By Annette Hinkle
In the early 1970s the Suffolk County Department of Health threatened to condemn it.
Two weeks ago, it went on the market for $19,995,000.
Such is the fame, fortune and fate of the Hamptons real estate market.
The house at 3 West End Avenue in East Hampton is best known by another name — Grey Gardens. Formerly owned by “Big Edie” Bouvier Beales and her daughter “Little Edie,” the arts and crafts style home was designed by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe in 1879.
The home sits on just under two acres near the ocean in the Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton and became infamous as the run-down subject of Albert and David Maysle’s 1976 documentary “Grey Gardens.” The film detailed the eccentric and hermit-like existence of Big Edie and Little Edie, and the squalor in which they lived despite being the aunt and first cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
“Grey Gardens” the Broadway musical came along in 2006 (Bay Street Theater produced it in 2015), as did an HBO film in 2009 starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
But back in 1979, author and journalist Sally Quinn quietly bought Grey Gardens from Little Edie for $220,000 with the mission of fully restoring the home and property. She spent upwards of three times that amount to bring Grey Gardens back to life over the next three years, though her husband Ben Bradlee, former editor of The Washington Post, thought she was crazy at the time.
Mr. Bradlee died in 2014, and now Grey Gardens is back on the market for the first time in almost four decades. Corcoran broker Michael Schultz of East Hampton is the agent and in a recent interview, he explained why Ms. Quinn has decided to sell now.
“Sally said, ‘I had 40 magical years there. I love the house, but it doesn’t feel the same without Ben,’” recalled Mr. Schultz. “I think she wants to close one chapter of her life with happy memories and embark on something else. She didn’t really feel like coming out here this August to socialize with her friends. I think a lot of her friends aren’t out here much anymore either.”
Her decision marks the end of an era in many ways. Just like the Beales represented one dramatic chapter in the long history of Grey Gardens, so did Ms. Quinn’s and Mr. Bradlee’s tenure represent another. During the time they owned it, Grey Gardens was the center of a very active literary social scene in East Hampton and many fabled gatherings were held there.
“I was at the party for the HBO premiere of the movie with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange,” recalled Mr. Schultz. “To me, the house is part of American folklore — not just the tale of the Bouviers and the Beales, and the fact they were the aunt and cousin to Jackie Kennedy Onassis, but I think Sally and Ben in their own right were involved in the political and social scene of East Hampton.”
Mr. Schultz recalled hearing a story of how Ms. Quinn once hired 18 violinists, including Isaac Stern, to play happy birthday for Mr. Bradlee at an August party at Gray Gardens. Guests known to have visited the property included the likes of Norman Lear and Laruen Bacall.
“It must have been quite a crowd,” said Mr. Schultz. “It had a famous second life. I think it really did.”
But beyond the obvious history, Mr. Schultz noted that the eight bedroom, 6,000 square foot home is unique for several other reasons, including the fact that it has three stories (not permitted in new construction), those famous gardens put in by original owner Anna Gilman Hill, as well as a gunite pool and a tennis court which was built before setback rules were in place.
“You can hear and smell the ocean and see it from certain floors,” said Mr. Schultz who feels that the next owner of Grey Gardens will be someone who truly appreciates the uniqueness of an old house.
“It’s not priced for value, but historical quotient,” he said. “Sally tried to really restore everything. When you walk through the house, you see the old Dutch doors, the balustrades on the stairway, the bead board and dental moldings, the diamond-cut leaded windows, the cupboards, the old kitchen with marble sinks.”
“The person who ends up buying it will love it,” he added. “There’s no other house with this much notoriety in the country.”
And perhaps soon, there will be a new owner to write the next chapter of the fabled history of Grey Gardens.
For more information, visit Corcoran Group Real Estate at corcoran.com/hamptons/ or contact Michael Schultz, (917) 882-8338.