At just 241-years-young, America can’t compete with countries like the United Kingdom for sheer number of historic homes and estates. But the East Hampton landmark Grey Gardens easily makes up for that. Built in 1897, the 6,000-square-feet shingle-style home, located at 3 West End Road, was the home of two women both named Edie Beale, a mother and daughter pair who also happened to be the the aunt and first cousin of former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
In spite of their wealth and pedigree, the Beales weren’t your typical blue-blooded tennis-playing preppies. As seen in the renowned 1975 documentary, the 2009 HBO movie, and 2006 Broadway musical (and even a 2015 Netflix mockumentary), “Big” and “Little” Edie were glamorous American aristocrats who lived in Grey Gardens for over 50 years in increasing squalor and poverty. “The old people don’t like us. They think I’m crazy,” Little Edie told Gail Sheehy and her daughter in a 1972 New York Magazine cover story. “The Bouviers don’t like me at all, Mother says. But the children understand.” Little Edie was known for both her love of animals and fashion: though she lived in poverty as Grey Gardens became increasingly decrepit, she proudly wore her mother’s moth-eaten furs around the estate.
In February 2017, the property was listed for $19,995,000 by the most recent owner, writer Sally Quinn, who bought the property with her late husband (and onetime Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee) in 1979. On Wednesday, December 20, 2017, the most historic home in the Hamptons closed for $15.5 million to a couple who, according to Corcoran’s Michael Schultz who represented the property, “loved the house and plan on lovingly restoring it.” Little Edie had sold the house to Bradlee and Quinn, under the conditions that they do not tear down the house. “All it needs is a coat of paint,” she told the powerhouse Washingtonian couple. (That was an understatement: Quinn claimed to have found the waste of 52 feral cats in the house.)
Under Bradlee and Quinn’s ownership, however, Grey Gardens became a center for Hamptons social life again. The couple enlisted architect Gene Fudderman to keep the home’s foundations in the restorations. Apprentice carpenter Robert Langman built the home, and he did such a good job that Nora Ephron and Kurt Vonnegut employed him later. Benefits for the Humane Society and the New York Philomusica were held there. The Bradlees only spent one month out of every year at Grey Gardens, renting it out the rest of the time. Little Edie also left a gift for the Bradlees: the attic was full of “fabulous” furniture, as Quinn recalled in the Southhampton Press. The couple restored the furniture and placed them throughout the house in homage of the Edies.
“This is a bittersweet moment for me, but I feel grateful that the new owners will cherish the house as much as Ben, Quinn and I did, and that their time there will be as magical as ours was,” Quinn said in a statement. Hopefully, Little Edie sends her blessings from beyond the grave to the new owners, too.