Stopping the Clock in Sag Harbor

by c.j. hughes | January 2, 2014 |

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The four-story brick Watchcase complex is more industrial Soho than beachy shingle-style.

It’s been imagined as a site for apartments since about the time its lathes stopped making metal packaging for timepieces in 1979. Now, more than three decades and several stumbles later, Sag Harbor’s most prominent industrial relic, the former Bulova Watchcase factory, is ticking off the days until it’s reborn as a condominium.

This summer, the four-story brick complex, which has added 64 dwellings and the name Watchcase, is to start moving in residents, who will gaze up at yellow pine beams that lined the structure when it opened in 1881. For the developer team, the moment will be a sweet finale. “We’ve poured our hearts and souls into this,” says Craig Wood, co-chief executive of Cape Advisors, the developer, “and we are so proud with the way it’s coming out.”

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Bulova purchased the original factory in 1936 to manufacture its watchcases.

Already, buyers are responding favorably. In mid-October, after five months of marketing, half of the 64 units, which range from one to three bedrooms, are under contract or going to contract. Lofts, the most common type of residence here, range from $1.1 million to $10.2 million, according to Corcoran Group sales broker Cee Scott Brown (Main and Madison Streets, Sag Harbor, 899-0119); penthouses are priced from $2 million to $10.2 million.

Overall, apartments average $1,500 a foot—a striking figure for condos in the Hamptons, which tend to be rare. Indeed, even the condos at the Polo Club in Southampton from Joe Farrell, the well-known luxury builder, are fetching about half that, according to sales data.

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The interiors of the Watchcase development, designed by Steven Gambrel, boast yellow pine beams, six-over-six windows, and 10-to 13-foot-high ceilings.

Then again, the Watchcase has a fairly unique look for Sag Harbor, more industrial Soho than beachy shingle-style. The lofts, which are found in the multiwing main factory building, sport those beams, exposed-brick walls, and six-over-six windows, which are careful replicas of the originals. Fireplaces in the penthouse, 10-to 13-foot-high ceilings, and wide-plank floors grace many units, and every home has some kind of outdoor space, some artfully squeezed onto adjoining roofs.

Renowned designer and Sag Harbor resident Steven Gambrel spearheaded the interior design at Watchcase—a mix of the industrial origins of the building and modern elegance. Rustic lighting adorns the large wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling of the units, while oak floors and marble countertops soften the ambience.

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A townhouse from Cape Advisors is located off Sag Harbor’s Main Street.

On the southern part of the trapezoidal full-block lot, which is at 15 Church Street in the commercial district, Cape Advisors has built a total of 17 townhouses and bungalows. Made to resemble the 19th-century style of workers housing found on surrounding blocks—a design that required 22 meetings with the local architectural review board—those units nevertheless have roomy, contemporary proportions, says Wood. “People like to say they want sea captain’s house,” he says, alluding to Sag Harbor’s past as a whaling port, “but they don’t realize that they have low ceilings and tiny bedrooms.”

Amenities at the complex include a seasonal round-the-clock doorman, a year-round heated outdoor pool with towel service, and a fitness center. Also, residents who don’t like to drive, who are expected to gravitate to Watchcase’s in-town setting, can avail themselves of a car and driver for a fee. “I think a lot people are getting to the point where they don’t want to deal with the maintenance of having a home in the Hamptons,” says Brown, a six-year Sag Harbor resident who jokes that it costs him $1,200 every time he trims his own privet hedges.

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The residences at Watchcase feature the original yellow pine beams that lined the structure when it first opened in 1881.

Buyers, most of whom have either rented in the Hamptons before, or already own there, have been enthusiastic about the project, although it did face some local opposition. A few years ago, the Group for the East End, an environmental advocacy organization, sued to stop it in part because of the lack of affordable housing in the area; however, the suit was unsuccessful. Cape Advisors, meanwhile, has paid into a fund to construct that type of housing elsewhere. “We were thinking that a fund isn’t the same as a built apartment,” says Bob DeLuca, the Group for the East End’s president. “But it is what it is.”

The factory, which in recent memory was missing a roof and had plywood in its windows, also had a bit of a cursed development history. Several proposals for the site came and went, like a 98-unit project in the early 1980s. The recent recession also generated headwinds, delaying the project a couple years before its 2011 groundbreaking, says Wood.

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A Watchcase unit’s kitchen and living area.

But the wait might have been timely: Condos seem to be a hot, new property category. Although they previously existed in smatterings in the Hamptons, including some in converted Montauk hotels, offerings are now popping up in more unusual places, such as Southampton.

In addition to Farrell’s project, the town also recently welcomed Bishop’s Pond, a 77-unit project from the Beechwood Organization, now in sales mode. But expect more, says Wood, adding, “People don’t always want single-family homes. They want a more carefree lifestyle.”


photography by Tria Giovan (living room, hallway); courtesy of cape advisors (rendering); courtesy of john jermain memorial library. sag harbor (factory)

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