Easy Street

HOW FURTHER LANE BECAME THE MOST DESIRABLE ADDRESS NOT JUST ON THE EAST END, BUT — IF REAL-ESTATE PRICES ARE THE BEST GAUGE —THE NATION.

 

 

 

 

First a love story.

Once there lived the vivid scion of a family distinguished for its contributions to art, civil rights, and its business acumen in creating Schlumberger Limited, the largest oilfield services company in the world.

Francois de Menil was a young movie producer known for wearing velvet capes, flying loops and rolls in his plane — painted sky-blue with white clouds — over the island of Manhattan and entertaining in his Upper East Side townhouse, guests from Everywhere.

Francois’s friend Helen Bransford, a jewelry designer from Nashville, was someone who liked bringing people together. So in the summer of 1983 she brought her nephew Johnny Bransford out to East Hampton to visit Francois. Johnny brought a woman he was dating, Susan Silver. 

Francois and Susan fell in love, and their story played out just as the finishing touches were added to one of the most notable houses on Further Lane (or anywhere): Toad Hall. 

With sweeping views of the sea from 12 acres, a four-lane pool, tennis court, croquet lawn, and screening room, the house was 11,000 square feet. All glass and granite and mahogany, three stories high, including a unique pavilion, it signified a change in Modernism, a place where Formalism relaxed. Designed by the revered architect Charles Gwathmey. Admired by all. 

In 1988, Toad Hall changed hands when Francois sold it for $7.5 million to Edgar Bronfman Jr., now a managing partner at a private equity firm; then, he was better known as heir to the Seagram fortune and as a songwriter who went by the name of Junior Miles. It was not a happy time for Edgar and his wife, Sherry. When they divorced, Bronfman sold Toad Hall to Larry Gagosian, the art dealer, for $8 million.

Gagosian has been called the P.T. Barnum of the art world, but with a billion dollars in annual sales representing artists from de Kooning to Damien Hirst he’s considerably more successful than Mr. Barnum. And by buying up more property to create a compound around Toad Hall, he became one of the biggest property owners on Further Lane, where his more famous neighbors include Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Katie Couric, the fashion designer Helmut Lang, and Lorne Michaels (of Saturday Night Live).

The future Jacqueline Kennedy spent summers at Lasata, which belonged to her paternal grandparents. Reed Krakoff, creative director of Coach, bought it for $24,000,000 a decade ago, but it is now for sale again, listed at nearly $39,000,000. Photographs by Jake Rajs, @JakeRajs 2017.

 

Most realtors consider the sea side of Further Lane more desirable than the sea sides of Southampton’s Gin Lane and East Hampton’s Lily Pond Lane, which are more well known. The reason: privacy and protection. More property on the water, but not so close that erosion is an immediate concern. Gin Lane and Lily Pond are a much bigger risk, as hurricanes and northeasters continue to chew their way landward.

A sign posted by the Nature Conservancy at the public accessways to the ocean beaches reads:

The Atlantic Double Dunes, stretching along three miles of shoreline from Amagansett to the Village of East Hampton, provide important habitat for plants and animals. . . .  

You Can Help By Staying Off the Dunes.

Unless you live on Further Lane.

Running parallel to the Double Dunes and to the Atlantic Ocean, Further Lane is a fairly nondescript length of asphalt — bordered in places by high privet hedges, in others by simple fences or ranks of cherry trees that bloom pink in the spring — traveling the two miles between Indian Wells Highway in Amagansett and the Maidstone Club in East Hampton Village, where Further Lane becomes Dunemere Lane. 

If you live on Further Lane, your private path, or the path to which you have deeded access, leads directly to the beach across the fragile dunes, which are filled with wonder, tiny endangered orchids and shorebirds, beach plums and wild roses. Many of these paths long predate the creation of the Nature Conservancy in 1951.

What further defines Further Lane is money.

The prices of oceanfront property are so high that people on the eastern end of Long Island are no longer startled to hear about a $60 million dollar transaction. 

In May 2014, Barry Rosenstein, the founder of the hedge fund Jana Partners, paid $147 million for 16 acres at 60 Further Lane, making it the most expensive residential property sale in American history. He bought the property from Christopher Browne, managing director of an investment firm, who’d owned it with his late partner, Andrew Gordon, an architect. They’d bought the place from an unforgettable lady, called Elizabeth Fondaras, who drove around town in a convertible Bentley, and was beloved as a generous hostess.

Rosenstein tore down the original house to build a new one. The neighbors didn’t like that. Some 1,600 square feet, with all the now-familiar extravagant amenities, including an 82-foot lap pool. 

The neighbors like what Ron Baron, a Wall Street money manager, did even less: He destroyed a precious dune. At least that’s what the Town of East Hampton thought, when it determined that a double wall he’d constructed between his house and the beach near Two Mile Hollow was illegal. Mr. Baron had, in 2007, paid $103 million for most of the property owned by Francois’s sister, Adeleide de Menil. At the time, it was said to be a record, too.

