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Tale Of Gin Lane Wall Stands Tall As Bricks Cave To Time

Originally Posted: April 09, 2009

Kelly Carroll

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The property, now owned by Vince Camuto, was once known as Wooldon Manor. Photos by Kelly Carroll

Southampton - Sometime in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Jessie Woolworth Donahue, daughter of Woolworth's five-and-dime store founder F.W. Woolworth, attempted to become a member of the exclusive Bathing Corporation of Southampton, just across from her estate on Gin Lane in the village of Southampton.

Plans also include an anchor that will start at the
veneer and work its way through the existing wall, and
into the soil.

According to the tale, as told by Southampton Village Building Inspector Jonathan Foster to the village board in March, Donahue was rebuffed by an administration that deemed her "not 'Waspy' enough" to be a member of the swanky club. In retaliation, Foster claims she built a pool of her own on the large property - "unheard of at the time" - and added a nine-to-10 foot red brick wall to the border of her land, blocking the view of all bathing club-goers in the future. That's the legend surrounding a now decrepit brick wall running along the south side of Lake Agawam and Gin Lane, ending just as the sandy dunes begin.

Whether or not this charming tale is true, it is certain that the wall in question, now approximately more than 70 years old, has begun to detrimentally decay. And even in an attempt to preserve it, it is in much need of repair to keep standing.

"The wall has deteriorated so much, it either needs to be torn down or supported," asserted Manhattan architect Andre Tchelistcheff, who has been called to task by the property's current owner, Vince Camuto, shoe magnate and Nine West co-founder. "Once we start working on the wall, we'll know better."

One way to sustain the structure, Tchelistcheff proposes, is by reinforcing it with a new brick veneer on the side that faces Gin Lane. A reinforced concrete wall would be poured in between the veneer and the existing wall, and an anchoring tool will then spear through the veneer, concrete and existing wall into soil on the backside. The brick of the veneer will match the brick of the original wall, and while not in the original drawings, Tchelistcheff is planning to also add in pilasters to match the ones on the existing façade.

According to the 2007 book "Houses of the Hamptons," - an illustrated history of Hamptons' estates from 1880 to 1930 written by Gary Lawrance and Anne Surchin, the red brick wall and iron gate bordering the Gin Lane property may be the only remaining pieces of Wooldon Manor - named for the combination of Woolworth and Donahue - as it stood when the wealthy heiress lived there.

Architects are proposing a new red-brick veneer running the length of the existing wall. In between the veneer and the actual structure will be concrete.


Donahue purchased the property, which also sits along the ocean, from Dr. Peter Wyckoff in 1928. She then went to work completely renovating the interior, as well as the grounds, and acquired more acreage to add to the already vast property. At some point during this time, Donahue also denoted the edge of her land with a "new red brick wall," according to the authors.

Since then, the manor was sold to Edmund Lynch, of Merrill Lynch and Co., Inc. in 1937, and in 1940 his partner, Charles Merrill, purchased five acres of the property. Wooldon Manor as it existed then was demolished in 1941.

Currently, Tchelistcheff is uncertain that reinforcing the wall is going to be the permanent solution to sustaining it, yet, he said he was confident that his plans met all of the village trustees' guidelines. Work on the wall will spill over into the village parking lot on Gin Lane, and as a courtesy, the village board is also submitting the plans for the wall to the architectural review board. According to Tchelistcheff, work on the wall could begin in "a couple of months."

The red brick wall, which runs up to the beach, is said to have been built when Jessie Woolworh Donahue was snubbed by the Bathing Corporation of Southampton.


However, in their book, Lawrance and Surchin point out that Donahue's husband James used to say of Wooldon Manor, "come on in and see it - all the silver's gold." Funnily enough, it is the brick and iron that remain. Once work commences, architects will be able to determine if that's strong enough to maintain the boundary between old Southampton and new.




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Guest (Guest) from california says::
i am f.w. woolworths great great granddaughter and i have one heck of a story email me at woolworthprincess@yahoo.com
Aug 30, 2010 9:33 pm

Guest (concerned) from southampton,ny says::
would be nice to see one of the older "landmarks" refurbished.
Apr 16, 2009 10:45 am

 

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