“There are bigger houses, and houses with more bells and whistles. But there is not a more magical place in all the world.” – Dick Cavett, on Tick Hall
One of the Montauk Association houses known as the Seven Sisters, built by McKim, Mead and White, has been sold. Tick Hall, as the historic home is known, was first listed back in 2017 for a cool $62 million; the price was then cut to $48.5 million. Finally it was chopped to $28.5 million before the place enticed a buyer; the transaction closed last week for $23.6 million, the highest price in Montauk so far this year. Chris Coleman of Compass represented both the seller and the as yet identified buyers.
The house belonged to legendary TV personality, author, and raconteur Dick Cavett for more than 50 years. In fact, 2017 was the first time the property had ever been on the market. Previous owners had sold to friends who they knew would take care of the nearly 20-acre spread, which borders another 170 acres of parkland and includes the 6,500-square-foot residence with over 900 feet of ocean frontage. There’s a private walkway to the sandy ocean beach known as “Cavett’s Cove,” along with a freshwater pond and, tucked in the woods with an ocean view, a lagoon-like swimming pool.
Over the years, Tick Hall has hosted scores of notable people, including Jack Paar, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, Mary Tyler Moore, Dustin Hoffman, Julian Schnabel, Lauren Bacall, Alec Baldwin, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Javier Bardem, Robert Redford, and Muhammed Ali. Woody Allen came to visit and was overcome by the beauty of the place. He said, “Cavett, this is a storybook setting.”
Tick Hall was built in 1882 for Alexander E. Orr, a businessman who was president of New York’s Transit Commission. It wasn’t called Tick Hall, however, until after it was purchased by lawyer and civic leader Harrison Tweed in 1924, who happened to notice the propensity of the bugs in the local underbrush. Six friends purchased the house along with the Tweeds, putting in about $2000 each. They all had enjoyable weekends together: men in the group were called Ticks, wives called Tickesses, and children were called Tickettes.
Oddly, Tick Hall is the only one of the Seven Sisters with direct ocean frontage. In the 1920s, Tweed bought all the available land down to the ocean, plus additional acreage behind the house. His friends thought he was crazy to blow five dollars per acre on the land, saying, “Who will ever come to visit this ‘wild and inconvenient’ place far out on Long Island?”
In the late 1960s, the Tweeds decided to downsize and rent out Tick Hall. That’s when Dick Cavett first saw the place. He later said, “It made me gasp.” Cavett’s late wife Carrie Nye participated in the documentary “From the Ashes: The Life and Times of Tick Hall,” saying “I found where I lived. Not just where I hang my hat but where I lived.” The young couple bought the house and set about restoring it.
And then, in March 1997, it was gone. Tick Hall caught fire while the roof was being repaired and burned to the ground in a shockingly short amount of time. In “From the Ashes,” Cavett says he learned, “You can lose everything you’ve got, everything you love. It’s over, that’s it — it’s gone.” Nye simply said, “Well. We’ll just build it back. it had to be put back. It was like the moon: you needed it back.”
“Everyone pulled together and truly rebuilt it as if original, even down to the creak in the stairs,” Cavett said. “We asked the builders to sand down some of the door saddles so they’d look as though many feet had been crossing them for many years, and the porch sags just a little, as it did before.” No plans existed for the house, so the architects and designers had to work from old photographs. Now the house boasts excellent insulation, full central air and heat, new wiring, and plumbing are all up to code. But all the old, original touches are still there.
After Nye died, Cavett eventually remarried and his new wife, Martha, added her own tweaks: the kitchen was enlarged, a new bathroom installed and screened porches were added both upstairs and downstairs. So in keeping with the original design were those new additions that the local historic approval board reportedly said, “Good. Now it looks as though it’s finished.” A fitting flourish for this storybook home.