Up The Creek

Written By: Don James

Part I – “ The journey begins”

My first experiences on the East End began with our annual visit to Montauk. The year, 1965,  and I was just 5 years old. The East End was my mom and dads favorite affordable destination. The photo sessions in front of the Shinnecock Teepee on Montauk Highway, recently torn down,  as well as my dads insistence on bringing the strobe lights and 8 MM camera captured the magnificence of what was once known as the “ great cliffs “, overlooking the Atlantic by the lighthouse.  I can still remember the scent in the air, cool, clean and crisp.  The salty air, you could taste on the tip of your tongue. The towns we passed, idyllic and frozen in time…..

Along with our yearly visit to Montauk came our annual visit to Aunt Jeans house, my moms best friend. Jean Stein had a relatively large home on the top of a hill overlooking West Tiana Bay. My brother, sister and I would spend two weeks every summer with Aunt Jean and her 9 kids, two of which should have been classified as totally insane !!! WE HAD A GREAT TIME……. There was a small bar at the bottom of the hill from the house that was a favorite spot for the Hells Angels to visit, usually around the time we were visiting…… One morning I found one of the bikers in the weeds, passed out, on Aunt Jeans lawn at the bottom of the hill, behind the Pub…… Not a pleasant sight to see to say the least……

I ran up the hill, calling out “mommy, mommy, theres a dead man in the grass at the bottom of the hill “…, my mom told me never to go down there again when I see those men on the motorcycles coming around… , I took her advice.

Aunt Jeans house was a pretty cool place in its day, it seemed like they had everything you could want, a chicken coup that we raided every morning for “double yokers”, a horse stable with one “crazy horse” that almost killed me, and a backyard baseball field that facilitated some really radical baseball games between us kids…. But the most memorable sight was the hotel being built, across the street on Tianna Bay by Aunt Jeans husband, Joe.  The “Hampton Arms Hotel” was the brainchild of Joe Stein and his brother who believed that by building the largest rooms available on a Bayfront setting, that they would make a fortune….. The Town of Southampton had other concerns about the project, so it took a long time to secure the permits necessary and the project lingered over an extended period of time before being completed. Joe and his brother became disenchanted with the whole situation and ended up selling the property.  After having built numerous homes in the Hampton Bays area, Joe and his brother had made quite a bit of money already so Uncle Joe decided that it was time for a major move.  Uncle Joe always had big dreams and crazy ideas. The funny part was he was only 5-1 and buried in a cloud of smoke at all times due to his nicotine habit. It confirmed in my mind that smoking will stunt your growth, so I stayed away from that habit most of my youth !!  So he put the house on the market and eventually sold the house to a Hollywood producer named Roy Radin…… Roy was on his way to achieving great success at the time….. he had an idea for a show called “Sanford & Son”, a big hit at the time.  His vice was cocaine and his appetite, insatiable.  Now Roy was a pretty big guy and Joe, the custom builder he was, introduced a new concept in home construction at the time,

“an oversized bath tub”, more like a Roman bath or better described as a built in pool in the house… I loved playing in there when I was a small tike…. Anyway, Roy loved it so much, he closed as fast as he could on the house, before Uncle Joe could change his mind again on the asking price.  The half built hotel at the bottom of the hill was sold to the Young family.  An acquisition that Delores Young would regret for the rest of her life….

Anyway, Aunt Jean and Uncle Joe bought a cattle farm up in northern Ontario in an attempt to breed a Wilhelmina cow with another more rare breed of cow. Not a very good plan, the cattle got sick and froze to death, all of them.  Aunt Jean regretted leaving the house on the Bay as well as marrying a man she would later classify as completely nuts !! Buts nuts or not, Uncle Joe and his crazy ideas led me to believe that whatever he tried to do, he truly believed in and if you heard him talk, you’d believe it to….. Fortunately, those yearly visits to Aunt Jean in Tiana Bay convinced me how beautiful and special the Hamptons and Hampton Bays truly is, and that thought never left my mind as I would look forward to one day building and owning a home like Aunt Jeans, maybe even on the water….

Ok, so where am I going with all of this, you may ask… and whats “Up the Creek” have to do with anything ?

Part II “ A Strange Coincidence “

The year was 1986 and I was working as a commercial real estate appraiser….. My boss, Ray Paulson comes up to me one morning and says he has a special assignment for me and it has to be done immediately. Before I left the office he emphasized be very careful and exercise as much caution as I can as I inspect and evaluate the property, apparently, as I was told, someone had been murdered at the property I was to inspect….. As you can appreciate, I wasn’t excited about the assignment but ended up in shock as I approached the property…

It was the Hampton Arms !! , and I was to meet a fellow named Leo Berkamus, a savvy real estate broker who had a contract with the Young estate to purchase the hotel for a lesser price and sell it or “flip it” to another party for a tidy profit.  A real piece of work… Suffice to say, the deal went through and I’m sure the Youngs were better off because of Leo’s efforts…. But deep in my mind, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a place in the Hamptons some day…….

Part III “ To build or not to build, that is the question “

Its said, “truth is stranger then fiction”………  The year was 1998 and my fiancee and I had just purchased a vacant lot in a relatively unknown area of the Hamptons called “Redcreek”.  My brilliant idea was to build a house in the Hamptons and have our reception there !!! Now, everyone who’s had the experience of getting married knows that there’s enough stress just getting married, let alone try to complete building a house 9 months before the wedding day. We owned the land and had a plan and a permit in place before closing on it, but had no help or support from anyone close to us to accomplish that goal.

Why spend a lot of money on a reception when we could be putting that towards building a house, I thought.

Well I might as well have consulted Uncle Joe, because everyone I knew thought I was nuts !!  Even my best friend, a well known commercial architect told me its  impossible to build the house of our dreams in nine months…. And of course my father, who said he would not attend the wedding if I proceeded with the project, told me the same…. That really made me feel motivated… So in my great wisdom and cultural background theres a expression called “Gabadost “, thats Italian, meaning hard headed, that was me, Gabadost…. So I rose to the occasion, and decided to proceed.

Now for all of you must be wondering if I completed the task in time. Well, lets just say I faced a few roadblocks along the way……. But thats the topic of another chapter…..

Part IV “ Up the Creek With or Without a Paddle, “

So there I was…….. beginning a journey that would present many challenges and surprises, the kind of which 1500 words won’t allow…….. Well, if I win this contest, maybe I’ll tell the rest of the story, or elaborate on the details of this story….. As to Roy Radin, he enjoyed the tub at Uncle Joe’s immensely until one day he took a flight out to the west coast on business, while taking a walk in the Hollywood Hills he got lost, never to be found again….. I was reading a New York Times article years later detailing his life and the possibility that his remains may have been found….