13-Dec, 16:26

04:40, March 02 280 0

2017-03-02 04:40:04
Want to Live in Grey Gardens? It Can Be Yours for $20 Million

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — On a recent afternoon, Sally Quinn walked through Grey Gardens, her fabled summer home, one that has been the subject of both a documentary film and a Broadway musical, and passed by a glass menagerie of tiny kittens. The figurines had once belonged to Edith Bouvier Beale, better known as Little Edie, a woman of many cats, who for years lived in the house with her mother, known as Big Edie. Both were former socialites and relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The figurines were among the many artifacts that Ms. Quinn, the journalist and author, kept when she bought the house from the younger Ms. Beale in 1979, paying $220,000 for what was then a place of almost unimaginable squalor.

Restoring the home was not for the faint of heart, but Ms. Quinn was undeterred. In fact, she was smitten.

“‘It’s yours,’” Ms. Quinn recalled Little Edie saying to her. “She did a little pirouette in the hall and said, ‘All it needs is a coat of paint.’”

The home was long ago restored to its old Hamptons charm, and cleared of all cat smells — unless, Ms. Quinn said, you happen to stick your nose into a particular corner of the foyer after a rainstorm that lasts days. The house is decorated in soft blues and floral wallpaper and is dotted with plenty of fat-leaf potted plants. It is vibrant even in winter.

Ms. Quinn recently put a price on parting with Grey Gardens: It is listed for $19.995 million.

During her recent visit to East Hampton, Ms. Quinn walked from room to room, pointing out wicker furniture, chaise lounges and a set of china with a floral pattern; all were among the treasures she discovered in the attic that first year and lugged down to preserve.

“I had quit smoking a decade ago,” she said of that first trip to the attic, “but I had to have a cigarette. It was the most thrilling project.”

Her husband, Benjamin C. Bradlee, had not been as enthusiastic about the idea of the restoration. Mr. Bradlee, then the executive editor of The Washington Post, where the two had met, took one look at the home, turned to his wife and promptly told her she was out of her mind.

He eventually warmed up to the idea. By the time Grey Gardens was restored, the couple were two of the most powerful people in Washington. They treated it as a retreat where famous friends, including Lauren Bacall, Lorne Michaels and Jack Nicholson, would visit during the month of August. During one party, the producer Norman Lear paid a group of violinists to pop out of the foliage and surprise the guests. Their frequent clambakes were just as memorable: Ms. Quinn, Mr. Bradlee and their friends once poured rosé into soda bottles, trying to avoid the beach police like a bunch of rich teenagers.

“When people would walk into the house,” Ms. Quinn said, “you almost felt like fairy dust had been sprinkled all over us.”

But as time wore on, the parties slowed. The death of the writer Nora Ephron, a close friend who lived across the street, in 2012 took some of the magic away, and it all but left when Mr. Bradlee died in 2014. After his death, Ms. Quinn said, the decision to sell wasn’t difficult.

Whoever buys Grey Gardens will be taking on a home with a nearly mythic history. Completed in 1897, the home became infamous under the care (or lack thereof) of Little Edie and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, the first cousin and aunt of Mrs. Onassis. Their plight generated headlines when the Suffolk County health department raided the house in 1971; the authorities cited every known housing code violation. Mrs. Onassis ended up footing the bill for a cleanup.

The women became the subject of “Grey Gardens,” Albert and David Maysles’s 1975 documentary, and the brothers, who wore flea collars while filming, captured a relationship defined by financial downfall and unhealthy emotional dependence. Over the years, the Edies have morphed into something of a cult sensation, inspiring, among other projects, a 2009 HBO movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Today movie posters are hung up around the home.

“That’s part of the fun of owning the house,” Ms. Quinn said.

In a home where there is much to be sentimental about, Ms. Quinn has been focused on choosing the right person to sell it: Since listing the house, she has replaced one real estate agent with another. Michael Schultz of Corcoran Real Estate followed close behind on this day, and was careful when explaining why the house would be a “specific” sale. For one, he said, the house is old. In this area, it is common for the superwealthy to buy homes just to raze them and start over.

“People think they want an old house,” Mr. Schultz said. “People want a new house that looks old.”

Grey Gardens is close to the ocean, but it isn’t technically a mansion, at least not by East Hampton standards. There are 10 bedrooms, sure, but no in-home movie theater. (How could anyone survive?) Mr. Schultz emphasized that the home, with its gray shingles, tennis court and pool, not to mention its legacy, is not priced to be torn down. Whether the person who buys the home agrees will be a different story.

“This home will not be attractive to a Russian oligarch,” Ms. Quinn said dryly.

Renters who appreciate the old home’s charm and lush gardens have paid upward of $150,000 a month to rent Grey Gardens. The maternity designer Liz Lange spent the summer there in 2015. She was willing to overlook the fact that the bathrooms weren’t the size of living rooms, and that the lights, powered by an aging electrical system, tended to flicker during summer storms.

“Actually, this has turned me into sort of a preservationist,” Ms. Lange, who grew up spending summers in East Hampton, said in an interview. “If I had $20 million, and another $10 million to restore it, I would kill to own it.”

Grey Gardens has long been a tourist destination, but visitors seem to be more passionate about the two Edies than about Ms. Quinn and Mr. Bradlee, whose relationship and social connections helped define how modern Washington operates. Ms. Quinn wrote about, then became a vital part of, the city’s social scene. Mr. Bradlee, who had been a friend of President John F. Kennedy’s, oversaw The Post’s coverage of Watergate, a scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon.

With its McMansions, traffic problems and very rich residents, East Hampton now looks different from what Ms. Quinn remembers. But she still knows how Washington works, and journalists call her regularly to get a better sense of the mood in the capital. She is busy finishing her book, “Finding Magic,” which she calls a spiritual memoir. A book about her life in Washington is up next.

Ms. Quinn is part of a different era in the city’s social scene, a contrast made stark by President Trump’s administration. She said that President Barack Obama and his administration declined to attend parties and dinners, but that this level of “estrangement” was a first. The tense state of relations, she said, is more of a passing fascination than an outrage.

“Right now there seems to be such a cautious attitude about seeing them except as a sense of curiosity,” Ms. Quinn said of the Trump administration. “In some way, it’s like they come and they go and we’re still here.”

People still attend events, throw dinner parties and, of course, trade gossip. Not everyone feels up to the challenge of life in the Trump era: A friend fell ill and had to miss a book party Ms. Quinn hosted recently. The diagnosis? Vertigo.

“I think this may be the new Washington disease,” she said. “Maybe we should all take vertigo medicine and all lie down.”

Ms. Quinn said she had seen Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, around town at social functions, and expected to see Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner out and about. People seem particularly intent on getting a closer look at Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser, in part because there is not much hope the president will be out much.

“I think that Donald Trump, clearly, is much more comfortable in Mar-a-Lago,” Ms. Quinn said. “That’s his idea of the perfect social setting, where he can kind of be like the maître d’.”

With the summer still months away, Ms. Quinn is not planning to return to East Hampton, at least not for an extended period. She will go to the south of France, or maybe Greece.

“You want the best for your child,” she said of her decision to sell. “But at some point, you’ve given it up.”

Besides, she reasons, Washington is where the story is.