If not in cannes, Capri or the Costa-Brava this week, an Easterner, to be in the proper swim, would more than likely be found negotiating the summer sea in a watering place known collectively as The Hamptons, a narrow isthmus of sand, socialites and chichi on the south shore of Long Island.
A sort of corner C√¥te d'Azur, The Hamptons begin at Westhampton Beach 80 miles from Times Square and from there run for 35 miles in the general direction of Spain, through Hampton Bays, Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Amagansett, ending in a fish-town hamlet called Promised Land, 10 miles from the island's end.
Of these salt-water-licked, tree-shaded seaside cities, only Westhampton, Southampton and East Hampton really figure. The others must be classed as suburbs and appendages. The summer swimmer picks his Hampton according to his means of livelihood (artist, merchant or mogul), his wife's preferred dress (jeans or jewels) or his way of life (flash or heaps of old cash). Discussing the difference between them, an old-time resident of Westhampton was saying the other day that his Hampton is the friendliest, East Hampton is the richest and Southampton the snobbiest. But a Southampton businessman, born and bred in the community, put it this way: "If, for the sake of argument," said he, "the Duke of Windsor should come down here, he would undoubtedly visit East Hampton. But he would stay in Southampton, and he wouldn't stop in Westhampton at all."
All of which might explain the preferences of the Duke, but it throws absolutely no light on the curious differences in the naming of the communities. A Mrs. Pennypacker of East Hampton leans to the theory that the original settler "Hampton" gave his name to the cause. The trouble with this is there was no Hampton (Hampton Bays came later) for South to be south of. Most likely, the original settlers, who boated in from New Haven Colony in 1640, were thinking of the English seaport when they christened their town, just as a group of reformed Southamptoners, who called themselves "Proprietors" and headed east nine years later, named their new home Maidstone, after the town in Kent. The name eventually changed to East Hampton, for the very likely reason that it was east of its honored predecessor.
The logic of this is so irrefutable that it seems a shame to bring up Bridgehampton and Westhampton Beach. The former got its name after Josiah Stanborough, who had acquired land outside of Southampton in 1656, led a group of settlers there over a sturdy bridge he had built. But Westhampton Beach? It is as west as East is east. It must not have felt that way however, otherwise at the least it would have hyphenated.
Whatever the reason, it is not likely to offend present-day Westhampton Beach, a lively community where the waves wash the night-tarnished glitter of the celebrities pried loose from the cafés of Manhattan, the houses are built on stilts to protect them from the rambunctious sea and the fire engines are embossed in gold with the legend: "Sons of the Beach."
Although the monstrous hurricane of 1938 all but wiped out Westhampton, sent whole houses floating out to sea and killed over 22, the lively rebuilt community now includes the Kriendlers, who run Manhattan's smart "21" Club, Philip Le Boutillier, chairman of the board of Fifth Avenue's Best & Co., P. G. Wodehouse and Arthur Treacher, the perennial cinema butler who shows up at local functions and bars with old Hollywood cronies long thought to be packed in moth balls. His recent house guests: Charles Ruggles, Joe E. Brown and Frank Fay. The community also includes the macabre New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams, for whom Westhampton's history of disaster and hurricane only make it seem like home sweet home.
Cave for Castaways
Perhaps Addams' largest creation fills one whole wall in the bar of Dune Deck, a flossy cave for castaways from Broadway that rather resembles, in the flood of summer, a Lindy's-by-the-Sea. It has 54 rooms (all with bath), most of them either right on the sand, overlooking it or within a broad jump of the crackling waves. It takes its guests by the week and duns them anywhere from $38 to $45 a day for two, food included. There is water-skiing on the bay, which is just across the road, and there is tennis; but mostly there is the sea and the sand. Dune Deck—walls, boardwalk, deck chairs, settees, beach tables and outhouses—is bathed in a coat of bright turquoise paint, and on days when the Atlantic takes on the off-blue hue of the Mediterranean it would be hard to tell at first glance where the sea leaves off and Dune Deck begins were it not for the strip of sand between them.
For this season Dune Deck has added a sumptuous living room, which, with its Japanese screens and prints and trappings from old Nippon, is a study in Oriental modern design. This same décor has also been used by the Hampton Inn, a newly rehabilitated small hotel in Westhampton fraught with Japanese umbrellas over the cocktail tables, Oriental waiters and a beaded bamboo curtain through which a customer might very well expect to see Anna May Wong come aslinking, albeit in a shocking-pink kimono. A glance at both these Oriental dens at the beginning of the season moved TV Comic Peter Donald, a Hamptons' habitué, to open his arms expansively and exclaim, "Ah, Yokahampton."
