For four decades “Bliss House” has stood, mostly hidden between the road and beach, on pristine waterfront property in Southampton Village as renowned architect Norman Jaffe’s first local design.

Homeowner Orest Bliss agreed in 1978, as a condition of the city granting development approval, to an agreement requiring landscaping to largely protect the angular residence from view.

At the time, several Southampton officials considered Jaffe’s modernist design “radical”, with one member of the village planning council arguing that the gabled roof could stab seagulls.

Fast forward to 2023 and the house’s architectural legacy is in the midst of a legal battle over whether it can be demolished as part of Bliss’ plan to sell the property at 88 Meadow Lane.

While once deemed too radical, Southampton officials have now tried to deem the controversial home too historic to demolish. The litigation has raised questions about what’s worth preserving in an area where the loss of any home could pave the way for the next Hamptons mega-mansion.

In early 2022, Bliss, 87, filed a lawsuit known as an Article 78 petition against the Village Southampton’s Architectural Review & Historical Preservation Council after rejecting a request for a certificate of suitability that would have paved the way for demolition – a necessary process in the historic district.

The council cited East End Jaffe’s importance in reaching its decision, saying his work was “of great local importance to Southampton Village and the Historic District”.

East Hampton attorney Brian Matthews, who represents the village council, did not return calls seeking comment. The case returned to Suffolk County State Supreme Court on January 30.

Bliss Southampton lawyer, John Bennett, said Tuesday he didn’t believe there should be any concern about a larger home being built where it was and said it was a small group of people pushing for preservation.

“If this was a turn of the century, shingle style home, many of which were designed by these great New York City architects, I would get it,” he says.

In court documents, Bliss argued that the house was never registered as a contribution to the historic district and was not architecturally significant or worthy of a landmark designation.

The house underwent significant renovations in 2000 under plans from different architects and at least two Jaffe-designed houses nearby had been demolished, Bliss argued.

Jaffe, from Bridgehampton, died in 1993 after apparently drowning during a morning swim in the ocean.

In 1986, Bliss sought approval from the village planning agency to remove the agreement related to the landscape. The council refused. However, the planning board agreed after Bliss sought input from the architectural review board in 1987, according to court documents.

In August 2021, emails and letters in support of the preservation of “Bliss House” flooded the architectural review board.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Goldberger, the former architectural critic who wrote “The Houses of the Hamptons,” urged the council to object to the demolition. He wrote houses such as “Bliss House” were “an important part of our architectural heritage”.

Alastair Gordon, an author, critic, and cultural historian, wrote a defense of “Bliss House” in September 2021 at the request of an architectural review board.

Gordon told Newsday that “Bliss House” is the only house in the village to feature this design period and noted the trend of tearing down smaller homes and replacing them with mansions.

“The fact that the village has set foot and drawn a metaphorical line in the sand is a big deal,” said Gordon. “…Perhaps there is some architectural heritage to be preserved, or is it all going to be a 40,000 square foot mansion?”

For four decades “Bliss House” has stood, mostly hidden between the road and beach, on pristine waterfront property in Southampton Village as renowned architect Norman Jaffe’s first local design.

Homeowner Orest Bliss agreed in 1978, as a condition of the city granting development approval, to an agreement requiring landscaping to largely protect the angular residence from view.

At the time, several Southampton officials considered Jaffe’s modernist design “radical”, with one member of the village planning council arguing that the gabled roof could stab seagulls.

Fast forward to 2023 and the house’s architectural legacy is in the midst of a legal battle over whether it can be demolished as part of Bliss’ plan to sell the property at 88 Meadow Lane.

While once deemed too radical, Southampton officials have now tried to deem the controversial home too historic to demolish. The litigation has raised questions about what’s worth preserving in an area where the loss of any home could pave the way for the next Hamptons mega-mansion.

In early 2022, Bliss, 87, filed a lawsuit known as an Article 78 petition against the Village Southampton’s Architectural Review & Historical Preservation Council after rejecting a request for a certificate of suitability that would have paved the way for demolition – a necessary process in the historic district.

The council cited East End Jaffe’s importance in reaching its decision, saying his work was “of great local importance to Southampton Village and the Historic District”.

East Hampton attorney Brian Matthews, who represents the village council, did not return calls seeking comment. The case returned to Suffolk County State Supreme Court on January 30.

Bliss Southampton lawyer John Bennett said Tuesday he didn’t believe there should be any concern about a larger home being built where it was and said it was a small group of people pushing for preservation.

“If this was a turn of the century, shingle style home, many of which were designed by these great New York City architects, I would get it,” he says.

In court documents, Bliss argued that the house was never registered as a contribution to the historic district and was not architecturally significant or worthy of a landmark designation.

The house underwent significant renovations in 2000 under plans from different architects and at least two Jaffe-designed houses nearby had been demolished, Bliss argued.

Jaffe, from Bridgehampton, died in 1993 after apparently drowning during a morning swim in the ocean.

In 1986, Bliss sought approval from the village planning agency to remove the agreement related to the landscape. The council refused. However, the planning board agreed after Bliss sought input from the architectural review board in 1987, according to court documents.

In August 2021, emails and letters in support of the preservation of “Bliss House” flooded the architectural review board.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Goldberger, the former architectural critic who wrote “The Houses of the Hamptons,” urged the council to object to the demolition. He wrote houses such as “Bliss House” were “an important part of our architectural heritage”.

Alastair Gordon, an author, critic, and cultural historian, wrote a defense of “Bliss House” in September 2021 at the request of an architectural review board.

Gordon told Newsday that “Bliss House” is the only house in the village to feature this design period and noted the trend of tearing down smaller homes and replacing them with mansions.

“The fact that the village has set foot and drawn a metaphorical line in the sand is a big deal,” says Gordon. “…Perhaps there is some architectural heritage to be preserved, or is it all going to be a 40,000 square foot mansion?”

More about Norman Jaffe

Source: Essays of Alastair Gordon “The Architectural Legacy of Norman Jaffe’s House of Happiness”

By Gundah

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