YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Your Mama knows some people–a lot of people, actually–who have lived in New York City their entire adult lives and never made the trip down Brooklyn’s fantastically diverse Flatbush Avenue to The Rockaways, a collection of mostly working class communities in Queens that line up along a narrow spit of sand barely three blocks wide at some points. For many, Manhattanites in particular, The Rockaways might as well be the moon since it seems terribly far away not to mention an entirely different socio-cultural world. Pity that. Besides having about 4-miles of gorgeous ocean frontage with wide sandy beaches–some of which are, believe it or not, pristine–The Rockaways are a fascinating slice of the amazing pie that makes up New York City.
There are basically three parts of the Rockaways: Breezy Point, the Far Rockaways, and everything in between. The Far Rockaways, at the eastern end directly south and in the flight path of J.F.K. International Airport, was once a summertime getaway for rich and famous types like W.C. Fields and Mae West. It also happens to be where big bad Bernie Madoff and his wifey Ruth grew up. Time hasn’t been kind to the once chic Far Rockaways which today is a pretty rough and tumble jumble of neighborhoods that range from pretty nice to downright scary.
At the far western end of the Rockaways is Breezy Point, a small gated cooperative enclave that in 2001 the New York Times called “the whitest place in New York” due to its 98% Caucasian population. The Rockaways–and Breezy Point in particular–have long attracted a large number of members of the New York City police and fire departments and heaps and hordes of people of Irish descent, which has led to The Rockaways sometimes being referred to as the “Irish Riviera.”
In between Breezy Point and the Far Rockaways are a collection of neighborhoods that range from the gang infested Hammel Houses to working class Rockaway Park to the upscale Belle Harbor made famous in November of 2001 when American Airlines flight 587 crashed into the neighborhood resulting in the deaths of more than 260 people.
Nowadays, mixed in with all the fire people, po-po, Irish, and working class locals who flock to the beach in the summertime to escape the crushing humidity are city folks and scads of arty farty hipster types who have discovered that it’s a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to get to The Rockaways on the A-train than it is to get to the Hamptons, Fire Island, or even Robert Moses State Park on Long Island.
Straddling the border between the upscale Belle Harbor and the even more upscale Neponsit neighborhoods at the western end of The Rockaways, a somewhat out of its element ocean front glass and cedar sided contemporary is currently on the market with an asking price of $4,495,000. The owners of the house, which was designed and completed in 2008 by New York City architect Edward Mills, is Oscar nominated (documentary) filmmaker Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Chicago 10, Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America, On the Ropes) and his wife Debra Eisenstadt who in addition to being an actor, director, producer, and writer (Oleanna, The Limbo Room) also happens to be the granddaughter Benjamin Eisenstadt, the food condiment packaging tycoon who developed the formula for and designed the pink packet for the sugar substitute Sweet & Low.
The movie making couple picked up their Belle Harbor house in September of 2006 for $3,400,000 according to property records. The Morgen-Eisenstadts are the peeps responsible for the current contemporary architectural iteration of the residence that stylistically speaking could be picked up and happily plunked down in Malibu, CA or the gay gay gay Pines community on Fire Island, NY. Listing information indicates the modern house, a collection of solid masses, transparent planes and unexpected voids fitted together like an intricate puzzle, measures around 5,600 square feet spread over 4 floors and includes 3-4 bedrooms–depending on what one considers a bedroom–and 2 full and 3 half poopers.
The home is entered via an exterior staircase that climbs up to the first floor from the street level. Just beyond the front door is a small but proper entrance hall with coat closet and powder pooper. Several steps down from the entrance hall a long and sort of narrow living/dining room has over-sized windows that looks out onto dune, beach and ocean views. The floors are bee-yoo-tee-fully distressed French oak and the fireplace is a mass of sand colored stacked stone. Since the view is the undisputed star of the show here, artworks in the room are nil and furnishings include little more than a charcoal colored sectional sofa, that like the house is a collection of masses and voids in furniture form, and sculptural rough-edged wooden coffee and dining tables in the stunning style of master woodworker George Nakashima.
