PHOTOS BY JONATHAN BECKER.
( Check out his book, 30 years at Vanity Fair )
First image: Averil Payson Meyer at her Old Walnut Farm with her sons, Overiver Payne Haydock and William Thaw Haydock, and retreiver, Mookie.
Second image: A sign on the property of Francis L. Kellogg, ambassador-at-large under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Nothing disturbed the cozy, dog-hair-on-the-sofa calm of Bedford, New York, a prosperous Cheever-country exurban enclave just 44 miles from Manhattan, until the late 70s, when flashy corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and Ivan Boesky moved in — to be followed over the next two decades by a bevy of high-profile names including George Soros, Ralph Lauren, Michael Crichton, Tommy Mottola, and Donald Trump. But Visiting the now hot town’s fabled hilltop estates, listening to longtime inhabitants, and meeting the recent arrivals, ALEX SHOUMATOFF finds Bedford is holding its own, burnishing brash new fortunes with grace and the patina of old money.
Donald Trump on his 213-acre estate, Seven Springs, which he plans to develop into a “top of the line” golf course, with 200 members paying $300,000 apiece to join.
And So To Bedford, by Alex Shoumatoff. Vanity Fair Magazine, February, 1999.
A version of this article exists here on VanityFair.com (and yes, it’s slightly easier to read there).
We also scanned it. You can see the complete PDF here.
For most of this century the people of Bedford, New York, managed to keep the existence of their rural, woodsy, and very prosperous exurb, only 44 miles from Manhattan, on the Q.T. (An exurb, according to the sociologist A. C. Spectorsky, who wrote the 1955 book The Exurbanites, is the next thing out from the suburbs.) Traditionally, people of wealth and taste, locally called “hilltoppers,” had big houses on hundreds of acres in the 39-square-mile township, but they lived unobtrusively, on di1t roads with battered mailboxes at the foot of long, winding driveways. Affecting the studied seediness of the English gentry, the men puttered about in ratty old tweeds, the women spent the lush days of summer on their knees, with their hands in the soil. Their gardens were their fashion statements.
The style, the very ethos of Bedford, was cozy, countrified simplicity-dog hair on the sofa, the old stone walls along your borders tumbling down. A reserve verging on the ascetic, very different from the showier old Wasp enclaves of neighboring Greenwich, Connecticut, and Locust Valley, prevailed. You’d go over for a drink with one of the grandes dames in her big brick mansion and she’d give you a small glass of Popov vodka, with cheese popcorn served in an aluminum pie tin.
“When I moved here 25 years ago from Long Island, it was more important to have had money than to have it,” John Milnes Baker, a local architect, observed as we were driving around looking at the gorgeous old houses which abound in Bedford. Baker has scads of cousins in the local gentry: Kelloggs, Kembles, Millers, Williamses, Edgars, Holmeses, Jessups, Knapps. They are all descended from the Dutch trader Jacobus Backer; who, in 1655, married the sister of Peter Stuyvesant, the colonial governor of New Netherland, as New York was then called.
There has always been money in Bedford, old money, the presidents of Morgan Guaranty (Patterson, Preston, and Alexander) have been residents. But starting in the late 70’s, the Icahns, Boeskys, and other big-bucksky discovered the town. The Old Guard was dying out or moving up to Heritage Hills, a community mostly for retirees in Somers, 20 minutes north. Their children had with few exceptions made lives for themselves elsewhere, or they couldn’t afford to live in Bedford, owing to attrition of their work ethic or to their having gravitated to less lucrative careers in the arts, or whatever. And so the demographics of Bedford began to change.
The turnover of the old estates accelerated during the 90s, and at the moment Bedford is very hot. Billionaires like George Soros and Ralph Lauren have little fiefdoms in town. Donald Trump is putting in a world-class golf course at Seven Springs, the palatial old Eugene Meyer estate, where Meyer’s daughter, The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham, grew up. The Meyers gave the estate to Yale, and it was later sold to Rockefeller University, from which Trump got it for a song—only $7.5 million. “Just the kitchen is worth two million,” Trump gloated to me recently. There has been an influx of high-profile people, like writer Michael Crichton, actors Glenn Close and Chevy Chase, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and legendary record producer Phil Ramone, who are raising their children here. Tina Brown and Harry Evans, the glitzy Brits of New York publishing, have bought my mother’s best friend’s house, a Currier & Ives American farmhouse with a broad front porch, on the way to Cross River. Tommy Mottola, head of the $5.3 billion Sony Music Entertainment empire, picked up the Wilkie place, after singer Paul Simon decided not to take it last winter. The last time I drove by the house, Mottola was putting in a high gate, cobblestones, and surveillance cameras—virtual emblems of the new Bedford.
