Village OKs demolition of historic home

Exterior of the property at 410 Berry Hill Exterior of the property at 410 Berry Hill Rd. in Oyster Bay. (Oct. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

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Livingston Cottage was built before the American Revolution, but that didn't stop the Oyster Bay Cove Village board from approving its demolition.

The board last week approved a demolition permit after prolonged discussions about ways to save the cottage at 410 Berry Hill Rd. Among the options was moving the house several hundred yards north to the intersection of Route 25A to serve as a village hall or new police station, but the village balked at the estimated $50,000 cost, preservationists and village officials said.

"It's a pre-Revolutionary house, about 1750 or so," said architectural historian John Collins, who studied the house for the current owners of what had been the John H. Livingston Estate, the Patel family. Collins said a wing is the original house and a larger addition was built about 1790.

"It is very likely eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places," said Robert MacKay, director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities. "I don't think the village has fully explored options to save it."

MacKay said the village, which has never enacted a landmarks preservation ordinance, "has not had a good track record in historic preservation."

"I have no comment," Mayor Rosemary Bourne said. James Murphy, an East Norwich-based attorney for the Patel family, did not respond to calls seeking information.

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The Patel family, which offered the cottage to the village free if it moved the house, bought the 9.5-acre property after Livingston's widow Elizabeth died about a decade ago and her heirs put it on the market, Collins said. The Patels sought and received village permission to subdivide the land into four building lots several years ago.

At that point, the carriage house and another house in the rear of the property -- both built in the 1920s -- were demolished. New houses are under construction.

Collins said he was hired by Murphy to assess the 1 1/2 story Livingston Cottage's historic value. "It turns out that the wing is the original part, dating probably to the mid-18th century," he said. "You can tell by the kind of beams in the ceiling." Besides hand-hewn exposed beams, the cottage also has Colonial-era wide floors and moldings.

Collins said the later addition is similar in style but also incorporates Federal-style details in its staircase and banister and in the transom window over the front door. He said the house was remodeled about 1855 and all the window sashes and most of the doors were changed, the chimney rebuilt and a Gothic Revival mantel added in the parlor.

"It's an interesting evolution of improvements and alterations by the different generations of families that lived there," Collins said.

"With 20-20 hindsight," he said, "they should have made a condition of the approval of the subdivision that they would retain the historic cottage.

"It's not that George Washington slept there," Collins concluded. "But it's a wonderful little historic house and it's part of our architectural heritage."

With Emily Ngo

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