Pardon for Morpurgo House as Auction Looms

The mortgage holder agreed to put a fence around the two exposed sides of the former Morpurgo property, as village officials consider tearing the house down in the name of public safety. Taylor K. Vecsey

Sag Harbor Village officials held off on deciding whether to tear down the derelict Morpurgo house after receiving word at a hearing on Tuesday that the foreclosed property is to be sold at auction in just under a month.

Joel Zweig, an attorney for Atlanta View Holdings, the mortgage holder for 6 Union Street, appeared before the village board with a court order in hand directing that the property be auctioned on June 24, on the steps of Southampton Town Hall.

The village building inspector has cited the 210-year-old house for health and safety concerns. The front porch is in danger of collapse, there are large holes in the walls and floors, and there is an open septic tank on the property. Mr. Zweig warned board members that demolishing the house before the auction “risks recourse.” He said there had been “significant interest” in the property, including four phone calls from brokers and two from potential buyers, since the auction was advertised in The Southampton Press last week. The minimum bid, or the amount of the outstanding mortgage, is about $1.1 million.

Even with the property in foreclosure and the auction just weeks away, Mr. Zweig said the lender cannot legally take any action to fix up the dilapidated house. In the meantime, the mortgage holder has agreed to further secure the property by erecting a fence around the two sides of the property that remain open, one on Jefferson Street and the other along the property line the house shares with the John Jermain Memorial Library.

Community members and organizations have called for a pardon for the old house. On Tuesday, before Mr. Zweig addressed the board, Jason Crowley, outgoing preservation director at the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, called it a “contributing resource,” to the local, state, and National Register Historic District. It is the society’s position that every effort should be made to repair it, he said, urging that the village “only consider demolition as an absolute last resort.”

The society photographed the roof of the main house and reported that while the chimneys were damaged, there were no holes. A small one-story addition in the back had a hole in its roof, and the porch had “deteriorated to the point of a possible threat to public safety, but these are elements that could be removed without loss to the entire historic structure,” Mr. Crowley said.

“Sag Harbor has some of Long Island’s most exemplary 18th and 19th century architecture, and it is unfortunate that such a distinctive resource has been left to deteriorate for so many years,” he concluded.

Jayne Young, speaking on behalf of Save Sag Harbor, said the building, one of 870 structures in the village’s historic district and the only one built in the Italianate style, needed to be safeguarded. Without a detailed engineer’s report, she said, it was impossible to assess the full extent of damage. “We’re sure you all remember when the Bulova building was also deemed to be unsalvageable, not so long ago,” she said. The Hampton Street watchcase factory building now houses high-end condominium apartments.

While board members will not make a final decision on demolition until their regular June 12 meeting, it was unclear whether they would wait until after the auction. Ed Deyermond, a member, noted that even should there be a winning bid, closing need not take place for another 30 days.

“I have no problem tearing this house down this afternoon. I want to be clear,” Mr. Deyermond said.