August Hawkins and his sister Prudence around 1900

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Building Inventory Form

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Unless indicated below, this is a transcript of the original Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities/Town of Brookhaven survey form.   Since most of the surveys were conducted in the late 1970's and early 1980's, much of the information reflects that time period. 

Corrections to obvious typographical and spelling errors have been made.  Corrections to factual errors in the original surveys, and updates or comments on the information are either enclosed in [square brackets], or are clearly indicated as updated material from the context of the comments. 

Sites which have a suffix of "S" are supplemental sites not included in the original surveys.


Building-Structure Inventory Form

Better 'Ole Restaurant

 If checked, this is a Supplemental Form, not included in the original surveys.

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Inventory Code: Br04A.1-S
Prepared Date: 6/12/2003
Last modified: 5/2/2012
Original Submitter
Submitter Name: John Deitz
Submitter Address: 7 Locust Rd.

631-286-3178
Organization:
Identification
1-Building/Site Name:  
2a-County:   Suffolk 2b-Town:  Brookhaven 2c-Village:  Hamlet of Brookhaven
3-Street Location:   416 South Country Rd. (at RR Viaduct)

 If checked, this site is within the Fire Place (Brookhaven Hamlet) Historic District

Ownership
   4a-Public     4b-Private
5a-Owner  (at original survey date):    Steve Laird and Larry Wolhandler 5b-Address:   
Use

6a-Original:    restaurant

6b-Present:    restaurant

Accessibility
 7a-Visible From Road

 7b-Interior Accessible:
7b-Interior Comment:   during business hours  
Building Materials 
   8a-Clapboard    8b-Stone    8c-Brick
   8d-Board & Batten    8e-Cobblestone    8f-Shingles
   8g-Stucco
8-Other:   Construction is mixed, reflecting the many builing modifications made over the years.  
Structural System
   9a-Wood Frame Interlocking Joints    9b-Wood Frame Light Members:    9c-Masonry:
    9d-Metal
9d-Metal Comment:     
   9e-Other
9e-Other Comment:     
Condition
    10a-Excellent   10b-Good   10c-Fair     10d-Deteriorated
Integrity
   11a-Original Site  11b-Moved   If so, when?  
11c-Alterations:  Many alterations over time. An exterior examination of the building suggests an older core 2-story structure (southeast corner) which may have been the original building -- perhaps a small residence.  
Photo & Map
12-Photo Photos and images
13-Map
Threats
  14a-None Known:    14b-Zoning   14c-Roads
  14d-Developers :   14e-Deterioration
14f-Other:     
14-Comment:     
Related Outbuildings
and Property

  15a-Barn   15b-Carriage House  15c-Garage
  15d-Privy   15e-Shed   15f-Greenhouse
  15g-Shop   15h-Gardens   15i-Landscape Features
15i-Landscape Features:   
15j-Other:   
15-Comment:     
Surroundings of the Building
  16a-Open Land   16b-Woodland   16c-Scattered Bldgs.
  16d-Densely Built-up   16e-Commercial  16f-Industrial
  16g-Residential 16h-Other:   
Interrelationship of Building and Surroundings
17-Interrelationships:    
Other Notable Features of Building and Site
18-Notable Features:       
Significance
19-Initial Const Date:   Before 1928 (see Supplemental Material). 1903 USGS map suggests a structure there at that time. There is some evidence that it had been used as a restaurant since shortly after WWI.

[There is some evidence that this site was originally a farm owned by Joshua Carman (1825-1906). A wood framed structure at the east end of the present building has the appearance of a residence, and may be the original Joshua Carman homestead. Joshua Carman was known to be occupying his homestead at least by 1870, and appears on the 1873 Beers map of Fire Place (now Brookhaven Hamlet.) An early photograph of the restaurant suggests that the east structure may have been originally detached from the restaurant, but was later incorporated into the present building.]

[A renovation was know to have occurred in 1948]

19-Architect:    
19-Builder:    
Historic and Architectural Importance
20-Importance:  

This restaurant has been a fixture in Brookhaven Hamlet for many years.  At one time, there was a large prominent sign facing the tracks visible to Long Island Rail Road passengers advertising the Better 'Ole.  The building has continued to be used as a restaurant, most recently "Painters".

The name "Better 'Ole" came from a WWI expression that went something like "If you find a better 'ole, run for it".  This expression was incorporated into a well know cartoon at the time (see images).

The inn was likely founded by William R. Sealey shortly after WW I, who operated it, with his second wife Florence (or Lucile), until 29 March 1929, when he died.  William Sealey was a well known vaudeville actor, whose first wife was the famous actress Bessie Bonehill.  More on William R. Sealey and Bessie Bonehill may be found in the Hamlet People database (click "People" link).  Seeley St., opposite the restaurant on the north side of the rail road track embankment, was perhaps named for the family.