This is Mottola’s second house here. A few years ago, on the other side of town, he and his then wife, the singer Mariah Carey, built a 22,000-square-foot eclectic extravaganza, which included such features as a subterranean shooting range, but it failed to save the marriage, which ended less than two years after they had moved in. The house went on the market for $40 million, and last spring a neighbor, the financier Nelson Peltz, plunked down just over half that for it, a record sale for the area.
I recently had tea with 86-year-old Margot Wilkie in her New York apartment; John Cheever wrote of her in his journals, “There is no one who is not in love with Margot Wilkie.” She came to Bedford with three children by Dwight Morrow Jr., a college professor and the brother of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and her second husband, John Wilkie, the head of Central Hudson Gas & Electric, had four of his own, “so we needed a big place and we found that rambling house in Bedford. I lived there for 39 years—longer than anywhere else. There was something about the land that was very generous—the stone walls, the maple trees in the fall, the way the land rolled and spread. It was magical. The relationship with the land was almost English. There were all these nature sanctuaries, and public riding trails ran through everyone’s property.
“When I first arrived, I thought, People free of convention will not be easy to come by in Bedford. But as I got to know them, I came to appreciate their solidity. They had good values, real values that gave substance to a society, and I think the land had a lot to do with it.”
Mottola, on the telephone, told me how when he was a kid his parents used to take the family on drives up winding, two-lane Route 22 from New Rochelle to Armonk to Bedford and then on the dirt roads, through miles of woods and fields. They would occasionally catch a flickering glimpse among the trees of some humongous house. He even camped out and fished on Byram Lake (which is just a few miles from his first Bedford house). “I’ve always gravitated to the country and the woods, so when I grew up I went for it,” he explained.
“This house is going to be different,” he assured me, “not a showplace. This is my sanctuary. I’m only doing just a few additions, including an Adirondack room that looks like an old hunting lodge. This house will be much more country-elegant than formal or palatial, more relaxed.”
Houses, if they’ve been around for any length of time, become like the shells of hermit crabs, inhabited by a succession of tenants who often seem to have little in common. Take the transfer of the Montgomery place, an unpretentious contemporary nestled in the woods, to James “Little Jimmy” Ida, the consigliere of the Genovese clan. The Montgomerys were an attractive Bedford family, but Jan Montgomery had a serious riding accident in 1984 and moved to Santa Barbara. Little Jimmy Ida supposedly picked up the place through a front man in 1993 and soon thereafter erected some birdhouses that were actually surveillance cameras, into which, according to a local resident, birds would fly and be electrocuted. One day, a delegation of members of the adjacent Beaver Dam Sanctuary came to him and said, “You’ve killed all the goldfinches.” Little Jimmy thought they were talking about some people, and he assured them, “I didn’t whack the Goldfinches. I was in Palm Beach.” He is currently doing life for two people he did whack. The house has been seized by the government under the Rico Act, but his wife and children still live there, pending an appeal.
Some of Bedford’s houses, if you trace them back four or five owners, are like ready-made miniseries. For instance, the bad-luck Bellamy house, as a few old-timers still call it, an originally shingle-style mansion recently redone in the Craftsman style. Two of the children of Frederick Wilder Bellamy, a partner in the brokerage firm of Dominick & Dominick, died young in the 1930s. Then, in 1969, Robert Thorson, who had just bought the house, drowned in the family’s bathtub. He was only 37. In the mid-90s, a friend of the son of Bruce and Roni Sokoloff, who had bought the house in 1982 and become movers and shakers in the new Bedford, drove one of their three-wheelers into a tree on the property and was killed. The parents of the dead boy, who had been close friends of the family, sued the Sokoloffs; in 1996 the devastated family sold the house to Michael Crichton for $10 million and left town. The Crichtons wanted to leave Los Angeles, and had been looking for a good place to raise kids. Bedford has a fine day school, Rippowam Cisqua, whose name, like much of the nomenclature of northern Westchester County, comes from the long-departed (actually, massacred and deported would be closer to the truth) local Indians. Not only that, but Crichton’s wife, the actress Anne-Marie Martin, raises Icelandic horses, and Bedford has 175 miles of riding trails. According to neighbors, Crichton’s feng shui master told him that the house was not in harmony with nature, so he gutted it—presumably ending the curse. Either that or the ceilings were too low for the six-foot-nine-inch writer.
There are 12 blue-ribbon trout streams within 50 minutes of Manhattan. Many run through Bedford.
