Bruised feelings remain as Richardson House demolition closes a chapter in Plandome Manor
The death sentence for the oldest residence in Plandome Manor was signed on April 5 of this year. That’s when village residents voted 119-87 against a referendum to float a $600,000 bond to erect a new government center on a village-owned lot.
The execution date was Aug. 4, when heavy equipment demolished the Richardson House, whose origins date back to 1730. According to an article in the July 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Plandome resident George Richardson had it disassembled and moved from Hanover Corners, Massachusetts, to the village via barge and had it reassembled at its current site.
Under the proposed defeated plan, the village would have moved the historic residence from 149 Circle Dr. about 1,000 feet to what would have been 41 Circle Dr. and transform it into a new village hall. The empty property is approximately 149×105 feet in size. It has a pathway to the Plandome Manor LIRR station and is considered a “green space” used as a park for decades by neighborhood residents, especially children.
Developer William Lindenmeier brought the Richardson House in September 2021 for $1.3 million (per county property records) and made his intention known to demolish the house, which records list as 2,680 square feet, sitting on a lot covering approximately .48 acres.
Preservationists urged the village to find a way to save the residence, which lacked landmark status but which they argued was of historic value. Then-Village Clerk Randi Malman formed a committee to study the issue and recommended that the village buy the house (for a symbolic $1) and move it down the street to the empty lot and create a new seat of government.
Village leaders argued that the move was necessary. Plandome Manor was only one of two municipalities in the state whose village hall was outside its boundaries—neighboring Plandome Heights was the other—and needed an annual waiver from the state. They affirmed that the current location at 55 Manhasset Ave. in Manhasset was inadequate for the staff and the files. The rent was bound to rise, and according to Mayor Barbara Donno, efforts by real estate professionals to find affordable office space that would also fulfill the village’s needs, including a court, were unsuccessful.
The village produced documents indicating that the Circle Drive lot was bought in the 1940s for the purpose of putting a village hall there, but this never came to fruition.
Asked for her reaction to the demolition, Donno said in a statement, “Watching the bulldozer tear down this pristine 300-year-old home was a sad day for our staff, the trustees and myself. The Richardson House was a part of Plandome Manor’s remarkable history. Repurposing this beautiful piece of history into a village hall would not only have become the home of our 9/11 Memorial, but a village hall that would have been used for the benefit of all Plandome Manor residents. It was a missed opportunity for all who live in Plandome Manor.”
Building Inspector Ed Butt told the Manhasset Press, “It’s a sad day in history. It’s sad that we don’t respect our past nearly as much as we should. It’s just a shame. That’s my take on the loss of the Richardson House.”
Butt said the replacement residence is already taking shape at 149 Circle Dr., with the infrastructure—a septic system and dry wells—being put into place. The plans were approved by the village, he noted, adding, “The design of the house has been approved by the Design Review Board and we are awaiting final construction plans to commence on the construction of the rest of the house.”
Sarah Meriggi of Circle Drive belonged to Residents to Preserve the Green, created to push back against village plans. In an email, she wrote:
“I was present at the demolition, alongside a handful of residents and left after the first ‘hit.’ It was not a happy stance; my feelings were very sad to see memorable memories end this way after 30 years. The former owners were our friends, and both our daughters’ childhood was played out in this home. Today they remain best friends.”
Anna Pace lives next to the empty lot, and spoke often at the at-times contentious village board meetings where the fate of the Richardson House dominated the discussion.
She also expressed sadness about the loss of the house, stating, “We never said to destroy the house. Trust me, I was in that house. I knew [owner] Ann Bilms and we knew her children. My daughter was friends with [her daughter].”
Pace pushed back against a group that drafted a letter that blamed Circle Drive residents for the loss of the house.
“They want to crucify us because we won the referendum. They’re trying to pin this whole thing on the residents of Circle Drive, which I find quite unfair,” she charged. “The house is gone now. It’s spilled milk. The blame falls among many people.”
Pace went on to note that residents were not opposed to moving the original part of the house, which she said was about 800 square feet and would not have had such a large footprint on the empty lot, and not changed the topography. They also felt that the planned basement was not necessary, as modern record-keeping was digitized. Village officials cited the lack of expansion space for files at the current location.
She added, “The house was on the market for two years—nobody wanted to buy it because it was in such bad disrepair. We got the report from the engineer hired by the couple [who was looking to buy the house]. And it was very different than what our village board was saying. And that’s when [the couple] pulled back from the deal.”
Meriggi said that Circle Drive residents were unfairly maligned and their concerns overlooked.
“There was ample opportunity for the house to be relocated or given away for free. But not one person, preservationist or society wanted it despite herculean efforts of the former family, community and, later on, the board, when they tried,” Meriggi asserted. “The cost is prohibitive. The house had previously been gutted by the owners, and any remaining authentic features of the small portion of the home from the 1700s had been removed and repurposed.”
Meriggi lamented the bad feelings resulting from the board meetings as well as the publicity efforts surrounding the resolution vote.
“The regrettable acrimonious publicity got in the way of honest collaborative communication between the board and the residents, which could have been avoided through alternatives, compromises and statesman leadership,” she stated. “Sadly, it has left an open wound which I would like to see closed.”