By 1930, the restaurant proprietor was a Mrs. Florence S. Smith, William Sealey 2nd wife.  She continued to be the proprietor until  the mid-1930s.  In  May 1936, she was reported to have opened a tea room in Bayport, NY. [Patchogue Advance, 20 May 1936, p. 4]  In 1938, she was reported to be retired and living in Huntington, NY. [Long Islander (Huntington), 13 May 1938]

In May, 1936, the restaurant opened as the "Villa Verde." The appearance of the interior was "greately improved by the removal of several partitions, and by the fresh, light decorating scheme and by the lighting system." The Villa Verde was under the management of Seno William (Verde) Zito and Paul Villa. [Patchogue Advance, 22 May, 1936. p. 11, 29 May 1936, p. 4]]

For a time from April 1938 to before 1942, the proprietor was Anthony J. "Tony" Iarocci who is said to have operated the Better 'Ole for four years.  Just prior to joining the Army in 1942, he had the dining room and grill concession of the Bellport Country Club.  He was killed in action in Italy on 1 March 1944.

In 1960, the Better 'Ole was remodeled by the then owner Jimmy Robbiano and his two co-owner brothers, Gino and Joseph.

There have been other relatively short lived establishments on this site: including "an oldies theme place" and Tiny Sunderland from Blue Point ran a catering place there (called Sunderland Manor?).

It is now named "Painters".

 
 
Sources
21-Sources:       
Theme
22-Theme:   restaurant   
Prepared By:
  John Deitz
Supplemental Material: 
 

Long Island Advance, 12 Jun 2003. p. 28: From the Archives of the Long Island Advance 75 Years Ago. (June 1928)
   "Mario Frank Neuroni, with his wife Virginia, was charged with larceny in the first degree for the theft of jewels and cash from the Better Ole Inn at Brookhaven last fall. He has been sentenced to Sing Sing, for not more than ten years and not less than four years and eight months by Judge Furman. His wife, indicted on the same charge, was acquitted. They were charged with taking $315 in cash and $2,000 in jewels from the Better Ole, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Seeley, where they were employed up to Labor Day last year. They moved to Detroit and opened up a restaurant. A chef there complained to the police for non payment of wages and is said to have related that Mrs. Neuroni told him her husband had robbed an inn in the east. The Neuronis were arrested and brought here."

Suffolk County News (Sayville), 18 July 1930:
   The Better 'Ole was raided by Prohibition era Federal agents in July 1930, and one of the waiters arrested, and an assortment of liquors, beer and ale seized..  The proprietor at the time, Mrs. Florence S. Smith, later appeared at the Federal Court House in Brooklyn wearing "widow weeds" complaining, "I have to have it [liquor] to satisfy my customers."  Mrs. Smith was held in $1,000 bail for a later hearing.  See full story in attached document.

Patchogue Advance, 29 May 1936, p. 4
  Joe Lopez at Villa Verde Tomorrow—
The Villa Verde on the South Country road, in Brookhaven, formerly The Better 'Ole, where the crowds have been wont to gather since its opening, is featuring again tomorrow night, as on the opening night, Joe Lopez and His Hawaiians by popular demand.  The orchestra is direct from WOR, from which station you've no doubt heard it at 3:45 dailey or at 1:45 on Sundays.  Also on the program tomorrow evening there will be several other Victor recording artists.  And not only is this a popular dancing place, but for dining...well just see the delicacies mentioned in the Vila Verde advertisement on this page.

Post Morrow Foundation Historical Collection, 13 May 1948 (clipping, believed to be the Patchogue Advance):
  
BETTER 'OLE OPENS—One of Long Island's favorite dining and dancing places made its 1948 debut last week with the reopening of Jimmy's Better 'Ole in Brookhaven.  A capacity turnout of old and new friends was on hand for the highly successful reopening and some even had to wait for tables.
   An extensive remodeling job has upped the capacity of the dining room from 96 to 150 and the size of the bar has been more than doubled; yet none of the distinctive charm of the Better 'Ole has been lost.  Checkroom facilities are now provided, the washrooms have been remodeled and the kitchen has been completely renovated.
   Genial Jimmy Robbiano, host at the Better 'Ole, feels he is prepared to offer better-than-ever service to local patrons and the anticipated heavy influx of summer residents.
   One opening night wag summed up the reaction to the new decor with the unblushing remark that "—on the 'Ole, Jimmy has done a beautiful job."

Long Island Advance, 28 May 2009, p. 18.: From the archives of the Long Island Advance 50 Years ago (May 1958).
   Styles for all occasions and music on an international note were the fair provided at the Better 'Ole Restaurant May 19 when the Brookhaven-South Haven Women's Auxiliary for Brookhaven Memorial Hospital sponsored its fourth annual fashion show and grossed over $1,257."

Long Island Advance, 21 January 2010, p. 21. From the Archives of the Long Island Advance 50 Years Ago. (January 1960)

The Better 'Ole, long one of Suffolk's favorite dining spots, has been winning new acclaim lately as the result of extensive renovations and remodeling completed under the direction of genial owner-host Jimmy Robbiano and his two co-owner brothers, Gino and Joseph.

1 May 2012, Newsday:

An early morning fire on Tuesday damaged Painters' Restaurant in Brookhaven Hamlet, police and fire officials said.

No one was injured in the blaze, which officials said appears to have started in the kitchen area. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Suffolk County police Arson Squad. It was not immediately clear how much damage was caused by the blaze.

The fire was reported at 3:34 a.m., Suffolk fire officials said. Volunteers from Brookhaven, Bellport and Hagerman fire departments responded, as did South Country Ambulance.

Fire officials said it took about two hours for the fire to be declared under control.

Police said South Country Road was briefly closed so firefighters could battle the blaze, but said the road had been reopened by 6:30 a.m.