SANS Named One of “Seven to Save” By Preservation Society

Girls on the beach in the SANS area circa, 1969.

The Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah subdivisions, collectively known as “SANS” was named one of the “Seven to Save” by the Preservation League of New York State last week, a biennial list of historic places the league highlights as “at-risk” throughout the State of New York.

“Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Subdivisions (SANS) developed in the mid-20th century as African American vacation communities. The modest, midcentury homes captured the spirit of the American Dream and provided the backdrop for a thriving community knitted together by strong social bonds — famous residents included poet Langston Hughes and actress Lena Horne,” said the League in a press release issued February 5. “As SANS families continue to age and move away, developers seeking prime waterfront property are replacing existing homes with luxury residences. A strong group of local advocates is spearheading preservation efforts because despite its National Register status, SANS lacks strong local protection or zoning. This Seven to Save designation will enhance the advocacy work already begun and catalyze protection for this culturally significant area.”

“Seven to Save will provide the necessary support needed to help SANS’ Sag Harbor have a fighting chance,” said Dr. Georgette L. Grier-Key, the Executive Director and Curator of the Eastville Historical Society on Tuesday. “There is still a lot of work to do and education to provide the great community and municipalities. We have environmental concerns and sustainability is at the forefront of our agenda.”

In addition to SANS, the League’s “Seven to Save” also includes the New York State Barge Canal System, the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse on the Hudson River, Richard Lippod’s gold-colored metallic sculpture, “Orpheus and Apollo” — once a fixture at New York Philharmonic concert hall at Lincoln Center and is now in storage — as well as Central Technical High School in Syracuse, Parrott Hall in Geneva and the Elmhurst African American Burial Ground in Queens.

The announcement comes on the heels of the communities being named first to the New York State Register of Historic Places and then to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019 for their historic and cultural significance. The steering committee behind that four-year effort was honored in December with the Excellence in Historic Preservation Organizational Achievement award from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The “Seven to Save” list has been a way for the Preservation League to highlight threatened historic sites since 1999, explained Erin Tobin, the Vice President for Policy and Programs with the League. Those sites, landmarks and neighborhoods on the list benefit from the League’s efforts to boost visibility and support for greater preservation.

“I should say one of the things we look for are places of statewide significance but also places that represent larger issues we are seeing throughout the state,” said Ms. Tobin. “SANS really spoke to both.”

This is not the first introduction the Preservation League has had to SANS, she noted. With the support of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation and the New York State Council for the Arts, the Preserve New York grant program helped fund the Cultural Resource Survey — critical information used by state and federal officials when assessing whether to recognize SANS. The Sag Harbor Partnership secured the grant on behalf of SANS.

“But even though they now have national and state recognition, those communities are still not protected,” said Ms. Tobin. “Private individuals can still do what they wish to do with their private property. It was important for us to call attention to SANS because it is such a significant place, a prominent 20th century, African-American resort community that is facing a lot of real estate development pressure that threatens the community’s character, because it is really about the collection of buildings and the sense of place created in SANS that makes those communities special.”

Ms. Tobin said she hopes that being a part of the Seven to Save list will enable the League to work with the communities of SANS and the Village of Sag Harbor to find ways to better protect those neighborhoods. While it does not have a dedicated funding source for those on the Seven to Save list — “That is on our ‘wish list,’” said Ms. Tobin — the League has traditionally worked with organizations like SANS to look for other funding sources and serve as advocates.

“SANS: Planning to Protect Historic Communities” will be the next Express Session on Friday, February 28, at noon at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor. The panel will include Dr. Grier Key, SANS resident and advocate Renee Simons, Donnamarie Barnes, a photographer and SANS resident who is an exhibit curator at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island, Julian W. Adams, the Bureau Director for the New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation Division for Historic Preservation, Sarah Kautz, the Preservation Director for Preservation Long Island and Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees member Robert Plumb.

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