Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons

Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons

by Steven Gaines

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A quirky cast of eccentrics vies for a slice of the Hamptons—on land still inhabited by families that have farmed and fished the regions for generations.


A quirky cast of eccentrics vies for a slice of the Hamptons—on land still inhabited by families that have farmed and fished the regions for generations.

Editorial Reviews

Jay McInerney
Such a cast of eccentrics hasn't been seen since Midnight in the Garden of Good and EvilThe New Yorker
Library Journal
Gaines has produced a fascinating description of the eccentricities of the wealthy homeowners and renters of the exclusive summer homes in the Hamptons. Filled with delicious details and bizarre situations, this is the ultimate gossip book. Highlights include accounts of a man arrested for putting pumpkins outside his store, a real estate magnate whose whole life turned out to be a lie, and a scandalous nude bathing pool. Gaines meticulously explicates the players and the contexts of the feuds and political battles that thrived in the rarefied air of the wealthy, making this a book that can be enjoyed without knowledge of the environment or the social pedigrees of those involved. -- Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough Public Library
Steven Gaines' Philistines at the Hedgerows is a gossip-motivated social history of the ritzy cultural-elite beach towns on the eastern tip of Long Island -- although Gaines would hate the use of the word "gossip" to describe what his book's about. The former music journalist can still recite, off the top of his head, the first line of the March 28, 1994, Publisher's Weekly review of his notorious book, Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein "Little more than a rehash of material that has appeared in supermarket tabloids over the years." After the manic and often shamelessly well-researched way he told the story of Klein's manic self-invention, in person, Gaines has little patience for people calling him a gossip. Which explains a lot about the ambitions of Philistines (which is a much nicer book), and about why it's an interesting read even if you live a long way from this satellite status-hell for Manhattan's pecking order obsessives.

Gaines is a sympathetic interviewer who pays exhaustive attention to detail, and he's undoubtedly in love with the wooded landscape of the Hamptons, from its dunes to its ancient, fertile fields. (These fields are now being carved into mini-estates dominated by the hulking manors of the newly rich.) The book is told in a series of independent sections that often trace some line of entropy; we learn how the area -- with its grand houses and unspoiled land -- became increasingly seedy before it was adopted and burnished by Klein and other ambitious, self-made Manhattan multimillionaires. Although Steven Spielberg, Klein, Truman Capote, Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis all make cameos before Page 7, along with a litany of big-time New York swells that only close readers of Vanity Fair will have heard of, the real story of this book concerns a series of land-crazed people you've certainly never heard of.

The Hamptons have a long history, which Gaines traces back to the 16th century, when they were taken from the Indians. He includes accounts of libel trials and witch hunts along with stories about Jackson Pollock's drunken rampages. He also recalls the time the local arriviste-hating gentry arrested the recently arrived-from-Manhattan owner of a gourmet grocery for violating the aesthetic fascism of the town code by putting pumpkins in front of his store. The meat of the book is the struggle for peace between those who guard the area as a self-regulating WASP-y outback and the maddeningly resourceful waves of self-created men and women arriving from Manhattan -- the philistines of the title.

Gaines considers the victory of the new arrivals as inevitable, and does a particularly touching job of depicting the high-strung locals trying to hold them back. But he's clearly on the side of the landscape, and bemoans the fact that, as more and more people show up, there's less and less of the misty farmland that caused them to fall for the place to begin with. As an aficionado and an arriviste with bestseller money and movie rights income, he has it both ways. This contradiction is never resolved, and probably it can't be.

Gaines knows how to tell a story, and he knows how to dish. Even if Philistines sometimes reaches to be the "Our Crowd" of our current, real-estate-obsessed age -- and doesn't quite get there -- it's a satisfying comedy of manners about snobbishness and land-lust among America's overachievers. -- Salon June 4 , 1998

