by Chris Verga |
Pushed back behind the dunes and falling prey to the sand-swept beaches sits a large house and two adjacent small structures.
Vacant with boarded-up windows, the wind off the ocean whistles through the fascia boards. Haunting images of grandeur impregnate the dimly lighted interior, which stands as a relic of a once-bustling artist community.
Along with the property, two buildings that once housed the Lone Hill Life Saving Station stand as a testament to the ruggedness of the unforgiving elements of nature. The duality of both structures, which make up the Carrington Estate, reflects the parallel of this island in the sun.
The original bungalow was built in 1909 for Frederick Marquet. The additional buildings, which were the two abandoned buildings of the Lone Hill Life Saving Station in Fire Island Pines, were moved to the site in 1947.
The property switched hands to Frank Carrington, owner of the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. Under the ownership of Carrington, the property became an incubator of creativity for artists, which was furthered by his creation of The Arts Project of Cherry Grove. The Art Project created collaboration between gay and straight men and women artists.
“It’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”
This is one of the most memorable lines in Truman Capote’s most famous work, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This quote is most likely inspired by Truman Capote looking up at the endless sky outside the Carrington Estate on Fire Island.
While writing these famous words, Capote met Joan McCracken, who would inspire him to create the main character Holly Golightly. Staying at the Carrington Estate, Capote would encounter Henry Fonda or Katherine Hepburn walking along the beach, taking in the sun. A local talking point is that Capote and Harper Lee collaborated on literary ideas that may have materialized into the book, To Kill a Mocking Bird.
In later years Frank Carrington deeded the building and surrounding 6.7 acres to the Fire Island National Seashore, in hopes of making a museum that carries on the legacy of the arts.
From 1976 to 1997, the National Park ranger Bob Freda, and his family, occupied the home.
The years that followed 1997, the property fell into disrepair, but in 2012 the Fire Island Land Trust began an extensive restoration, and registered the estate on the National Register of Historic Places.
Progress in restoration has been delayed due to dune line restoration, but a renewed interest has been cultivated between the surrounding communities of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines on making good on the 50-year-old promise to Frank Carrington of a museum that preserves the legacy of the mid-century artist nexus.
In a follow-up statement from Fire Island National Sea Shore Superintendent Alex Romero said, “The National Park Service (NPS) has done work to maintain the outside of the main house and cottage, but rehabilitation of the interior of the structures are still needed. The NPS has engaged local cultural and historical societies from Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines to help achieve our goal of restoring and activating the site. We want these buildings to be used and protected in such a way that highlights the layered LGBTQ history of the area, and the unique natural environment Fire Island has to offer.”