Portrait Windows Approved for Former Methodist Church

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Eric Fischl and April Gornik inside the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church with a portrait of Herman Melville that Mr. Fischl painted as a sort of prototype of what will be in the windows when the building is complete. Christine Sampson photo

Artist Eric Fischl painted a sample portrait of Herman Melville with black paint on Fiberglass last week and on Monday morning, he leaned it against one of the south-facing windows of the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church on Madison Street. Light from the cloudy day streamed through the temporary window behind the portrait, illuminating it amid the exposed wood beams in the still-under-construction building that he and artist April Gornik, his wife, closed on in June for $7 million, with the intent to transform it into a “maker” center for innovation in the arts simply called The Church.

It is this type of portrait — figures important to Sag Harbor’s arts and cultural history — that will grace the windows on the sides of the building, two on each of the ten large windows, after the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review (BHPAR) signed off on the two artists’ proposal last Thursday.

“The intention is to honor the creative history of Sag Harbor, which is profoundly deep and long,” said Mr. Fischl, who will be painting the portraits, during the meeting. “The requirement is that they have moved the needle of culture.”

That was just one outcome of the BHPAR decision on Thursday. In an extremely rare move, the board also approved aluminum-clad Marvin windows for the building — virtually unheard of in the historic district. They’re too modern for an historic building, the board has said.

“We’ve held tight on that for many, many years,” John “Chris” Connor, a board member, said during the meeting.

During the September 27 BHPAR meeting, the board suggested Mr. Fischl and Ms. Gornik investigate alternatives, including a composite material that has worked for other buildings in the historic district in the past. The artists had a previous approval for metal window casements that came along with the plans they inherited with the purchase of the building from entrepreneur Sloan Schaffer, but sought a less expensive window that could be ordered and installed quickly to protect the structure from harsh winter weather.

Last Thursday, architect Lee Skolnick, representing the two artists, made the case for the aluminum-clad windows. He said the composite windows could only be made to fit in certain window wells in the building, but not all of them, meaning multiple types of windows would have to be used. Opting for aluminum-clad windows would mean they could use just one type of window throughout the building. Having a variety of window types would also add to the expense of the project and necessitate complicated maintenance schedules; aluminum-clad windows require less maintenance, he said.

“They’re very compelling [arguments],” Mr. Skolnick said.

The board was concerned with setting the precedent of approving less-than-ideal aluminum-clad windows in the historic district, but attorney Tiffany Scarlato, representing Mr. Fischl and Ms. Gornik, said the board need not worry.

“The prior plans did approve a non traditional window,” she said. “It’s an adaptive reuse of the building … With respect to precedent, it’s easy to distinguish this building from any other project in the village.”

The BHPAR also took issue with the former belfry, which as initially proposed had glass windows with the purpose of it becoming a public viewing area.

“There are very few opportunities for people, unless you’re in the Bulova Watchcase penthouse, to have a full view of the village, which this would afford,” Ms. Gornik said. “It would be accessible to the public and it would be sort of a gift.”

But the look of all-glass isn’t historic, board members said, and they asked the artists to explore louvred shutters to install outside the windows to give it the look of a more authentic church belfry. The board voted 4-1 to approve the application including the aluminum-casement windows, without the modification of the belfry, so Ms. Gornik and Mr. Fischl will have to return with new specifications for it. Board member Bethany Deyermond cast the lone “no” vote.

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