Southampton’s Village Latch – Town Treasure

One of the great, grand institutions in Southampton, the 68-room Village Latch, where kings, presidents, actors, filmmakers and stars stay when in the Hamptons, has come on the market for sale. Although in the center of downtown Southampton, just a five-minute walk to Main Street, most people hardly know it is there, as it is behind hedgerows on Hill Street, with just a small sign out on the street. The driveway in leads to five-and-a-half acres of lawns and gardens upon which is this 100-year-old inn, several smaller homes, greenhouses and cottages, a motel unit building, a tennis court, a swimming pool and gardens and walkways. Its very seclusion is why it is so attractive to many. But then, so are its fascinating rooms. Every room is different from every other, each with antiques and curios from all around the world, collected by the owners. When Vice President Al Gore came to the Hamptons, he stayed here. When the band Earth, Wind and Fire came to the Hamptons, they stayed here. And so did actor Bill Murray.

The story of this Inn and how it fell into disrepair in the 1970s in high weeds and vines and then was reborn into the remarkable icon it is today, through the efforts of a caring couple, is a story worth telling. [expand]

In 1968, the present owners, Marta Byer and Martin White, met in New York City and fell in love. Marta was an actress, trained at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio in the city. Martin was a photographer and a lighting designer.

The pair married, and soon embarked on a career in the theatre that first consisted of producing, directing and acting in plays, then soon afterward included founding not only theatre groups but the venues for them to perform in. The Whites found a former dance hall in Asheville, North Carolina. They raised money and converted it into a theatre. They repeated similar transformations in Roanoke, Virginia, and Saranac Lake, New York, each time arranging the financing, buying the seating, putting together the stage lighting and box offices, producing the plays,  and then moving on, finally back to New York. Then they discovered the Hamptons. They bought a small home on Springs-Fireplace Road in Springs around 1980 for $17,500. With their interior decorating talents, they fixed it up and soon sold it for $35,000, then took the $35,000, bought a home in North Sea and fixed that up and sold it for $60,000. Then they found what they called “The Big House.” It was a former 12-room nursing home at 200 Hill Street in Southampton. They bought it for $65,000, fixed that up, began to rent out the rooms and soon had a small hotel property they were decorating.

Just down the road were two large properties in great disrepair. One was the abandoned Noyac Boys School, which had originally been the grand mansion of Merrill Lynch. Next door, was the abandoned 25-room annex to the famous Irving Hotel, the giant wooden inn with nearly 150 rooms that had been the center of social life for the guests of the wealthy in the first half of the 20th century. Located at the corner of Hill Street and First Neck Lane, the Irving had burned to the ground in 1960. The Terry Latch, as this was called, across the street on the other side of Hill Street, had survived of course, but in the years that followed had fallen into ruin.

The Whites, in 1974, decided to take on the Latch. They sold 200 Hill Street for $160,000 and used the money for a down payment on the Latch. This would be their biggest project of all.

It was, of course, with their interests and backgrounds and experience, a labor of love. Soon they began buying antiques and curios from abroad. They’d arrive from Europe or Africa or Asia with upholstered chairs, paintings, antique mirrors, farm tools, dolls and chests. In the sitting rooms, hallways and guest rooms they created environments designed to look like home away from home, if you wanted to think of it that way, much in the way they created theatres all those years before. They would create a place to stay, yes, but it would also be an entertainment. Every room would have its own story. And their guests would be the audience.

In the course of time, the Whites expanded on the Latch. As the old Noyac Boys School next door began to revive as the Whitefield Condominiums, the Whites took the opportunity to buy three homes from that property and move them over to the back three acres of the Latch. They also brought over a potting shed and a Victorian greenhouse. Finally, they bought, on another adjacent parcel, the home of the former owner of the Irving Hotel, Terry Irving, his private residence, a 12-room affair that he and his family not only used for themselves but to house overflow guests from the old Irving.

Among those who have enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Latch include Ethel Kennedy, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elle McPherson, Matt Lauer, Michael Kors, Andre Watts, Kate Hudson, Dennis Quaid, Elle McPherson, Lauren Hutton, Fran Dresher, Isabella Rosellini, Senator Joe Biden, Carl Bernstein and Anne Hathaway, and you can imagine the rest—and, as Marta put it the other day—watching the guests sitting out by the pool on the brick patio reading or having breakfast on the lawn in conversation with their friends is what brings pleasure to both her and Martin. The success of it all was just a plus.

The Whites are now in their 70s. They own properties elsewhere. It’s time to sell. It’s also true that in the last 20 years, Southampton has tripled in size. And yet in all that time, there has not been another grand hotel built in town.

The Whites hope the Latch continues on. In any case, it is for sale, listed with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. If you’ve got a hankering for it, and would like to take over this very successful property, give a call to Enzo Morbido at 516-695-3433 [/expand]

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