Although the Hampton Inn, which before its transformation was a summer sanctuary for lace-collared ladies, abets the mood of the East by serving excellent Chinese cuisine, it rather confuses the motif by displaying Caribbean calypso murals on its walls, planting an ancient Amish cart alongside its driveway and burning Hawaiian luau torches on the lawn. There are rooms upstairs for the emotionally displaced at $25 for two, with Continental (that's the European continent) breakfast.
Doubtless the most ambitious project on the Westhampton dunes is a pinked-up hybrid extravaganza known as the Bath and Tennis Club which, while neither a private club nor a public playground, is, all the same, a rather classic example of just what happens when someone lets Decorator Dorothy Draper loose on the beach with a fat bank roll. Diners and dancers who gather at the pink tables of the club's pavilion can watch the nightly circus under cover of an immense black-and-white striped tent illuminated by a dozen globes suspended from a cluster of bamboo fish poles. In a nautical nook known as the Wheel Room, alongside the big top, a man may take to drink—and small wonder indeed—snug in a saloon that has been paneled in pecky chestnut walls painted hysterical pink and hung with such relics of the sea as a gold wooden fish, a white wooden swan and a Very Old wheel.
Beach-front cabanas, which rent for $1,015 the season and are sold out for 1957, come equipped with pink doors and purple settees covered by pink terry cloth mats. Cabanas that provide a sidelong glance at the Atlantic cost $815 the summer. Club apartments which have peach walls and windows that offer a view of the pool, the cabanas and the sea rent for $375 a week for two, including breakfast and dinner. At midday guests in bathing suits can contract for a hamburger on terms at a yellow and black cafeteria festooned with Scandinavian lanterns.
Across the road, and just a short ride in the club's six-passenger white electric cart, is the new botel where 30 rooms, designed for yachtsmen and late-season hunters and fishermen, rent for $257 each for two. The inlet is also equipped with three Pédalo, pedal boats imported from the Riviera, which can be leased at $5 the hour.
Completely bereft of Pédalo and pink settees are such staid old fraternities as the Westhampton Country Club on the mainland and the Quantuck Beach Club on the sand bar across the bay. Often called one of the most select beach clubs in the country, Quantuck was washed out to sea in the 1938 blitz and was rebuilt from scratch the following spring. It was only a few years thereafter that, with the new clubhouse, a simple frame structure tucked behind the dunes, Quantuck grew bold enough to permit gentlemen bathers to appear on the beach without tops. Among its 135 families, who pay a modest $25 a season plus $40 for a bathhouse, Quantuck lists Judge Harold Medina, the aforementioned Mr. Le Boutillier and Charles E. Wilson of General Electric. Although topless bathing suits are now the acceptable dress for men, it is strictly forbidden to bring intoxicating potions on the premises, and nursemaids who may in the call of duty venture near the water may not, all the same, bathe in the sea.
There are both a beach club and a field club down the line at Quogue, a small enclave of perhaps 800 summer souls of solid wealth and quiet taste who live between the borders of jazzy Westhampton and fish-happy Hampton Bays. Aside from Novelist John O'Hara, Playwright Arthur Laurents, Designer George Nelson and Magazine Editor Ted Patrick, the inhabitants of Quogue are neither particularly well-known nor particularly social register. Hemmed in by strict, self-imposed zoning laws that prescribe minimum sizes for houses and lots, they live in a sedate, always-wear-a-tie, cocktail party life, play tennis and golf at the Quogue Field Club and visit its pink and white pavilion Saturday nights for the weekly dance, frequently to the music of Lester Lanin's orchestra. Mr. Lanin, busy as a squirrel with a cache of seasonal nuts, farms out musical aggregations all over the social seaboard, playing about 50 dates in The Hamptons every summer.
But no Hampton keeps Lanin and that other party piper, Meyer Davis, busier than Southampton, an ancient community of large old houses, large old matrons and large old trees, both botanical and family. Behind the high green hedges live an assortment of Dukes, duPonts, Henry Ford II, Dan Topping, Clifford Hood (president of U.S. Steel) and such social stage personalities as Silent Star Richard Barthelmess and Gary Cooper, who visits his in-laws, the Paul V. Shieldses.
