Photo: Edith Bouvier Beale at West End Road in East Hampton, L.I. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Grey Gardens, the 6,000 square foot manse sitting atop 1.5 acres of land near East Hampton’s Georgica Beach, has just been put on the market with a listing price of $19.995 million by current owner journalist Sally Quinn, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Grey Gardens rose to notoriety in 1976, when Albert and David Maysles released their documentary film of the same name, depicting the daily lives of two reclusive women, the unforgettable mother-daughter duo, both named Edith Beale. The Beales, who went by “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” were the aunt and first cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Once members of the upper class, by the early 1970s they were reduced to living in squalor in a classic “riches to rags story.”
A National Enquirer feature and subsequent New York Magazine cover story exposed the truth: their home was infested with fleas, cats, and raccoons. They had no running water. Garbage was everywhere. The Suffolk County Health Department threatened eviction and razing the house after their orders were ignored. In 1972, Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill funded the repairs, and the Beales kept their home.
Intrigued, the Maysles made a film that used the direct cinema technique, allowing the women to tell their story in their own words. It was not only the sight of two fallen members of the American aristocracy and their bizarre living arrangements that piqued the public’s interest, but the things they said that made them compelling characters.
“I’m not ashamed of anything,” Little Edie declared. “Where my body is a very precious place.”
Yet this is the same place where Big Edie observed, “The cat’s going to the bathroom right in back of my portrait. I’m glad he is. I’m glad somebody’s doing something they want to do.”
As you might imagine, Grey Gardens was in quite a state when Sally Quinn and her late husband, Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, purchased the house for $220,000 in 1979. But the bones of the mansion, originally built in 1897, were still quote good, and the couple brought it back to life. The video below shows before and after photos revealing the astonishing transformation of Grey Gardens under the guise of Quinn and Bradlee.
Quinn, 75, told The Wall Street Journal, that she decided to sell it after Bradlee died in 2014 at the age of 93. “It’s a magical place and we had a magical life there, but that part of my life is over now. I want to move on.”
Indeed, that would be the nature of the home. Big Edie, died in 1977, and two years later, Little Edie sold it to Quinn and Bradlee. But as Little Edie understood, there was something about the mansion no matter what state it was in, observing in the film, “Grey Gardens is oozing with romance, ghosts, and other things.”
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.