By: Martha Weir
Posted: Saturday, October 31, 2015 9:02 am
She Had the Eye
By Martha Weinman Lear
When I first came to the Hamptons in the summer of 1981, Tina Fredericks, who died in May at age 93, was the pooh-bah of East End real estate agents. “Realtor to the Stars”: So she anointed herself in her business ads, and so she was. The impression, widely held and not discouraged by Tina, was that she was the Queen Bee, and the rest were drones. It was more or less true.
I had rented (not through Tina) a house in Water Mill: a grand old shingled, veranda-ed, three-story, 12-room, post- Victorian wreck looking out upon a broad greensward that sloped tenderly down to Mecox Bay. There were massive trees. There were rushes at water’s edge. There were swans gliding. There were evocations of Merchant & Ivory. The rent was $12,000 for the summer.
Midsummer, the owners came to confer with me. They were getting a divorce and were putting the house up for sale. Since I was currently in residence, it was being offered to me first. They were embarrassed to tell me the asking price. “Things are getting crazy out here,” the husband said, red-faced. The price was $325,000.
“Buy it!” Tina hissed in my ear as we stood on the veranda gazing upon all there was to gaze upon, which was plenty. “The land alone is worth twice as much.”
Of course, the land alone, in the bittersweet fullness of time, would come to be worth more like — I’m guessing here, perhaps absurdly lowballing it — 10 times as much. Even Tina could not have anticipated the full dimensions of the tulip-bulb craze that would sweep over these golden acres. But she was, in her moment, ahead of the game. She had the eye. She had the nose.
I needed a 12-room house like I needed a hernia. Anyway, it was impossible. I had neither the means nor the spirit. I was recently widowed and still a bit of a basket case, beset by ghosts that prowled the Provincetown house, a dear, decrepit behemoth smack on the harbor, that my husband and I had owned. I wanted to sell it, I didn’t want to sell it, and in the throes of that indecision had taken the advice of friends, who urged a change of scene and found me this place in Water Mill.
I called Tina. There were connections. Way back I had worked for The New York Times, where her then-husband, Rick Fredericks, the Sunday picture editor, had been my pal and colleague. Now she and I met, hit it off, and fell easily into the habit of dining together often. We had mellow dinners in the lovely Georgica Road carriage house (purchased by Tina and Rick in 1950 for $6,500) that was her home and office. We sat rocking, nursing drinks, and trading intimate war stories on my dandy veranda-by-the-bay (which she never visited without sighing, “The land alone . . .”).
Land was much on her mind that season. Land was always much on Tina’s mind, but especially that season. She and a partner were developing something new on the Hamptons landscape: an ambitious amalgam of co-op units and private homes, all spread over 150 rolling acres that had once been a dairy farm.
That summer, her vision existed mostly on paper. By the next, it was almost complete. I saw it often, traveling east along Route 27. It looked like a period etching, a pastoral dream incarnate. Horses peacefully grazing in a huge meadow that sloped upward from the road. At the top of the incline, the silver crowns of two vintage silos gleaming in the sun. Big open spaces. Clusters of co-op units discreetly hidden from one another by the lay of the land, a
touch of the Japanese aesthetic, a tad of the potato barn in the way they hugged the ground.
Condos and co-ops, though common enough in the city, were still a rarity on the East End. “It’s the future!” Tina said, waving an arm as though to summon the future now. “Somebody else takes care of the pool! Somebody else takes care of the tennis court! Somebody else takes care of the grounds!”
I was still not in the market, and Tina knew it. “Oh, I wish . . . ,” I would say, and she would say, “Well, maybe someday. . . .” But by the time someday arrived, my life had taken several different turns, and I was no longer spending summers in the Hamptons.
In 2000 I was remarried, to a man who had himself been widowed. With his late wife he had owned a vacation house in Springs, which was traded for a house on the Connecticut shore, to be closer to their children, which was traded for no house at all because, he said, the hell with it. Enough of the groundskeeping and the deck repairing and the tennis-court maintaining. No more houses.
And sitting there in our co-op on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I heard a bell. Ping. Or maybe a voice. A remembrance of a voice long past, coming softly, seductively, through the ether: “Somebody else takes care of the pool! Somebody else takes care of the tennis court! Somebody else. . . .”
Et cetera. Also, eureka.
“Uh. How about a co-op?” I said.
So we came and we saw and he liked and we bought, and I have never since had any cause to beware the 30-year-old wish that came true.
Tina was long retired by then, and ailing. So she never knew, which I regret. And now she is gone and sometimes, particularly in those hours when we are sitting idle-handed on our little patio and watching somebody else cut the grass, I find myself thinking of her. Salut, Tina, I think, lifting a glass. You had the nose.
Martha Weinman Lear’s most recent book is “Echoes of Heartsounds,” published last year.