There is no place like home, especially out East

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The former Otto H. Kahn House at 1 East 91st Street, currently the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Photo: JH.

Thursday, November 16, 2023. Fair weather, yesterday in New York with horrendous bump-to-bump traffic with masses of red taillights on all the main streets and avenues. 

Temps in the 50s with the blue-blue skies often hosting the most unusual long and slender streaks of the lightest white clouds; masses of these shapeless cloud-covers.

The clouds overhead as seen through the sun roof of my MINI Cooper.

They were obviously real-enough yet they looked like a foreign skyway, amidst a real one; as if they’d been designed by a clever artist and put up there to amuse the curious.

Amusing the curious, not to mention the professionals among us New Yorkers, is a fantastic weekend house tour in East Hampton coming up next Friday, November 24th. It’s the 38th annual House & Garden Tour Benefitting the East Hampton Historical Society.

The event begins Friday, 11/24, with a Cocktail Party at the Maidstone Club (6-8 p.m.). Then on Saturday the self-guided tour which runs from 1- 4:30 p.m.

The houses on the tour were selected to “express the unique spirit of living in the East End, celebrating some of the finest examples of the way of life there.” They are mainly 20th century dwellings, although from the late 19th on through to the 21st. They were built by people of means with the resources to get away from the natural tensions of daily life in the city.

In the earlier days of the last century when access to the eastern part of Long Island did not have highways or even, in many cases, ample roadway, the different communities reflected the religions, generally speaking.

Southampton at the beginning of the 20th century was patronized by a very social crowd, a lot of whom were Roman Catholic. East Hampton was mainly what today we’d call WASP. These differences are more memory than reality in the 21st century. Today the choices are influenced by access, and privacy

But for those of us taking this rarified and fascinating “look” will have the pleasure of seeing other people’s choices for their way of life. And, with them comes the memories of the lives who created a way of life there. It’s always fascinating as well as well as having the opportunity to get a sense of another lifestyle, personality and choices.

Strong Bros. Blacksmith Shop in East Hampton Village, circa 1900. The company was able to successfully transition into the age of automobiles.

Houses are fascinating because of their residents and/or builders, creators.  There is, for example, Grey Gardens, an unassuming but now legendary 19th century shingle style house just a stone’s throw away from Georgica Beach. It’s been the subject of a 1975 documentary, a 2006 Broadway musical, and 2009 HBO television movie occupied for a good part of the century by a mother and daughter Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter also Edith (Big Edie and Little Edie).  Big Edie’s brother John (Black Jack) Bouvier was the father of Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Radziwill. 

The two Edies were long well known among their prominent neighbors mainly because over time, they became recluses and let the property go to neglect and almost ruin. After their deaths, it had been scooped up by Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn who put the property back in style. Today it is a house of bold and glamorous interiors along with beautiful gardens and outdoor rooms, owned by Liz Lange — designer, fashion star and entrepreneur – who has reimagined the property.

Iconic Grey Gardens, reimagined.

Also on the tour: Wiborg Beach, which the house overlooks, was made famous by Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy who met there and went on to become legendary international socialites in the 1920s (Nicole and Dick Diver of Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald are widely recognized as having been based on the Murphys). The house today is another love story by the current owner, Ted Hartley — a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, investment banker, actor, film producer, and East End artist — and his wife Dina Merrill (1923 – 2017), actress, heiress, socialite, businesswoman, and philanthropist.

Wiborg Beach.

Water views all around.
Studio of East End artist Ted Hartley at Wiborg Beach.

Then there’s the historic 3-story house on Main Street in East Hampton, built in 1799 and originally East Hampton’s Postmaster’s house where mail was distributed to residents. It was also the first shingle-style house in East Hampton Village, and the second gambrel roof on a Long Island house. Over the centuries the house has been meticulously maintained, restored, and enhanced to bring it up to 21st century standards.

In the early 20th century, it was the home of May Groot Manson who was one of East Hampton’s leading suffragettes, and who also hosted the East Hampton Garden Club’s first plant sale on the grounds of this home in the 1910s.

Stately Main Street Manor, built in 1799.

Then there’s the Devon Colony formed at the turn of the 20th century by four wealthy businessmen from Cincinnati: Richmond Levering, William Cooper Procter (a grandson of a Procter & Gamble founder, William Procter), Joseph Rawson Jr. and William Stanhope Rowe.

Mr. Levering and Mr. Procter came up with the idea for a residential enclave while on a 1906 hunting trip in the area, known as the Amagansett Highlands because of its lofty location 90 feet above sea level, with Gardiners Bay to the north and the ocean to the south. They bought a huge tract, built grand stucco houses and two smaller ones, and founded the Devon Colony. Because their wealth came largely from Procter & Gamble, famous for Ivory soap, the Colony was irreverently nicknamed “Soap Hill.”

Two of the original Devon Colony homes are included in the 2023 East Hampton House & Garden Tour: Windy Dune and The Procter House. Think of badminton on the great lawn, lemonade served by uniformed staff — these historic homes hark back to a time when the founders of Procter & Gamble made Devon Colony their summer enclave away from their home base in Cincinnati.

Windy Dune which was built circa 1910 in Amagansett is one of the original grand stucco houses. Originally called Red Roof but after the 1938 hurricane blew off its red roof tiles, the name was changed.

Windy Dune today. Built circa 1910 in Amagansett, Windy Dune was an original Devon Colony grand stucco house.
A view of the veranda at Windy Dune.

The Procter House, built circa 1910 in Amagansett, also an original Devon Colony house.
Another view of Procter House.

Explore five spectacular East Hampton properties, while supporting the Historical Society’s vital preservation and educational initiatives.

A kick-off Cocktail Party on the evening of Friday, November 24, will be held at the historic Maidstone Club, ringing in the East End holiday season in style!

Tickets to the Maidstone Cocktail Party are $250 each, which includes entry to the House & Garden Tour the following day. Tickets to the self-guided 2023 East Hampton House & Garden Tour are $85 in advance and $100 on the day of the tour. Admission can be purchased via:

• Website:
• Phone at 631-324-6850
• Clinton Academy, 151 Main Street, on Friday, November 24 (from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.), and Saturday, November 25, (from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.)

Note: Maidstone Club is open only to Cocktail Party ticket holders on the evening of Friday, November 24, 2023. The Cocktail Party and House & Garden Tour are fundraising events for the East Hampton Historical Society.

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