Unlike Mr. Baron, Ms. de Menil and her husband, Ted Carpenter, were loving stewards. When they sold, they donated a portion of their land to the Nature Conservancy. To the Town of East Hampton, they gave a number of 18th and 19th century timber-frame structures lovingly collected over 40 years. Among these were the Parsons Barn, the Bridgehampton Barn, the Hedges House, and the Hand House, all of which were used to create the current East Hampton Town Hall complex on Pantigo Road, designed by Robert A.M. Stern.

 

Leonard Ackerman, one of the pre-eminent real estate lawyers on the East End, knows an awful lot about the history of how Further Lane became Further Lane. Until the 1970s, he says, it was mostly farmland, generally ignored by the real estate market. An exception was the late Evan Frankel, who recognized its value; in his crusade to preserve the South Fork, Frankel bought many of the potato and corn fields on Further Lane and leased them for agriculture. After Frankel died, more than 25 years ago, the land was subdivided and sold. But buyers looking for even more privacy reassembled the parcels.

Ackerman recalls his first transaction on Further Lane. It was with Bruce Wasserstein, an investment banker, who did that kind of reassembling; now, at the Wasserstein estate, Cranberry Dune, his family owns more property on the south side of the road than anyone else, more than 25 acres assessed at about $60 million, with $326,000 in taxes. Its market value? Much higher. 

When he died in 2009, a dispute over access to the property by the youngest of his six children played out in the courts and in the tabloids of London and New York. “Battle of the Billionaire’s Hamptons Mansion!” bellowed the Daily Mail.

It was hardly the first scandal in the environs of Further Lane. In 2001, another financier and investment banker, Ted Ammon, was found naked and bludgeoned to death in his house around the corner, on Middle Way. 

But, in some corners and leafy private lanes off Further Lane, peace continues to more or less reign, as it did in the decades and centuries before the lawsuits and ugly headlines became par for the course. And some extraordinary architectural treasures are hidden behind the hedgerows of cherry trees that, on many stretches, are all that can be seen by those driving past.

Richard Meier, the great Modernist architect, is about to mark the 50th  anniversary of the famous bright white house he built in the 1960s for Ellin and Renny Saltzman on Spaeth Lane.

A serene house on a woodsy two-acres, owned by the art collectors Alexandre and Laurie Chemla and designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien (who are now also designing the Obama Library in Hawaii), was called “a masterful exercise in spatial poetry,” by Architectural Digest.

And near the Chemlas is their close friend Jane Wenner, who, with her husband, Jann Wenner (of Rolling Stone), lived for a long time on the fabled Tyson Estate up the street — part of it now owned by Helmut Lang — before they found the 1968, Spanish-style Hale Allen house they bought for themselves. Ward Bennett, the interior designer, had been the original designer of the Wenners’ house. When they phoned, he decided to leave retirement to refresh the dwelling, which has become one of the most memorable houses on Further Lane, with its unique allée of cultivars arborvitae as long as a football field.

 

Finally, a story of Further Lane in two centuries.

A Manhattan book publisher, Bobby Appleton, a Brit, and his first wife, Gigi Lamonte Appleton, constructed the huge house with what looks like a thatched roof that sun worshipers on Egypt Beach today can’t help but notice on a slight rise facing the Double Dunes, just opposite the Maidstone Club. Built in the Cotswolds style in 1917 and 1918, it is Nid de Papillon — Butterfly Nest. But, with the attention span of a butterfly, Gigi didn’t live there long: She made a transatlantic stir when she left behind her husband and child and decamped for Paris, never to be heard from again.

Like so many houses on this two miles of miracles and millionaires, Nid de Papillon has played its role on the public stage. Originally the estate unfolded over 100 acres, covering nearly a quarter mile along the ocean, with a polo field, chicken coops, and a kennel for Gigi’s 20 disagreeable chow chows. In the 1920s and 1930, frequent gatherings there were recorded in the social pages. 

The Appleton family motto was seen in a towering stained-glass window near Nid de Papillon’s entranceway:  Ex Malo Bonum (Out of Bad Comes Good). Among other amenities was a sunken garden with ovens built into its brick walls, to warm the roses and keep them blooming long into November. And, down a secret staircase to the cellar, a private speakeasy done up like an English pub that, when the house was rescued from neglect and utter dilapidation by new owners in 1982, had empty jeroboams of Champagne littering the floor. 

Nid de Papillon was saved by its more recent owners, Gretchen and Jim Johnson, from more than just decay. They told New York Magazine a couple of years ago that when they made the purchase, Donald Trump had been eying the place. Ex Malo Bonum.

 

Joanie McDonell