Warhol’s Oceanfront: From $30K to $250K to $11.6M to $85M

Warhol’s Oceanfront: From $30K to $250K to $11.6M to $85M

On August 1, the fourth of my memoirs is being published by the NY State University Press and will be available in all bookstores, online and at libraries. All of my memoirs are titled with variations on the phrase “In the Hamptons” and contain chapters about encounters with different people I have had over the years in publishing Dan’s Papers. The new one is In the Hamptons 4Ever. The earlier three remain in print.

The material in these books is entirely original, and they have received wonderful reviews, including in The New York Times. One chapter, about Frank Mundus, the shark fisherman in Montauk, was reprinted in its entirety in Newsday when it came out.

People have their favorite chapters in all of these books. One such chapter is about the time, at 17, I was working in my father’s drugstore in town and developed a crush on a 14-year-old girl who came in one day. She was rich and lived in a big mansion in Montauk on the ocean with her parents. Turned out she felt the same way about me, and she invited me, one night, as a second date, to meet her out on the beach in front of her parent’s house at midnight. She didn’t want them to know. So I couldn’t go directly to the house.

Instead, to get there, I had to drive east toward the Montauk Lighthouse just before midnight, turn down a gravel road to a woods, park and then walk along a dirt path to a broken-down group of one-story summer cottages on the beach. These cottages, owned by the Church family, were hardly ever used. And they were next door to the home of my beloved. And so, dressed in black that dark night, I snuck down that path only to discover that I could not get to the beach on the side of the cottages between the two properties because of a fence. Instead, I’d have to go around the cottages on the other side and walk across the beach in front to get there.

I did worry somebody might be in one of the cottages. I’d have to sneak quietly. As I came around the far side of them, however, I stopped short. There were several dogs, angry dogs, growling and barking, somewhere on the property. But I persisted. Young love can do that to you. At the beach, things got worse. The dogs, all German Shepherds, appeared, bared their teeth and glared at me. I was not to be allowed to pass in front of the house. I thought, well, let’s see if they can swim, and so I dove into the ocean there, fully clothed, and began to swim a great arc around them. Hey dogs, you don’t own the ocean. I’d emerge from the sea directly in front of my beloved. It would be a dramatic entrance.

I never made it. The dogs could swim too. Though their barks and growls were now peppered with coughs as they splashed along, they were coming for me. So I gave up, and turned around and swam away. I saw this girl in town the next day with her father, and she wouldn’t even speak to me. I had stood her up. And so that was that.

This story came to mind the other day when I learned that the group of broken-down cottages, now fixed up but exactly as they were back then, are up for sale. For $85 million, they can be yours.

And here is that story.

The Church family, which owned the Arm & Hammer company, had built these small one- and two-bedroom cottages in a horseshoe arrangement facing out onto the beach to be used as a family retreat. It was 1931. They were not much to see, but they were oceanfront. A low sandy cliff led down to the beach, an easy climb down.

Why they were pretty much abandoned by 1957, I do not know, but one can imagine squabbling among the heirs of the patriarch who had built them all those years earlier. In any case, in 1971 the cottages were sold by the Church family to Andy Warhol and a filmmaker friend of his, Paul Morrissey, who for the next 15 years used the property as a kind of retreat for some of their New York City friends—rich, famous and counterculture. The Rolling Stones rented the place for a month in 1975 to rehearse their album Black and Blue. Others who came were Jackie Kennedy Onassis with her kids and her sister Lee Radziwill, photographer Peter Beard and other members of the Warhol entourage from the Factory and the Velvet Underground. I visited there once in the 1970s, briefly. Inside, the rooms were small.

The price paid for these cottages in 1971 seemed high when compared to other properties in the area. It cost Warhol $225,000. Actually, that amount was not so high if you looked into it. There was more to the Church Estate than met the eye. The property also included 20 acres of woods to the north, back from the beach.

Here are a few comparable prices from that time. My dad bought an acre of property overlooking Fort Pond Bay for $45,000, on which he built a nice home in 1976. A few years after that, I bought a house overlooking Three Mile Harbor for $44,000. These were prices you paid for nice houses then. You could afford to live in them at these prices, too. That’s what they were intended to be: homes.

I read last week that around the country, the prices for homes have stabilized. Considering salaries, other income and costs, they are at affordable levels. But not here.

Indeed, by 1980, land prices were already beginning to rise to levels that made them out of reach for people to live in. In 1987, Andy Warhol died on the operating table undergoing minor gall bladder surgery. He was 59. His partner, Paul Morrissey, continued to use the beach property, though. In 1993, however, 15 acres of the woods in back of the cottages were donated to the Nature Conservancy, and this increased the privacy of the Church property because these lands can never be built upon. He named his cottages Eothen, which is a literary phrase meaning “from the east.” (It’s in Kinglake’s book of travels in 1844.) Pretty fancy from some beach cottages. But why not?

In 2007, Mickey Drexler, CEO of the J. Crew clothing chain, purchased the 4.5 acres of Eothen for $27 million from Paul Morrissey. Three years later, Drexler purchased a 22-acre horse pasture up on the Old Montauk Highway Extension that abuts the woods portion of the former Eothen estate for $11.4 million. Eighteen acres of the pasture is preserved. The remaining parcel has a large mansion on it, 8,000 square feet in size. The house sits between the horse pasture and Eothen.

All that is now up for sale at $85 million. In sum: It’s got Eothen (which can never be enlarged or changed), the 5.7 acres of property on which it sits, and, separately, a few hundred yards away, a 4-acre site with a nice home on it that overlooks a horse pasture. All the rest is preserve. In today’s real estate market, everything goes up and up. So it’s a bargain. And my story comes with it.

Buy Eothen, and tell ’em I sent you. And beginning August 1 at BookHampton, buy In the Hamptons 4Ever and tell ’em I sent you.

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