Beach Road Historic District
The Beach Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Beach Road Historic District is located in the southwestern section of the village at the beginning of Southampton's Barrier Beach. This beach and the Beach Road Historic District begin at Halsey Neck Road, runs west, and separates the Atlantic Ocean from Shinnecock Bay. The land along the Barrier Beach is generally flat along the bay and rises gradually up to a long, low range of sand dunes along the ocean (to the south). The Beach Road Historic District is isolated from the other historic areas and properties within the Southampton Village Multiple Resource Area by modern residential development and/or open, undeveloped land. The Beach Road Historic District contains a small, cohesive, and conspicuous concentration of fashionable early twentieth century estates and includes a total of nine contributing buildings and four non-contributing buildings. These period estates are largely intact and generally uniform in overall plan including stylish main houses set well back from Beach Road and conspicuously located on top of the sand dunes (providing them with panoramic views). In addition, most of the related dependencies are situated close and on both sides of Beach Road, usually near the unadorned estate entrances. Many of the main residences are visible for several miles because they crown the tops of the sand dunes and the village's overall landscape is relatively flat. The contiguous estates generally retain their large original parcels which remain largely undeveloped with the exception of small pockets of subdivision and scattered new residential construction between the estates; there are four non-contributing buildings within the Beach Road Historic District. Except for the landscaped areas immediately surrounding the estate buildings, the land within the Beach Road Historic District remains natural, undisturbed, and is covered with indigenous scrub vegetation (grasses, low shrubs, and scrub pine and oak trees). The vegetation is densest along Beach Road.
The large mansions which line the Beach Road Historic District's southern boundary (along the Atlantic Ocean) are the centerpieces of their respective estates and the district in general. Each individual mansion was designed in (an interpretation of) a different popular early twentieth century architectural style. The eclectic building styles represented in the Beach Road Historic District include the Spanish Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, and Tudor Revival styles and one of the main houses is reminiscent of historic English and European vernacular farm complexes.
The boundary line of the Beach Road Historic District starts at the southeast corner of the third property west of Halsey Neck on the south side of Beach Road and runs west along the beach front to the southwest corner of the property directly west of Shinnecock Road — #840 Beach Road, which is called "Ocean Castle." Swinging north along the western edge of that property, it then returns east along Beach Road to the southwest corner of the fourth property west of Halsey Neck Lane on the north side of Beach Road. The boundary line then runs north and then east along the shore of Shinnecock Bay to include that property and the one adjoining it to the east and then runs south again across Beach Road to its point of origin.
The Beach Road Historic District is historically and architecturally significant for its small, cohesive, and distinguished collection of conspicuous early twentieth century oceanfront estates. The construction of these handsome estates coincided with the opening of Southampton's Barrier Beach (where they are located) to residential development during the 1920's and 1930's. Although the five estates which constitute the Beach Road Historic District differ stylistically, they all share a common design approach which includes generous parcels which retain the natural seaside landscape, deep uniform setbacks, large stylish mansions built on the crest of the barrier sand dunes, and period dependencies which are primarily grouped close to their Beach Road estate entrances. These large upper income residences were originally built by some of America's most prominent and wealthy families (including the Mellons, Duponts, and Ladds) as their summer retreats. These families hired well-known, New York City-based architectural firms who had established successful reputations for designing country seats for wealthy clients including Cross and Cross, and Peabody, Wilson, and Brown. As a result of their cohesive concentrations, large size, stylish designs, and prominent locations, the estates which constitute the Beach Road Historic District are some of the most important historic resources associated with Southampton's exclusive turn-of-the-century resort development.
Southampton was attracting increasing numbers of summer visitors during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By the early 1900's, the village was firmly established as a fashionable resort community whose extensive summer house development was reaching its peak. The construction of the five estates which make up the Beach Road Historic District coincided with the opening of Southampton's southwestern Barrier Beach to residential development during the 1920's and 1930's. This area was settled late in Southampton's overall historical development as a result of its isolated position in relationship to the (inland) village proper and its unprotected location between the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay. The Beach Road Historic District represents the first substantial residential development of this Barrier Beach.
In 1924, the first estate was established in this area, which is the easternmost property in the Beach Road Historic District. It was designed by and constructed for Edward P. Mellon of New York City and was called "Villa Maria." The design of its main house and dependencies was inspired by the substantial seaside villas found on France's and Italy's Mediterranean coastlines; noteworthy features include its prominent rectangular central block, stucco exterior, low tiled roof, Classical detail, and wrought-iron balconies. The nearby Reginald Fincke estate was built in 1926 and was designed by the prominent architectural firm of Peabody, Wilson, and Brown. The design of the estate's buildings is based on England's picturesque vernacular building tradition but on a much larger scale. The main house is particularly well-known locally with its prominent, asymmetrical, stuccoed exterior, broad slate roof with multiple gable ends and dormers and tall chimney stacks. The Dupont Estate at 650 Beach Road is the only estate in the Beach Road Historic District whose design was based on America's popular early twentieth century Georgian Revival style. Designed by the New York City firm of Cross and Cross, its main house and nearby garage display many of the primary hallmarks of the style, including symmetrical plans, brick exteriors, and classically inspired details (especially at entrances). Unlike most of the other estates in the Beach Road Historic District, broad open lawns and formal plantings surround the Dupont Estate buildings. Edward P. Mellon also designed the mansion at 700 Beach Road for Mrs. Duncan Ellsworth in 1925. Although somewhat altered, its design is reminiscent of England's picturesque vernacular architecture but on a much larger scale with its asymmetrical plan, stucco exterior and broad (all encompassing) hip roof. The western most estate within the Beach Road Historic District is the 1930 William F. Ladd estate at 840 Beach Road. Its design is the most unusual within this district of imposing mansions in that its large mass has been distributed among a variety of asymmetrically arranged, attached building sections which harmonize with the low surrounding sand dunes. As a result of its rambling, informal composition (especially when viewed from Beach Road), it is reminiscent of historic English and European vernacular farmsteads. Designed by the firm of Wilson, Peabody, and Brown, noteworthy features include its asymmetrical composition, prominent tiled hip roofs, enclosed courtyards, round towers connecting wings, and half-timbered upper floors.
A majority of the estate buildings within the Beach Road Historic District were designed by prominent, turn-of-the-century (1900), New York City-based architectural firms including Cross and Cross, and Peabody, Wilson, and Brown. Both of these firms specialized in designing upper-income residences utilizing popular early twentieth century styles and details. Both firms were successful and supervised the construction of numerous buildings in New York City and Long Island. In addition, an interesting aspect in the Beach Road Historic District's architectural development is that Edward P. Mellon designed his own estate at 520 Beach Road and the Ellsworth Mansion at 700 Beach Road. Although little is known about Edward P. Mellon's architectural training (at this time), these two eclectic estates exhibit designs and details which are comparable to the other three estates in the district.
The Beach Road Historic District contains a small, but distinguished collection of largely intact early twentieth century estates which recall the village's early twentieth century expansion to the oceanfront area and reflects the affluent lifestyles, architectural tastes, and social standing of their prominent original owners.