Falmouth Home is Replica of Grey Gardens
By: Brent Runyon
The facade of a home on Elm Road, Falmouth, is a replica of the Grey Gardens mansion in East Hampton, Long Island, which was the setting of a documentary, a Broadway musical, and a feature film after it fell into disrepair in the 1960s and 1970s.
Unlike the Long Island version, the Falmouth version of Grey Gardens, at 485 Elm Road, is all new construction. From the street it is a near match for the late 19th-century mansion.
The home is on Oyster Pond, a short distance from Surf Drive and the bike path and is on sale for over $3 million.
“It’s only the front of the house, but from top to bottom and side to side, it’s almost exactly Grey Gardens,” said owner Michael E. Jaye. Some exterior details and the interior layout do not match the original mansion, he said, which has an additional wing and is twice as big.
The original Grey Gardens was the home of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter of the same name, known as “Little Edie.” The eccentric women were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis and the subject of the documentary “Grey Gardens,” which was released in 1975.
The film depicts the women discussing their lives and their relationship while surrounded by piles of old clothes and other refuse, while cats and raccoons roam freely through the house. The documentary became a cult classic and was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2006 and an HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore in 2009.
Learns of the Grey Gardens story
Mr. Jaye built the house without knowing anything at all about the story of Grey Gardens. He has never seen the films or the theatrical production.
“I was Googling shingle-style homes and up comes a picture of this house that was exactly what I was looking for, and I just loved it,” Mr. Jaye said. He sent the photograph, which did not include the name of the home, to architect Leonard J. Baum of Cranston, Rhode Island, and instructed him to design the home around the front facade. “I had no idea that we were copying Grey Gardens,” he said.
Mr. Baum went to work copying the front of the house from the photograph and designed the interior floor plan to Mr. Jaye’s specifications. “Usually I work the facade with the plans together, but in this case I had a facade, and I had to work the plans to that,” Mr. Baum said. “It wasn’t until I basically had it pretty well rendered that we discovered it was a famous house.”
Mr. Jaye discovered the fact when he came across another photograph of Grey Gardens taken after it fell into disrepair. In it,“Little Edie,” in a fur coat and head scarf, stands in weeds up to her waist in front of Grey Gardens. In the background masses of vines climb to the second floor of the home.
“I saw this picture of my house in complete and total disrepair, and I said, ‘Time out, this can’t be my house,’ ” Mr. Jaye said.
After some more Internet searching, Mr. Jaye learned the story of how the Beale women lost their wealth and continued to live in Grey Gardens as it crumbled around them. “They lost their fortune and just became a couple of recluse lunatics who ended up living in a condemned house,” Mr. Jaye said.
Director recounts filming of "Grey Gardens"
The Beales were more than reclusive eccentrics to Albert Maysles, one of the directors of the documentary. He counts “Grey Gardens” as one of his favorite films, because of what it reveals about the personalities of and the relationships between these two complicated women, he said in a phone interview yesterday.
The Beales were very easy to work with, he said, but filming the documentary was difficult because of the condition of the home.
“The first thing you noticed was the smell from all the animals,” he said. Mr. Maysles said he considered it a compliment that his film indirectly inspired Mr. Jaye to replicate Grey Gardens. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said.
The original Grey Gardens is no longer in disrepair. After the elder Ms. Beale died in 1977, the house was sold to Washington Post editor Benjamin C. Bradlee and his wife, writer and Washington hostess Sally Quinn, in 1979. “They bought it and restored it to its original brilliance,” Mr. Jaye said, a process that took several years.
Mr. Jaye discovered one more case of life imitating art while doing research about the house. In comparing photographs from different eras, Mr. Jaye realized that the picture he copied was actually not the real Grey Gardens.
“Here’s the funniest part,” he said. “The picture I went by wasn’t even the original house. It was the house that they built for the [HBO] movie.” The picture that inspired him to build his house, was actually a set built especially for the film.
Falmouth's Grey Gardens goes on the market
Falmouth Grey Gardens was to be a seasonal residence for Mr. Jaye and his wife, Regina, who spend the rest of their time in Scottsdale, Arizona. But just months after it was finished the couple decided to sell, because they prefer the weather and lifestyle in Arizona, where Mr. Jaye is retired and owns a cigar shop. It did not make sense to hold onto such an expensive house, he said, but he is very proud of how it turned out.
In a tour of the home yesterday afternoon, Mr. Jaye pointed out the details he spent so much time and money on. Features include a large entryway and formal staircase, walls of built-in cabinets and closets tucked under the eaves, all to make the home feel like a relic of an earlier age.
Mr. Jaye said he hoped to make back the money he spent on the house. He purchased the property for $1,125,000 in March 2010. If it does not sell, Mr. Jaye said he will return to Falmouth occasionally to stay in the house.
Mr. Jaye is 66 and from Boston originally. He founded a women’s apparel company called Cricket Lane Casuals and sold the company in 1990. Since that time he has been a real estate developer in Boston and Falmouth.
Mr. Jaye grew up in modest circumstances and did not attend college. He said yesterday that he plans to establish a scholarship at Falmouth High School. The $5,000 scholarship will be for a Falmouth High School senior from a low-income family who wants to further their education by attending a trade school or a college, he said. “They just have to be dirt poor and a really good citizen,” Mr. Jaye said. He wanted to provide a scholarship for a student who might follow the same path he did, he said.
The home on Elm Road in Falmouth is listed with Robert Paul Properties for $3,195,000. The fact that the facade replicates Grey Gardens is a selling point. Realtor Paul Grover said the home could appeal to someone who wants a newly built seasonal home that feels like an old home. It could also appeal to someone who loves the original Grey Gardens, he said.