A Gin Lane Estate Boasts History, Expansive Waterfront

BY MIKE OLSON | August 6, 2013 |

Never cross a socialite with cash to burn. Back in 1928, heiress Jessie Woolworth Donahue, daughter of dime-store magnate F.W., and her husband, James P. Donahue, applied for membership at the exclusive Southampton Bathing Corporation. They certainly had the resources, but the pair reeked of “new” money—the type who wore diamonds during the day and bragged that all the tableware in their opulent Gin Lane estate was made of gold—and were promptly denied. So they did what any self-respecting, filthy-rich couple would: They built the finest pool house in town directly across the street.

“Jessie was the daughter of a merchant, but they threw very glamorous parties at the pool house,” says Gary Lawrance, coauthor of Houses of the Hamptons: 1880–1930, who explains how the Donahues poached party guests. “Theirs were much better than the beach club’s, so there was a little door in the brick wall where, supposedly, members would come over on Sunday afternoons to be entertained in great style.”

Wooldon Manor, the couple’s 58-room Gilded Age mansion that once sat on Gin Lane, has since been demolished—it fell into disrepair after Donahue’s death and was eventually taken down in 1941 by its new owners—but that not-so-humble pool house still stands. And with its 10,000 square feet, seven bedrooms, and 475 feet of oceanfront, the $48 million estate deserves the title of most coveted property in Southampton.

Designed by Treanor & Fatio, a firm renowned for its work in Palm Beach, the pool house has seen its fair share of changes over the years. The building has been expanded, but those changes, made in the spirit of what the Donahues commissioned decades ago, only add to the charm.

“It has this estate feeling to it, but the house is perfect for someone who wants to live there formally or casually,” explains The Corcoran Group’s Tim Davis, who is colisting the property with colleague Peter Huffine (as well as Sotheby’s International Realty). “What’s been added has been added with a courtesy to what was preexisting. It looks old, but it feels new.”

Indeed, the soaring wood beams and vaulted ceilings of the original large living hall and taproom have been mirrored throughout this Gin Lane estate. And though the Tudor style home may seem intimidating in size, Davis points out its comfortable proportions. “It might sound silly, but it’s a manageable house,” he explains. “It appears overwhelming because it’s such a big roofline, but within those 10,000 square feet are manageable rooms. They are comfortable and intimate.”

That extends upstairs to one of Davis’s favorite areas of the home, the master suite, a 1,000-square-foot space with high ceilings and a large dressing room and sitting area. Another noteworthy area is the family dining kitchen with its vaulted ceiling and—as one would expect from an oceanfront home—panoramic views of the Atlantic. Said view is also on display on the seaside terrace, another breathtaking space that has endured the test of time.

Off the water, the home boasts outdoor areas equally befitting a socialite, including the gorgeous pool (with a new, more austere pool house) situated to get the ideal afternoon sun, the gazebo greenhouse with its formal gardens, and a tennis court tucked away from prying eyes.

Look north across the manicured lawns to where the original Wooldon Manor “cottage” once stood, and view the five-and-a-half-acre expanse that’s included in the $48 million listing price. However, the estate’s new owners have the option to expand even further, as an additional eight acres north of the estate are available for purchase (and are currently subdivided into four building lots).

None of the home’s attributes—a choice waterfront location, views of the sunset over Lake Agawam, close proximity to town—happened by accident. In fact, before the Donahues discovered this gem, this was the very spot where Dr. Theodore Gaillard Thomas constructed the first-ever Hamptons summer cottage in 1876. “Dr. Thomas encouraged his blue-blood friends to come and build along the lake,” says historian Lawrance of how it all began. “Years later, the Donahues bought the old Thomas house, tore it down, and built the pool house. So it really sits on the founding site of the Southampton summer colony.”

“It’s an iconic property and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” adds Davis of the home on Gin Lane, which is available for the first time in 30 years. Indeed, just as John Paulson with Old Trees and Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Ballyshear, the buyer of the former Wooldon Manor will instantly make an entrance into high society. “For someone in the international crowd, whether it’s Asia or South America, or parts where we haven’t seen many buyers in the marketplace, this is a way of coming here and being part of the community right away,” Davis adds. “They can open up their home to charities and say, ‘Here you go.’” Jessie Woolworth Donahue would be proud. Tim Davis, The Corcoran Group, 88 Main St., Southampton, 283-7300



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