A Show Place in Ford's Future
Brought to The Hamptons by his wife's family, who inhabit a string of estates along the sea, Henry Ford II is building one of the greatest showplaces of the times. He has had to lay over a mile of black top through the fields of rye to reach the land which blankets 100 acres on the east end of town. The white brick house with its white columns and its steep gray slate roof stands before a driveway 100 feet square. Above the portico are four large baskets of cement fruit. Whole paneled rooms, fireplaces and parquet floors have been imported from European chateaux in the grand fin-de-si√®cle manner perfected by the Vander-bilts. There is a four-Ford garage facing the servants' quarters, a wing that stretches 110 feet long. The back of the house looks out to a channel pond where wild white swans visit, but Ford has also dredged a smaller pond beyond the swimming pool. Just over the protecting dunes is the sea. So far the Fords have 1,082 feet of beach, but he would like to add another 1,000 feet. The bill is running, so a municipal functionary judges, about $800,000. Luckily for the owner, assessed valuations are considerably lower. The Ford place—unfurnished—is rated at only $150,000, which means an annual local tax of about $8,500.
At that, Ford's assessment is only the second highest in Southampton, a township that realizes about $8 million a year from taxes on summer houses. The Henry F. duPonts' 40-room white brick quadrangle by the sea is assessed at $175,000, producing a tax bill of about $10,000, which arrives just before Christmas.
Still, there seems to be money left over for a rousing round of private parties which are given outdoors under canvas on the grounds of the big estates. A typical soiree might call for a tent and dance floor, with a connecting canopy to the driveway in case of rain. Sometimes, when the hostess prefers that the house not be touched at all, kitchen tents are set up on the lawn and the cooking is done on propane stoves. A plywood shell covers the orchestra, the supporting tent poles are decorated with ferns and the tablecloths are picked to match the canvas. Favorite Southampton color for the tenting: pink.
Guests are frequently invited to arrive at 11 in the evening; chefs imported from New York at $50 each rassle up scrambled eggs, sausages, corned beef hash, hamburgers and pancakes. Robert Whitebower, a New York caterer who comes down to Southampton to handle the summer rush, estimates that a supper party will cost about $6 per person for the food. But that is just the beginning. Tenting trucked from New York may cost $600, and then there are the music, liquor, decorations, parking attendants and private police. A small supper for 500 may well break up at 5, 6 or 7 in the morning, by which time the host has spent about $8,000. During the two summer months Southampton sees about one such party a week.
For entertainment in public view, Southampton might repair to Herb McCarthy's Bowden Square, a sort of municipal fun house which offers lunch, dinner, drinks and dancing to society orchestras every night except Monday, when a jam session erupts in the main hall. For those who come for tangible nourishment, the kitchen dispenses Montauk lobster, Long Island duck, local oysters and Peconic Bay scallops, which are as big as a pinky joint. The whole institution, as well as its inmates, is tended by McCarthy, a man who for reasons best known to himself always appears on the premises in a starched white coat.
Diners dance under a plastic sky, and steaks sizzle over an open broiler up the street at the Post House. And some of The Hamptons' best steaks are being dished out this year in a low-lit, low-ceiling roadside rest called Trade Winds, in Water Mill, which is being operated by Dick Ridgely, who used to be Paul Whiteman's drummer.
There is no telling who may gather on the candlelit terrace of the Irving House, a sprawling, vintage hostel that has been sheltering Hamptons' visitors for 80 years. Sampling the steam table delights the other night were Senator Jack Kennedy; Peter Lawford; Earl E. T. Smith, the Ambassador to Cuba; Gene Tierney; and Cordelia Drexel Biddle Robertson, whose book My Philadelphia Father became the Broadway hit The Happiest Millionaire.
Aside from subsistence in the open air, the Irving House lets no fewer than 156 rooms, which are tucked away in five buildings sprawling over 37 acres. Most rooms rent at $15 a night, including breakfast which is provided in the guest's quarters by two indefatigable milers who, trays in hand, roam the preserve at a dogtrot all morning long. Like many another homeless Hamptons visitor, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough holed up in the Irving last summer in a snug apartment complete with private entrance, private garden, a living room, three bedrooms and three baths. The bill was $553 a week, including meals for two. Although the Irving operates with a staff of 82 this summer, it is also housing 14 personal maids who have accompanied their mistresses to the shore.
