The Death of the Hamptons

The Death of the Hamptons “I heard the Hamptons were finished. Too much traffic. And the Restaurants are too crowded. I’m told people are just sick of it.” Two years ago, as I listened to my friend who had never been to the Hamptons drone on over dinner, he reminded me of the old Yogi Berra line, “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore. It’s too crowded.” As we loaded up the car for another drive I drifted back to 1972 when I was 12 and my parents used to pack me in the car with the beach chairs and drive an hour from Plainview to Hot Dog Beach on Dune Road in Quogue. As the bands played on, I, probably six years younger than the next youngest beachgoer and my parents, probably 25 years older than the next oldest, marveled at the scene. So different than Jones Beach and ToBay where all of our Nassau County neighbors went. We, and all of our new beach mates, had our own little Woodstock on the ocean, across from the bay and surrounded by a serenity and natural beauty that fishermen and the moneyed upper crust seemed to keep a secret for close to two centuries. Slowly, the secret started to trickle out. One day, after we left Hot Dog Beach, my dad drove us down Dune Road and saw a line building up. Once again, he was drawn to the action. In a matter of hours, for what now wouldn’t even rent two weeks at most Hamptons summer homes, my parents purchased a brand new two bedroom townhouse on the beach. The following summer I spent weekends playing tennis at the Westhampton Racquet club. The Racquet Club was the center of the social life of so many Jewish tennis players, young and old, who were starting to emerge in the Hamptons and were searching for their own playgrounds as they were not welcome in some of the exclusive playgrounds nearby. This little beach and tennis Utopia went on for a dozen years until Hurricane Gloria washed away many of the homes on Dune road just to the South of us. Eventually the Club was supplanted by condominiums although a number of the tennis courts still remain. And the homes lost to Gloria? Replaced. Many of these new homes have been lofted up on stilts to protect them from future hurricanes. 10 years later, the Hamptons Arts Theater, a movie theatre built in 1932 right at the gateway from into the Village of Westhampton was showing its age. I must have danced the time warp and seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show at this theatre at least 20 times. But in 1997 it was under attack to be closed down. However, the local community prevailed and saved the theatre as it wanted to preserve the charm, character and history of West Hampton. Now, what is now called the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center continues to flourish as one of the great entertainment venues on the east end. About five years ago, history repeated itself as the Sag Harbor Cinema sign, one of the most distinctive symbols of life in the Hamptons (like the Windmill in Water Mill or the Lighthouse in Montauk) was destined for the dumpster and the Cinema was up for sale. Imagine if you found the windmill or the lighthouse in the bin around back. As the theatre was about to be demolished and transformed into a Starbucks or similar 21st Century necessity, local community folks stepped up to save it. Last week, my wife and I enjoyed a bucket of old fashioned air popped popcorn while we saw “Before Midnight” in the slightly mildewed, but very nostalgic Sag Harbor Cinema. So many memories for so many spread throughout the Hamptons seem to get the preservationist juices flowing. Once again, the same story is repeated on behalf of the Poxabogue Golf Course, which in 2008 was slated to be turned into 9 lavish mansions until the Towns of Southampton and Easthampton joined forces and preserved the only par 3 nine hole golf course in the Hamptons where each of my children learned to hit a golf ball. And, of course, whose salivary glands don’t secrete when thinking of the Fairway restaurant connected to Poxabogue? How many times did Paul, the owner/manager personally escort my dad to his seat with a kind word and a funny joke as my dad was aging and becoming too fragile to make it on his own? Once again, the Fairway was preparing for its extinction when the local outcry summoned the necessary forces and preserved the charm and character of what was. So many great connections to my childhood brought to the brink of extinction, but while the number of mansions keeps rising and more and more luxury cars race thru the short cuts, somehow the local community (thru the Peconic Land Trust and the extraordinary personal fortitude of many) has preserved much of the charm and beauty of the Hamptons. Of course, some battles will be lost as the East Hampton Bowl proved recently that some of the great Hamptons symbols will perish. Yet the war continues to be won. And in some cases, there is a truce between old and new. One can only marvel at the beautiful and graceful relocations and expansions of the Southampton Library and the jaw dropping Parrish Museum. Nothing destroyed-just bigger, better, more accessible and yet, equally tasteful. As my wife, 3 kids and I sat in traffic all the way to Montauk only 41 years after my parents discovered and explored Westhampton, I thought about the tug of war between old and new. And that is what it is-a tug of war. Whether it’s the Surf Club or the Backyard, Montauk, formerly “the Un-Hampton,” is now the big magnet for generation Y who go zooming by the Hot Dog Beach they never knew to get to Montauk, now the place to be seen. To steal a snippet from Mark Twain when his demise was prematurely announced, ‘The reports of the death of the Hamptons have been greatly exaggerated.’