Meriggi has lived on Circle Drive for 31 years and noted, “This is the fourth time the residents have come together and fought to preserve the green space in question. The other three unsuccessful attempts were the board’s plans to pave over the area entirely for parking spaces.”
Pace said she and other residents are willing to work with the village to find an alternate location.
“We don’t want to create animosity between us and the board,” Pace said. “We were willing to work with them. And if they would have come to us in the beginning, I think we could have come to some kind of happy medium.”
Regarding the empty lot, Donno told the Manhasset Press after the referendum vote, “It’s subsidized by [all] our residents and it’s being used strictly by the residents of Circle Drive. That’s something that we need to discuss as a board.”
Donno is certain the village did its due diligence in making its case to the residents for passing the bond referendum.
“We did everything that we needed to be done to study this house and to present the reports and the facts, and we used well-respected firms and people who came back to us and said, ‘It’s okay, you can move this house. There isn’t going to be traffic,’ ” the mayor said.
Meetings to discuss the village’s plans in January, February and March all turned contentious at times, with harsh words and accusations of misinformation and bad faith.
“No board should have to go through this,” Donno admitted of the bruised feelings engendered by the gatherings.
Apropos the negative vote, the mayor observed, “I do think a lot of it was distrust of government,” adding that inflation and other economic fears also contributed.
The lease for the current offices was signed in 2011 with then-landlord Tim Higgins and expired on Feb. 28, 2021. No extension was signed, according to Donno and Treasurer Marie DePalo, and it has been month-to-month since the expiration. Under the terms of the lease, the village is partially responsible for paying a portion of the property taxes, and the rental payments come out to about $55,000 per year.
Town & Country Florists, next to the village offices, is the current landlord.
“All I know is that the landlord has the right to raise the rent because we have not signed anything,” Donno stated.
‘Out With The New’
Jeremiah McGiff of Wild Boar Restoration in Brookhaven spent six days at the Richardson House before the demolition. He has worked for decades as an antique restorer and historic preservation contractor. He removed 11 double-hung windows, 19 doors, two fireplace mantels and structural beams (which the demolition crew saved for him).
“My shop is filled with stuff right now. It’s unbelievable,” McGiff said of the bounty from the old house. He plans to use the various building elements in other historic houses he’s working on.
He was particularly taken with the windows, with 12 panes in the top casement, over 12 on the bottom one and original wood framing.
“They’re beautiful,” he said. “And you know, it’s a real shame because the amount of work and money that was put into bringing all of these architectural elements from Massachusetts was extraordinary. And it would have made a great village hall.”
McGiff credited Tom Lang of Plandome Manor, a member of the committee which tried to save the house, for alerting him to the impending destruction. Lang also eased the way with the developer to enable the restorer to work in the house.
“We notified the neighbors what I was up to, and so normally they would be screaming and moaning that somebody was working on a Saturday and a Sunday,” McGiff said.
Using a generator and electric saws, he got to work. He was impressed by the original 18th century fireplace mantels, the timber framing and wide plank wood flooring.
He found writing on the back of the mantels, he said, and was going to undertake research into the house, as well as compare its elements with other houses he’s restored.
“You can tell by the craftsmanship—it’s all hand cut, dovetails and mortise and tenon and everything’s pegged,” McGiff praised. “You know, I deal with this stuff all the time. So it’s wonderful that I was called and allowed to grab this stuff before it ended up in a dumpster.”
McGiff lamented the destruction of many old houses on the East End, where he’s worked for many years. He and his mentor George Schulte used to have the keys to many houses and would work on restoration when the summer season ended. He expressed contempt for the huge, multi-million homes that replaced the classics.
He is currently restoring a 1731 house in Setauket, and said the Richardson House front door will replace the front door there, and he will make use of the windows as well.
McGiff said that old growth wood was used in 18th century construction, assessing it as much more stable than what he called “the garbage” fast growth wood sold at lumberyards today.
He spoke of various high-quality woods he uses in his business, such as mahogany and cypress and white oak. They’ve become expensive, with white oak jumping from $2 to $13/linear foot.
“I build furniture. I restore antiques. So I’m always having to match rosewood and walnut and mahogany and all different types of woods,” he said. “That’s why I love working on these old houses, because for me they’re no different than a beautiful antique. My approach is the same.”
McGiff said he is planning to send a letter to developer Lindenmeier thanking him for allowing him the time to save the antique elements.
“It was a beautiful opportunity for me,” McGiff said. “I spent six days and you end up spending about three grand of your own money, but that’s nothing compared to what you pull out of there.”
The Richardson House represents for McGiff a lost era that had its own charms.
“That’s how we used to live and I’m all for getting back to that—that’s what these houses are, a record of a simpler life in America. It was not less imaginative, but it was simpler,” he said. “[The Richardson House] was beautifully done and meandered in a most amazing way. And it was true to the way the old houses were constructed. They just kept going out the back. And they’re great like that. I love how you can see how it was modest in the beginning, and then the family grew and the rooms continued and everything just went out the back.”
In a recent email, McGiff said, “I am currently working on the 1740 Woodhull House in Miller Place, and also the 1721 Hallock House in Rocky Point. When I can use some of these elements on these sights, I will. In the Woodhull House, part of the second floor post and beam is damaged and we are repairing it with timbers from the Richardson House.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 14 edition of the Manhasset Press.