Life Among the Crustiest
Many a matron who would rather avoid the house problem, the meal problem, the servant problem, the weekend guest problem chooses the Irving and for social life spends the summer days in Southampton's clubs, reputed to be among the nation's crustiest. One bathes, when one is socially acceptable, in a beach club known as the Bathing Corporation, a cognomen that strangely seems to mix business with pleasure. On a narrow ledge of land between a pond and the breaking surf, flanked by the estate of the late Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch and the maroon shingles of St. Andrew's Dunes Church, the Bathing Corporation has crowded a pool, a covered restaurant, a shaded pavilion and an aging clubhouse built in the Spanish hacienda style perfected by Addison Mizner in Palm Beach salad days. Some 400 carefully screened families share 400 feet of beach, the nannies in white dresses and floppy straw hats watching the towheads burrow in the sand, the young guard in madras, dirty tennis shoes and no socks, the old guard surveying it all under a panoply of pink parasols.
The parasols appear, too, on tournament days at the creaking clubhouse of the Meadow Club, an association for tennis enthusiasts which was founded in 1887 on the estate of J. Bowers Lee, one of Southampton's first summer residents. The first tournament was held in '88, and there have been 69 since then—three won by Tilden, two by Vincent Richards, three by Frank Parker, four by Bobby Riggs and three in the '40s by Pancho Segura. A prime stop on the grass court circuit which included the Merion Cricket Club in Philadelphia, the Newport Casino tournament and New Jersey's Orange Lawn Tennis Club, the Meadow Club's bid was once a coveted invitation for the tennis troupe. In Southampton there were large houses, large parties, large cars and a large selection of debutante daughters. But too many borrowed cars were smashed, too many wine cellars tapped, too many housemaids compromised. When Bill Douglas, the present pro arrived after the war, he found the touring tennists bivouacked on cots in the squash court. While the annual tournament on the club's 29 grass courts is no longer the gayest tennis party in the country, nor indeed does it attract the biggest names, those who come are back in the big houses, and the Meadow Club is content that it is doing its bit for the game.
The National Golf Links of America, on the other hand, a golfing fraternity which nestles on Southampton's Shinnecock Hills and which a national magazine once called "America's snootiest golf course," has only had one professional tournament in its 49-year history. That was in 1928 and, although the professional players were not permitted in the clubrooms and restaurant, they were, after some discussion, permitted to shower and change clothes in the lockers. The experience was both traumatic and memorable, and members cluck about it to this day.
Although the Shinnecock Country Club, the country's oldest incorporated golf club, which adjoins the National, is a country club for family use, the National is a golf links for men. The males dine in a long glass-enclosed loggia looking out to a soft view of Peconic Bay, which separates the two fins of Long Island. Women dine in their own viewless salon in the front of the building, and on weekends and holidays they may play the course before 9:30 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
Often said to be the best golf course in the country, the National was founded and designed by Charles Blair Macdonald backed by 70 founder-members, a body that included William K. Vanderbilt and Harry Payne Whitney. Today a life-sized statue of Macdonald by Prince Paul Troubetzkoy casts a somewhat severe glance over the membership, which numbers slightly more than 400. A cruise about the links the other day turned up Dan Topping; Henry Ford II in pink slacks and a baby-blue polo shirt; Juan Trippe, president of Pan American, in an old tennis cap; Frank Pace Jr., former Secretary of the Army; and Earl E. T. Smith. Also on the rolls are Vincent Astor, Gary Cooper, Angier Biddle Duke, Henry duPont, Benjamin Fairless, Pete Bostwick, Harold S. Vanderbilt, William Paley and John Reed Kilpatrick.
It is conceivable that when such an assortment of chieftains get together the talk may well run to tribal politics. But at lunch on the loggia the other day, while cracking into the cold lobsters with mustard sauce for which the National also has a noteworthy reputation, the talk turned to national disasters. "Just what do you suppose was the greatest catastrophe that ever struck this nation?" asked Thomas Wright, the club president, who had in mind the tidal wave that swamped Galveston in 1900. Some mentioned the General Slocum disaster. Others the San Francisco earthquake and the Chicago fire, when finally an authoritative voice spoke up. "Why, gentlemen, the worst disaster that ever struck this nation was the New Deal." Around the table there was a murmur of "Amen."
Only some of these aspects of high society survive the 13 miles that separate Southampton from East Hampton. It is a road bordered with corn stands, with clam sellers, with broad vistas of potato fields dusted with a frost of white tassels. Tiger lilies are summer candles in the meadows, and there are watery dales where white ducks grow fat before they are sent to market. Some nights the stingiest sliver of a moon hangs, stagy and incandescent, over the Montauk highway, and the neon glimmers by the side of the road, urging a wayfarer to pause.
