The virtual Southampton African American Museum is finally on its way to becoming a brick-and-mortar reality, according to its executive director.
Brenda Simmons, assistant to Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley, said she has been trying to get a building site for the online museum for the past five years, to provide local black residents with a place to trace their histories, hold events and classes, and explore the contributions of current and past residents, as well as other famous African-Americans, to life in the Hamptons.
"This is necessary for this community because African-Americans as a whole have contributed a lot to this country," said Simmons, 60. "A lot of information has been lost or stolen or destroyed." But she said the museum will be something for everyone to visit and appreciate, no matter their background.
The museum is to be located at 245 North Sea Rd., site of the former Juke Joint barbershop. Simmons, who was raised in Southampton and still lives there, said the barbershop was a popular gathering place for blacks. The one-story shingled building was built about 1950 and is about 1,450 square feet. Five years ago, it was designated a local historic landmark by the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.
Randolph Conquest, 78, was the last owner of a barbershop in the building.
Conquest, a resident of Southampton village, noted that many blacks who once lived there have died and that their younger family members were unable to hold on to their properties, so they moved away. He said the museum can help safeguard the records of the area's heritage.
Simmons said an approval last month from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services gave the OK for a new septic system, so museum plans can now be presented to the Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals and the Architectural Review Board.
Simmons said she hopes work on the building can begin by spring. She said the town purchased the property for $500,000 in 2006 with Community Preservation Funds as part of an agreement that requires the village to maintain the museum.
Siamak Samii, principal of the Southampton Village-based Siamak Samii Architecture PC, said the first phase will cost about $465,000.
"We'll be restoring the shell and inside injecting a more contemporary interior," Samii said.
Included will be a front desk, gallery space, souvenir shop and areas set up for tracing family roots and recording oral histories.
Simmons said funds would need to be secured for a planned second-phase expansion to accommodate a larger gallery and space for after-school activities, community meetings and film showings.
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