Kirkus Reviews
Gaines has written a page-turner, and the Hamptons have a historian and folklorist who fits them like a glove. Gaines turns from his usual ho-hum celebrity bios (Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein) to the rich and dishy cultural history of the Hamptons from the time when Georgica Pond, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, was the fishing ground of a lone Indian named Jeorgkee. He traces unending Hamptons litigation and squabbling from Goody Garlick in 1658 up to Martha Stewart (Goody Garlick was tried for witchcraft, and Martha has an ongoing feud with her neighbor, real-estate mogul Harry Macklowe). In a series of non-fiction novellas, Gaines tells stories of huge egos in small villages: millionaire broker Allan Schneider, who brought big-city real-estate savvy to the Hamptons; Evan Frankel, called the Squire of East Hampton, who thumbed his nose at old money by building a synagogue at the entrance to the village. While others might fight over lovers or money, in the Hamptons it's property all the way: who owns it, where it's located, and who gets to control the overpriced and frequently hideous housing built on it. Most interesting, Gaines recounts the history of 'The Creeks,' the largest estate in East Hampton, from its creation by artists Arthur and Adele Herter to its recent reconstruction by paranoid billionaire Ron Perelman. In between, 'The Creeks' belonged to eccentric artist Alfonso Ossorio and his deceptively quiet lover Ted Dragon, who befriended Jackson Pollock and who made 'The Creeks' into a piece of neo-expressionist art. Gaines does a deft job rescuing their story from oblivion and writes about all the oddities ofHamptons life with contagious zest. With the dropping of names from Wyandanch to Spielberg, Book Hampton should have trouble keeping it in stock.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Philistines at the Hedgerow

By Steven Gaines

Little, Brown

Copyright © 1998 Steven Gaines
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-30941-9

Chapter One

The Pasha

ONE FRIDAY NIGHT in December 1991, while dining at the home of Bruce Cotter, a retired East Hampton police lieutenant, real estate magnate Allan M. Schneider began to choke on a piece of rare sirloin steak lodged in his windpipe.

Schneider, fifty-four, was the most powerful broker in all the Hamptons-"the Pasha," as he was affectionately called by his staff-with offices in Southampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, and East Hampton and revenues approaching $100 million. His empire had grown even larger that morning when he closed a deal to acquire a fifth office, in Amagansett. The new office, plus the imposing Allan M. Schneider Agency headquarters he was erecting along the highway in Bridgehampton, would seal his domination in the Hamptons real estate market.

Shortly after signing the papers at the lawyer's office, Schneider started to drink-first with celebratory champagne, then a three-martini lunch at Gordon's restaurant-and he hadn't really quit since. Earlier in the day he had called his secretary, Rochelle Rosenberg, who gave him his messages and said, "I'll see you on Monday, Allan."

Allan answered playfully, "Maybe you will, maybe you won't."

The Cotters, one of the many local families with whom Schneider was close, had invited him over for a steak dinner to mark the occasion and, they hoped, sober him up. It was Schneider's hallmark that he was friendly not only with the wealthy Summer Colony but with the hoi polloi, the farmers and tradesmen who were the "real people" of the town. He had met Cotter soon after arriving in the Hamptons in 1968, when the lieutenant had pulled him over on Montauk Highway for a traffic infraction. Allan stunned the policeman by inviting him home for a drink. Cotter indignantly declined, but over the years Allan became a good friend to Cotter and his wife, Carol Lynn. When Cotter retired from the force, Schneider invited him to sell real estate for the firm, where he became a valued employee.

That December night at Cotter's house, Allan was cutting pieces of steak and shoving them into his mouth, several at a time, chewing and talking, very drunk and red in the face, when a chunk of meat got caught in his throat and he couldn't swallow or speak. Cotter, who was trained in the Heimlich maneuver, calmly walked around behind Schneider's chair and pulled the short, corpulent real estate broker to his feet. Then he clasped his hands around Schneider's girth and with a mighty tug pulled upward. The steak dislodged with dramatic force, shooting ten feet across the room. Schneider gasped for air and sank into his chair, his blue blazer and starched white shirt askew. He loosened the striped rep Princeton tie at his neck and looked ashamed.

"I'm so embarrassed," he said, uncharacteristically meek. He managed a wan smile to his dinner companions, showing small, ivory-colored teeth. "I'm so sorry," he repeated, looking blankly at the take in front of him. For a moment there wasn't a sound in the room. Then Allan pitched over to the side and hit the floor with such a thud, the walls shook.


Excerpted from Philistines at the Hedgerow by Steven Gaines Copyright © 1998 by Steven Gaines. Excerpted by permission.
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