Next door to the Crichtons is the old Nichols place, a huge Georgian brick mansion, which has had an equally bizarre succession of tenants, including an Englishwoman, Della Vanderlip, who claimed to be the personal physician of former Saudi oil minister and OPEC spokesman Sheikh Yamani. In 1983, Della and her husband, Kelvin, applied for a variance to put up a 10-foot wall along the front of their property. There was a stormy meeting of the planning board, pitting the Vanderlips against the entire aroused community. The petition was denied, and shortly thereafter the Vanderlips abruptly skipped town. The house is now inhabited by financier and philanthropist George Soros and his wife, Susan, who have put in a high coniferous hedge through which you can just spy the indoor sports complex, with its pool and tennis court, and the stables. The Soros children go to Rippowam Cisqua, but he isn’t much involved in the community, other, less fortunate parts of the world demanding his urgent attention. “It used to be the big shots got involved. You’d see E. G. Marshall [the actor, who lived on the Mount Kisco end of Bedford and died last year] at town meetings,” R. J. Marx, the editor of The Record Renew, a lively rag that covers Bedford and Pound Ridge, told me. “Now they send their representative.”
Let’s face it, a whole new social life is coming in,” John Renwick Jr., a real-estate agent who is something like 12th-generation Bedford, told me. “The new Bedford resident could come from any walk of life. His only distinguishing characteristic is that he is making money hand over fist.”
Renwick, now 77 years old, is a descendant of Nicholas Webster, one of the 22 Puritans who came up from Stamford, Connecticut, in 1680 and bought 7,673 acres, the initial grant of what two years later became the Town of Bedford, from the Tankiteke Indians for 45 pounds’ worth of trinkets, blankets, and cloth. Renwick’s grandfather Henry Rundle Lounsbery, a real-estate broker, was one of the founders of the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club in 1896. Renwick married his fourth cousin Louise Husted, a great beauty, and they lived in a lovely Colonial right on the Bedford Village Green. In 1990, Louise was walking across the street from the Historical Hall, where she had just voted, when she was struck by a car. A stoplight now hangs over the spot where Louise met her tragic end.
Renwick sold the house in 1997 and moved to a quiet road off in the woods a few miles away. He also turned over his real-estate business to his son Jim. “It was no longer fun,” he explained, recalling how he had shown the old Merrill place, Merlebrook, to a representative of Ralph Lauren’s. (Merlebrook, a large, stone, vaguely Tudorish mansion, was built by Edwin G. Merrill, the president of the Bank of New York, in the 1930s. It was inspired by Lygon Arms, a grand hotel in the Cotswolds.) “The representative liked what he saw and said that his client was very interested, and a few days later Mr. Lauren himself flew in with his architects,” Renwick continued. “He was wearing a long black leather cowboy coat, and after we had finished going through the house, I heard one of his architects whisper to him, ‘This is not authentic,’ and out they all went.” (Lauren bought another estate in Bedford.)
Louise Renwick’s death seemed to mark the end of what might be called Bedford’s classic period, when the social order revolved around three institutions which some wag dubbed the Holy Trinity: St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Rippowam (which later merged with Cisqua, another local private school), and the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club, known simply as the Club. That period peaked in the golden Eisenhower years. Isabel Durcan, who was just about the only Democrat in town, tried unsuccessfully to get Benny Goodman, who had married one of the Hammond girls and was living in Pound Ridge, into the Club. The King of Swing, who was Jewish, was welcome to tee off with the firemen and the shopkeepers on Monday mornings, but joining was out of the question.
It was the world of John Cheever. Cheever lived a few miles away, over in Ossining, but it was really Bedford’s classic period that he wrote about in his stories. The Holy Trinity is still going strong, but most of the town’s 17,000 residents have nothing to do with it, not that they ever did. The Club has a fresh cohort of members in their 30s, “attractive new Bedford,” as a native described them, with Cheevery names like Morley, Bostwick, and Bancroft. As far as loosening up the admissions policy, the Club is “worse than ever,” she told me. “They’re not giving an inch.”
Only a few of the old places are intact, though. An octogenarian who is adamant about not wanting to be “in the papers” is still on her 100-plus acres. “I’m afraid you won’t recognize me,” she said over the phone. It had been years since I saw her. “I’ve become Methuselah’s classmate.”
She confided that she was having a hard time paying the taxes on the place. Three years ago she had had no alternative but to log 500 mature trees.
There was something about the land that was very generous—the stone walls, the maple trees in the fall. It was magical.
Mill Pond Farm, the home of 80-year-old Ambassador Francis L. Kellogg, should be frozen in amber, just the way it is. I pushed the doorbell of the pink house with green trim, which is right on a busy road. There was no response, so I let myself into the tiny rooms of the original, circa-1714 part of the house. I gave a holler upstairs, in one of whose bedrooms a Princeton classmate of Kellogg’s, who had come for the weekend, had ended up staying seven years. No one there. An opera CD was going full blast in the living room, added on in the 20s by the firm of McKim, Mead & White.