Doubtless the most implausible of pausable is a retreat midway between South and East Hampton known as Out of This World. The decorating motif—which includes, at some juncture or other, pink brick, Grecian heads, Japanese flags and fish net—is probably Early Martian. The piano player, Mr. Ralph Strain, is supplied his own retiring room adjoining the end of the keyboard, a chamber open to the public and finished in Turkish provincial. The men's room contains a life-sized poster of Jayne Mansfield on which any visitor—the management provides a crayon hanging from a string—may inscribe a personal message. Out in the gardens there are pebbled walks, flaming torches and, beyond that, six rooms for guests, all of which were rented en bloc by a psychiatrist last year for the therapeutic use of his patients.
A run on the menu
So many patrons descend on Out of This World for dinner after the Saturday night cocktail parties that the place puts up a Saturday night Chuck Wagon at $6.50. The rest of the week one may have the run of the menu, a card about the size of a 24-sheet poster, which comes equipped with a flashlight dangling from the cord in the fold. Dinners run from $4.75 to $8.75 for steak which you may broil yourself.
However expensive that sum may seem, $8.75 will scarcely purchase an entrée at The Hedges, a branch of New York's Pavilion, which stands in a delightful glen at the very gates of East Hampton. Here, under a spreading hazelnut tree, the overpaid are overfed an exquisite assortment of French preparations in a setting which, with its greenery and its soft tree lights, is a breath of a bistro in the Bois de Boulogne. Dinner will run about $20 per person or, as a sometime customer likes to point out, "It is the only restaurant in the United States where a waiter can carry $80 worth of food in one hand." Like the Pavilion in New York, The Hedges is run by a diminutive, unsmiling Frenchman named Henri Soulé, whose ample girth and dour mien seem to indicate that he might well have been nourishing on his own food and paying up on his own checks.
For those who can pass Soulé's and proceed with solvency into the confines of East Hampton, a lovely green awaits, the approaches delighting the eye with a reed-fringed, elm-shaded pond, and beyond that the sloping south end cemetery, now an island between two roads, where wild tiger lilies decorate the headstones of the early settlers.
Ever since the artists came in the 1870s, entranced by the gray shingle houses, East Hampton has had cultural overtones. Later, there were Irvin Cobb, John Barrymore and Wallace Lee. It supports a summer theater which draws not only a dressy crowd but such theater people as Alfred de Liagre Jr., Robert Dowling, Paul Osborne and Robert Montgomery. After the show there is the 1770 House across the street which serves steak, shrimp and hamburger sandwiches in the Cupboard Room and drinks in a telephone-booth bar in the basement.
The board chairmen live in East Hampton too, particularly along Lily Pond Lane, a street of magnificent homes. They play largely at the Maidstone Club where, from the headquarters in a large weather-beaten shingle clubhouse, the view gives out landward to the club's own golf course or seaward to the beach club and its string of cabanas. Elsewhere there are 23 grass tennis courts, an open-air pool and a great white ballroom where Maidstone's members dance eight times a summer under chandeliers strung with fake flowers and strings of crystal beads.
Lately the town ramparts have been breached by television writers and directors who spill over into the neighboring community of Amagansett, a sort of hive for bohemians where the colony has been joined for the summer by the Arthur Millers (nee Marilyn Monroe). If, like other Hamptons visitors, who first came to look and then returned to build, the arty ones can probably be counted on to turn out imaginative abodes that zoning laws and pure local horror would prevent in, say, Quogue or Southampton. A designer-builder named Evan Frankel, who occupies a carriage house on an East Hampton boulevard known as Hither Lane, has lately built a swimming pool in what was the foundation of the main house on his property. With Greek statuary tucked into the niches of the red brick walls around the pool, greenery growing out of old sewer pipe painted white, bathers crunching mulberries from a fertile tree with their bare feet and a cascade tumbling from boulders above, the setting is as ripe as old Rome for bacchanalia by the shore.
Strangely, though, the artists have made no bacchic beach of The Hamptons. They cluster, come the weekend, in an Amagansett brauhaus called the Elm Tree Inn, and they live quietly and paint serious avant-garde impressionism in their homes in Springs, east of East Hampton's Eden. Schopenhauer is discussed on the sand at Coast Guard Beach and, for surfless bay swimming, safe for children, there is the quietude of Gardiner's Bay, where a writer, an avant-garde artist or a man with merely moderate vision can look across to the curving arm of Long Island and see the stacks and steeples of Promised Land.
LITTLE PECONIC BAY