The clean lined kitchen/family room has stainless steel counter tops and back splash, concrete floors, and high grade stainless steel appliances wisely juxtaposed against more organic feeling wood cabinetry with flat fronts, visually textured exposed grain, and an ashy/bleached finish. A work island with Wolf range and raised breakfast counter separates the kitchen from the small family room area where a second fireplace with sand colored stacked stone surround is flanked by wood-framed glass doors that slide open to a blue stone terrace with outdoor fireplace and a small but heated ocean view swimming pool.
The lower level of the home, a basement sort of space that’s actually on grade with the street, is comprised of a single car garage, large play room, half-pooper, a trio of large storage rooms and a small but state of the art media room with blood red walls, a titanic 12′ x 7′ screen, and cozy, red velvet covered sectional sofas.
A steep stair rises from behind the kitchen to an airy and light infused second floor hall where there hangs a portrait of Edward Kennedy by Andy Warhol and off of which open the three primary bedrooms. There are two smaller ocean view bedrooms that share a Jack and Jill style pooper with an ocean side window, and a master suite with vaulted ceiling, fireplace, huge walk in closet, and small but dee-luxe sky lit and ocean view pooper with separate tub and frameless glass shower. A wall of sliders opens the bedroom to a semi-private ocean side deck with glass railing.
Another steep stair case with glass rail and open treads leads to the third and top floor where a narrow “L” shaped room opens to a small terrace, the floor of which is punched by two sky lights that look directly down into the master pooper, a situation that could get a little ugly and embarrassing. The top level also includes another half-pooper and glassed in office area that gives way to a large roof terrace where the Morgen-Eisenstadt’s managed–no doubt at considerable expense–to hoist up a free standing hot tub. While this hot tub on the roof is making the ocean and hot tub loving Dr. Cooter wet his pants with glee and envy, Your Mama would like to have seen the sellers spend a few more clams enclosing the hot tub in materials more in line with the gray cedar vertical that clads the exterior of the house. None the less, the roof deck has 360 degree views that in addition to unobstructed and mesmerizing vista of the Atlantic Ocean there are great views of the twinkling lights of New York City, planes landing at J.F.K., and the Verrazano Bridge.
When the house was renovated, the current owners, that would be Mister Morgen and Miz Eisenstadt, spent big to install a 9-zone central air and radiant heat system, a security system that includes six surveillance cameras, and a 13-zone Crestron home automation system through which discreet panels on the walls of each room control the home’s lighting, audio and video systems, as well as the iPod and Sirius radio set ups.
Perhaps Mister Morgan and Miz Eisenstadt have realistically responded to a still sagging real estate market, or maybe because they recognize that in this stiff market the financially qualified buying pool for a house like this in a location like The Rockaways is slim at best, or possibly just because they’re eager to move on to wherever they’re going next, the asking price was recently chopped a couple of times from $5,379,000 to it’s current price tag of $4,995,000.
No offense to the fire, po-po, and hipster people who love it there, but we’re not convinced that for 4 and some million clams The Rockaways is the location of our ocean front dreams. Plus we’re certain our imperious house gurl Svetlana would sooner slit our wrists than contend with the fingerprints and pooch nose juice that stainless steel and exterior glass railings tend to attract in Your Mama and the Dr. Cooter’s home. But dah-uhm children, this house is right up Your Mama’s architectural alley. We’re a bit iffy on a few things such as the tee-vee mounted above the sliders in the master and the switch to a different kind of wood floor in the upstairs poopers is awkward at best, but we’re swooning over the glittering white walls that provide a barely there backdrop for the mix of hard edged and organic elements that play themselves out throughout the house and, of course, that speck-tack-u-lar view of the ocean across the undulating grassy dunes.
listing photos: Corcoran