Iconic Gardiner Estate Now on the Market
By mike olson
In the history of Long Island, perhaps no family has left more of a mark than the Gardiners. Of course, considering King Charles I gave patriarch Lion Gardiner control of their 3,300 acre island back in 1639, the clan did get a bit of a head start. Today, Gardiners Island, which is located between the North and South Forks (in Gardiners Bay, naturally), remains the only privately owned land in the country that was part of an original royal grant. But from their Sagtikos Manor in West Bay Shore to the restored estate now for sale in East Hampton, the Gardiners’ influence is felt up and down Long Island.
“The Gardiner family is deep in our history,” says Alexandra Wolfe, director of preservation services at the Society for the Preservation Services of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA). “These old families—the Gardiners, the Sylvesters, the Townsends—really shaped the development of Long Island.” And as the Gardiners evolved from farmers into the landed gentry, the family’s history has tracked that of the East End.
Nowhere is this more evident than at 127 Main Street in the heart of East Hampton. When the original house here was destroyed by a 1938 hurricane, Robert David Lion Gardiner was determined to rebuild. But he wasn’t interested in re-creating a stodgy old country house; instead, Gardiner turned to Wyeth and King, an architecture firm based all the way in Palm Beach. “Florida is where the latest great houses were being built at the time,” Wolfe explains. “The cottages in Newport were the late 1890s, but this is the next wave. There’s a cross-pollination between Florida and the Northeast.”
The result, a 12,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom mansion with 22-inch thick walls able to withstand virtually any force of nature, was unlike anything in the area. “It reminds me of a mid-Atlantic stone manor house,” says Wolfe. “In terms of its setting on Long Island, it’s almost like the Gardiners are expressing their manorial heritage through this home.”
But when you have an entire island to maintain, some things get short shrift, and by the time Robert David Lion’s estate was ready to sell 127 Main Street in 2004, the home had fallen into disrepair. “It was in really rough shape,” remembers The Corcoran Group’s senior vice president Tim Davis, who sold the house for the Gardiner estate and is also handling the new listing. “The windows hadn’t been opened in years and were painted shut; there were leaks in the roof; the wrought iron was rusted out; every fixture and surface had to be restored.”
Luckily, the home’s new owners were up for the challenge, launching a meticulous five-year (and eight-figure) restoration with original photos—some of which were discovered in the wine cellar—as a guide. “It was a total gut renovation of the structure,” says Davis, who emphasizes that the owners restored every period detail they could, from arched French doorways and plaster moldings to the Gardiner family crest, which is still on display in the living room mantle. “That kind of effort went into every inch of it,” Davis adds. “As you walk through, you can see it and understand it.”
Naturally, any proper restoration of a 20th-century legend calls for a few 21st-century touches, and 127 Main Street has plenty. The home has been completely re-wired for smart house technology, including a climate system that can be accessed via LCD touch pads, an extensive 32-camera security system, and new geothermal heating that warms up the slab marble bathroom floors. And for those really lazy days, the two-and-a-half-story home now boasts a brand new elevator and a mahogany screening room.
Sitting on a tree-lined stretch of Main Street, the estate’s five-plus acres—one of the largest intact parcels of land in downtown East Hampton—received the same attention. Today, the grounds feature a restored U-shaped hedge and stone path in front of the home, plus hundreds of freshly landscaped evergreen and cypress trees that lead to a heated swimming pool and two new fountains that help create a period feel. (To hammer that home, the driveway has been reconfigured to create a formal courtyard with a fountain in the middle.)
Needless to say, it can be easy to forget you are just steps from the heart of East Hampton. “When you’re in the house or out by the swimming pool, you have no sense of being that close to the village center,” Davis promises. “It’s only once you step beyond the entrance gates that you have a sense of where you are. Being in the country but at the same time convenient to everything else is a very nice feeling.”
Amazingly, even as the house hits the market for $26.5 million, the dedicated owners continue to make improvements by adding new trees and landscaping. “There’s nothing better than working with someone who is so appreciative of the historic nature of the house and willing to go through a painstaking experience to make sure it’s authentic,” Davis attests. As a result, he’s confident that the right buyer will find 127 Main Street and place his or her own stamp on this landmark East End home. “It’s an enormous canvas to work with, though it’s not blank,” says Davis. “It’s one that you keep adding to over time.” Tim Davis, The Corcoran Group, 88 Main St., Southampton, 283-7300
photography by Jared P Hendren (living room, dining room)