THE BUNNY HUTCH
by Betsy J. Craz
Driving west on a certain two-mile stretch of Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, it’s easy to forget you’re on a wafer thin barrier island separating the ocean from Moriches Bay.
Here,Dune Roadslows to a teeth grinding, 25 mile-an-hour speed limit offering you a leisurely tour through a canyon of trophy houses in every conceivable style. Stucco neoclassicals alongsideCape Mayvictorians. Supersized saltboxes next to outdated contemporaries. Modern glass boxes between colonial revivals. It’s a solid seawall of beach house bling lined up one after another, hovering over the dunes and jutting into the bay.
Welcome…the sign reads, to the Incorporated Village of Westhampton Dunes.
It’s hard to believe that as recently as1992, afour-day nor’easter barreled over this area leveling everything in its path. I’d prefer to forget that post-apocalyptic tableau, but I remember it all too well. The skeletal remains of half buried houses, a chrome faucet protruding from weathered driftwood, a staircase leading nowhere. Only a handful of the 80 or so houses survived. Only one of them grabbed my heart and gave me hope. And it’s the only one of its kind still standing today.
“The Bunny Hutch,” nicknamed for its diminutive size and the rabbits that overran the island back then, was among the beach’s earliest residents. It was Lillian Spier of Remsenburg who back in 1920 suggested to her husband Louie that he acquire property on the barrier island. She imagined afternoons swimming in the surf with her two nieces who she recently and readily adopted after the little girls’ parents passed away from influenza.
Being a practical man, Louie balked. The island is fragile and its future uncertain, he argued. Besides, there’s such an abundance of oceanfront land along the east coast that the acre she desired would never be worth the $2,000 dollars they’re asking for it. But Louie was also a sentimental man. So he finally conceded, justifying the expense as a meaningful gift to his wife and his new daughters that promised nothing other than their happiness.
Louie’s investment in Lillian’s happiness was the most impractical and smartest decision he ever made. For nearly 100 years, The Bunny Hutch has delivered pleasure and cherished memories, not only to Lillian, their daughters, and their descendants, but these days to its neighbors and people just passing by. Today it’s more than the little cottage that survived all those hurricanes, nor’easters, and tropical storms. It’s a subtle, graceful testament to a time when less was more.
Approaching the Bunny Hutch from west or east, you can sense it even before you see it, a break in the cluttered shoreline like an oasis shimmering in the distance. It’s that scruffy300 square footshingled cottage painted grey and trimmed in pastel pink surrounded by a wraparound deck on pilings just four feet from the ground. But what makes it such a stand out from its more rarefied neighbors is how it’s nestled on a huge slice of unheard of, undeveloped, untouched bay front property worth over $3 million dollars.
From The Bunny Hutch deck, it’s easy to imagine what it was like in simpler times. Face north and you see only the expansiveMorichesBayand the faint outline ofLong Island’sSouthShore. Closer in are the tidal flats and sea marshes and sloping lower fore dunes with sea beach amaranth, thickets of beach plum and bayberry, cord and sea grasses that glint gold in the slanted autumn sun. Overhead, piping plovers dart and dive, sharing the sky with terns and black skimmers, herons and egrets. You think, this is what brings me to the beach, this is why I come.
And if it’s shelter you need, The Bunny Hutch can provide. Inside, its one room, one bath floor plan is carelessly appointed in guest room cast offs, with four framed Dan’s Papers covers from the ’70s nailed to the paneled walls under an elevated shelf displaying a size 10 men’s custom shoe mold and three wooden decoys. Furnishings include a round kitchen table for four with six matching wooden armchairs and an ancient day bed for afternoon catnaps. A chest of drawers painted in ’80s pastels holds five warped board games and chess sets with shards of sea glass and seashells in place of the missing knights, bishops and a pawn. Atop sits a battery operated radio with a built-in, empty cassette player. The Bunny Hutch’s only conversation piece is a solid wood bathroom door revealing a growth chart carved in ink chronicling generations of Spiers since 1932. But oh, if only these walls could talk. What would they say?