A Fifty Year Love Affair
We first visited East Hampton in the Spring of 1964 as weekend guests of Ben and Judy Heller at their home on Jericho Lane. We were entranced by what we saw, and that same weekend we rented for the approaching summer the Lily Pond Lane home of Mrs. Harry Dorsey Watts.
Jim Amaden, the leading local broker, walked us through Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe’s shingle style 1905 gem, and we were charmed. “We’ll take it,” Joanna cried. I, a real estate professional, replied that you cannot commit yourself until you consider all other homes available. Jim showed us another half-dozen prospects, and at the end of the tour we committed to renting on Lily Pond Lane for the Summer of 1964.
The first season was a roaring success. Our four children, then ranging in age from seven down to one, loved splashing in the surf and digging in the sand on Main Beach, taking pony rides at Stony Hill Stables, feeding the ducks and searching stealthily for wild animals in the Nature Trail underbrush. They happily found new friends in the children’s summer programs at Guild Hall and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons. Picking strawberries was a treat for city children, and the kite-flying and sand castle contests were exciting challenges.
Grownup family members and visiting friends enjoyed golf and tennis, deep-sea fishing off Montauk and side trips to the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor, nature sites on Shelter Island or the Museum of Antique Automobiles in Southampton.
Everyone was thrilled by the massive Fourth of July fireworks, the bustling LVIS summer fair and the endless cook-outs, barbeques and charity fund-raising events.
As major art collectors and he as dealer, the Hellers were key members of the East Hampton art community, and they introduced us to friends and acquaintances who added sparkle to summer gatherings. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ibram Lassaw, Norman Bluhm, Balcomb Green, Claus and Helen Hoie, Warren Brandt, Bill King, Sheridan Lord, Jane Freilicher, Robert Dash and dealer Andre Emmerich were prominent at parties, along with architects Richard Meier, Peter Blake and Norman Jaffe. At one of Mimi Schapiro and Paul Brach’s occasional poker games, I recall losing a modest amount to the widow of novelist James Jones, and literary critic Dwight Macdonald shocked our children by swimming nude in our pool.
The outstanding characteristic of the community was its human scale. The small mom-and-pop stores on Main Street and Newtown Lane; the all-you-can-eat fundraising breakfasts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the American Legion Hall (at which men cooked while their wives dutifully cleaned up); the Memorial Day Parade (at which it seemed that more of the town paraded than watched); the Clothesline Art Sale at Guild Hall (at which neighbors bought their friends’ work); the clambakes by volunteers of the Amagansett Fire House; the celebrated chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin cooking their specialties at the Springs Fair — all were projects by neighbors for neighbors. The audience capacity at the Old Post Office cinema on Newtown Lane was so small as to make the experience seem intimate, and at the summer theatre shows at Guild Hall, many in the audience knew the actors and interns, who often were staying in their homes. East Hampton exuded a feeling of community in the best sense of the word.
As each Labor Day approached, we gave Jim Amaden a list of suggested repairs and improvements, and they were always finished before Memorial Day celebrations began another memorable summer. After seven years of this, Mrs. Watts sent word that, in effect, she was tired of being our caretaker and that we should purchase the property and take care of it ourselves. We did, and one magical summer followed another. In due course, our children acquired East Hampton homes. Today, our grandchildren share our feelings about this idyllic setting.
The faces of yesterday are long gone, but the rhythms of life continue and the magical air, light and lushness of East Hampton remain.