest would be saved and repurposed, he said. There will also be stone salvaged from the basement for repurposing elsewhere.

Mr. Lemanski said the building would be braced before it is lifted. “There will be no damage at all to this structure after we brace it, before we lift it, after we put it down. It will be totally intact as it looks,” he said.

However, Chris Leonard, whose final meeting as a member of the ARB was Thursday following an announcement earlier this month that he would retire from his position, wasn’t convinced.

“In my view, the proper treatment and preservation of this house would be not to lift,” he said during the meeting. “We went in and saw a lot of that foundation seems fine. This house could be renovated. A lot of that could stay the same.”

But Mitch Winston, one of the three partners who bought the Morpurgo house in June of 2016 — for $1.325 million at public auction — spoke up to say that “according to builders we’ve met with, it’s not safe to work in there without the house being lifted.”

The ARB ultimately voted 4-1 to approve the lifting of the house, with Mr. Leonard casting the lone “no” vote. Reached by phone Monday, ARB chairman Anthony Brandt said he feels “very positive” about the house’s prospects, and said “they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to preserve pieces of the building as they present themselves as being preservable.”

“I think that Chris’s point of view was valid up to a point,” Mr. Brandt said, “but I think in the overall picture of the situation, and of what they are trying to do with the building and the degree of preservation they are honoring, I felt that they had more than met that standard.”