13 December 2009

Tick Hall

The thing I love about blogs is finding like-minded people and people who mention an item that takes you on a journey. Recently, A Bloomsbury Life asked her readers to identify a Montauk house. Her readers did well, identifying Peter Beard’s home rather quickly. It made me think of another Montauk house, Tick Hall.

I was going to write about it, but got distracted. Last week, I saw The Seduction of Joe Tynan an old political movie from the 1970’s. Tick Hall and The Seduction of Joe Tynan share something, the actress Carrie Nye.

Born and raised in, Mississippi, she began acting as a child. She honed her craft at Yale Drama School where she met her husband, Dick Cavett. Unfortunately, she never found that quintessential role that would have made her a star. On the stage, Tennessee Williams believed her to BE, Blanche Dubois. She was nominated for an Emmy for playing Tallulah Bankhead, managing to “out Tallulah” Tallulah. When asked to name her favorite role, Nye said,
“None of them. I got into acting so I wouldn’t have to cook or make the bed.”

Primarily known as a stage actress, when Nye was in a movie, she usually had a small role, but that role always stole the show. With her deep southern drawl, she delivered lines that were cruel and vicious and yet she retained a humor and regal quality that made her irresistible to watch. The Seduction of Joe Tynan starred Alan Alda and Meryl Streep, but what you remember about the film is Carrie Nye. Nye is the wife a piggish senator. Alda as Tynan is the “good” senator. At a Washington party (Nye’s big scene) he sits beside her and she propositions him:
“Why don’t you come over to my house sometime and we’ll have an affair.”
Nye manages to put 4 syllables in the word “affair.” When a woman in the room behaves too suggestively, Nye leans over to her sofa mate and states:
"I think that lady might stand to make herself fifty dollars real easy tonight -- (pregnant pause) -- That is, if she can get up the stairs 10 or 12 times."
That humorous wickedness is a true joy to watch.

Carrie Nye and Dick Cavett owned Tick Hall and another house in a collection of seven houses built by Stanford White on Montauk. Known as the "The Seven Sisters" or the Montauk Point Association Houses they are an architectural treasure. Built in 1880 above the bluffs of Montauk Point, the houses were some of the first examples of homes as a specific seasonal escape from the city.

Frederick Law Olmsted was the landscape architect. He positioned the houses in a flying-V to made the most breezes from the sea. The unique formation had another advantage, giving each house an uninterrupted view of the ocean. The concept for the houses was to be a convivial compound for Arthur W. Benson and his buddies. Benson paid $151,000 for the large tract of land, but as time went on, the boy’s playground became a place for family.

In 1997, Tick Hall burned to the ground, taking with it the heirloom’s from Nye’s Mississippi family home, including a rare Regina Upright Music Box. Most people would have been devastated by such a loss. Nye remained the stoic Southerner she often played. She decided to rebuild Tick Hall. Not merely replace it but rebuild it, exactly as it had been build by McKim, Mead & White in 1883. Nye was unable to find the original plans, so she gathered photos from family and friends, hired Wasa Architects and Engineers in New York to to raise the house from the ashes.Wasa was involved in the restoration of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterwork.

Tick Hall had 50 windows with virtually none of a standard size. They ranged from eight feet high in the living room to small stained-glass dormers on the second floor. The architects used records kept by a drapery maker to get the actual heights of the windows. A concession was made to the foundation, which would not pass modern fire codes, but the new foundation was covered in a brick façade to mimic the 1883 foundation. When the architect suggested improving on the tall and heavy living room windows whose old chains had given way, Nye responded indignantly, ''Absolutely not!''

Since she and Cavett had owned the house, the expansive porch featured a sag. Nye demanded the sag be replicated, and it was.

Filmmaker Scott Morris made a documentary of the reconstruction. From The Ashes: The Life and Times of Tick Hall is a must watch for anyone who loves architecture and restoration.

Carrie Nye died in 2006 from lung cancer. She will be greatly missed.

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