In 1879, Arthur Benson, president of the Brooklyn Gas Light company and namesake developer of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, bought virtually all of Montauk, the easternmost town in New York’s Hamptons. Paying $151,000 for 10,000 acres (about $4.1 million today), Benson decided to turn the choicest section of his vast purchase into a private hunting and fishing enclave for him and his friends. He hired the most esteemed landscape designer of the day, Frederick Law Olmsted, responsible for the design of Central Park, and a young architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, who went on to become one of the most venerable firms of its time and whose most well-known partner today is Stanford White. Seven houses were built for Benson and six pals, along with a central clubhouse, where food was prepared, parties were had and laundry done.
Today, the houses are known as the Seven Sisters or, less evocatively, the Montauk Association Historic District. The Montauk Association houses are considered important examples of the Shingle Style, a distinctive American architecture especially associated with summer colonies along the eastern seaboard. Set on grassy knolls with sweeping views, these seven residences are not the blingy Newport-style mansions popular with Gilded Age American aristocrats of the time, but rather restrained vacation houses, a cohesive group in which each house is distinct but none stand out as being more important than its neighbor. Nowadays, the area is home to artists Julian Schnabel and Bruce Weber, as well as legendary talk show host Dick Cavett, whose home, Tick Hall, is also on the market.
One of the Seven Sisters was originally owned by a prominent ear and eye surgeon and others an assortment of bankers and businessmen, while this particular house is known as the Andrews House, after its original owner, William L. Andrews, founder of the Grolier Club in Manhattan and the first librarian of the Metropolitan Museum. In 1992, an architect essentially rebuilt the Andrews House for its fourth owner, local restaurant scion Roberta Gosman. The house had “an unusual split-level main floor,” according to a 1994 article in The New York Times, and because original kitchens were tiny — Seven Sisters owners generally ate at the clubhouse — a kitchen wing was added. The Times commented, “McKim, Mead & White’s inventive original detailing, which included saw-tooth arches surrounding the entries to the veranda, was meticulously restored.”
Gosman sold the house in December of 2012 for not quite $7 million, and since then further renovations restored original millwork. Records indicate the property is owned by film producer (and architecture savvy trophy property collector) David Zander. However, two years ago, when The Wall Street Journal reported on the listing, Zander denied owning the house and said it’s actually owned by his nephew, also named David Zander. The younger Zander refused WSJ’s request for comment. So — who knows?
There are 2.3 acres of oceanview but not oceanfront land, and the thoughtfully preserved and extensively updated house spans about 3,800 square feet, with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. There’s no pool, but there’s plenty of room to add one. The property was listed in 2016 for $18.5 million, then cut to $16.25 million nearly two years later. The ask has dwindled quite a bit since then, with a final price tag of $11.95 million. Chris Coleman, at Compass, has the listing.
Sales of the the Seven Sister homes are rare. Besides the 2012 sale of the Andrews House to Zander none of the homes have changed hands in more than 15 years. And certainly this house is not one that will appeal to everyone, not to anyone looking for a palatial seaside mansion with a movie theater and a basketball court in the basement, anyways. But but for anyone with good taste and a penchant for the past, not to mention deep pockets, it’s a unique opportunity to be the next steward of an important home in American architectural history.