I walked out back, down the Via Ernesto, named for Kellogg’s beloved Italian gardener and paved with genuine New York City cobblestones that Kellogg had picked up for five cents apiece in 1947. I paused at the bridge over the Stone Hill River. A swan paddled up from the pond created by the old mill dam a hundred yards downstream, and flared its wings in an elegant display of menace. Two head of miniature Dexter cattle, a rare breed no higher than my waist, trotted up to a stone wall. Kellogg once gave two of his Dexters to a guest from California who thought the small cows would make his property seem larger. Another lucky guest drove home with a pair of Kellogg’s Dexters in his stretch limo.
A small terrier, yapping its head off, came running down from the pool house, but no Kellogg. The door to the mill house, which pre-dates the main house and was first a gristmill, and then a sawmill, was open, but Kellogg was nowhere to be found among the stuffed lion, warthog, topi, and Thomson’s gazelle the ambassador had bagged in Kenya in 1967, before he became president of the World Wildlife Fund and assistant secretary of state under Nixon and Ford. I continued around the pond through his mother’s beautiful gardens. Emilie Baker Kellogg had been a stalwart of the Bedford Garden Club, one of 13 founding chapters of the Garden Club of America.
Bedford, I have always thought, is a matriarchy. To call it a bedroom community is to demean the dominant role of its women, who run the place during the day, while the men are down in the city. The women usually outlive their husbands by decades, and it’s then that they become really powerful. These cultivated ladies started Rippowam in 1917; established the first preserve of the Nature Conservancy (which now has them all over the world) in order to save the 350-year-old virgin hemlocks in the Mianus River Gorge, over toward Greenwich; and also founded both the state troopers and one of the first local chapters of the Audubon Society.
At last I found Kellogg in his garage, trying to start his Bentley. He was unshaven, dressed in blue jeans and a greasy down vest, and happy for an excuse to head up to the house for Bloody Marys.
Joan Van Kleeck and I have known each J other forever. In the 50s she was several years ahead of me at “Rip,” as we all called the school, and in the early 70s, during my brief career as a middle-school science teacher, which coincided with my equally brief first marriage, we were both on the faculty. She was the girls’ field-hockey and softball coach. Now she drives people to the airport, picking up the latest gossip en route. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of who married whom, who divorced whom, where the money came from and where it went, which prep school the kids went to and how they turned out, and is on top of everything remotely scandalous that has happened over the last half-century. One afternoon we drove up Guard Hill Road to see what Carl Icahn, the feared corporate raider and former TWA chief, who used to live in town (his ex-wife, Liba, still does; he moved away in the mid-90s), was doing to Penwood, one of several old estates in the area he is developing.
Penwood was owned by the Tuckers, who are perhaps the most important local dynasty. The money came from Anthony Nicholas Brady, who backed Thomas Edison, and who at his death left one of the largest personal fortunes theretofore accumulated in America. Brady’s daughter Marcia married Carll Tucker Sr., who managed her portion of the inheritance well, and in 1919. the Tuckers finished building a gloomy, many-roomed collegiate-Gothic mansion that was now, Joan and I were not surprised to see, in picturesque ruins.
“I mean, who would ever want to live here?” Joan asked in her irony-dripping drawl as we wandered through the dark, empty rooms. “Can you imagine?” After Mrs. Tucker’s death in 1976, Penwood was sold to a right-wing Catholic sect called the Foundation for Christian Civilization, which wanted to operate a boys’ school on the property. Rumors abounded (and were denied) that the group was a front for a rightwing paramilitary organization, and staged martial exercises on the estate. When they finally gave up the property in 1993, the place had been trashed, and now the house was an unsalvageable white elephant.
The glass-roofed building with the indoor tennis court, where many a debutante party was held, and where Joan gave tennis lessons to generations of Bedford children, was also a teardown, as was the squash court where I used to do battle with young Carll Tucker III in the 70s. On the 296-acre grounds Icahn was putting up the first 3 of the 40 sizable stone and shingle-style mansions he plans to build on the property. They were, we were relieved to see, tasteful and far more livable than Penwood itself.
During the 60s there was a savage battle -L^over which route the new, six-lane Interstate 684, about to be rammed right through the middle of Bedford, would take—through Penwood or, several miles to the east, through the Westmoreland Sanctuary, which Helen Clay Frick, the reclusive daughter of the Pittsburgh steel baron Henry Clay Frick, had created in 1957, and which is where it ended up going. After the interstate was opened, in the early 70s, Bedford was suddenly accessible to anyone driving up from the city.
Soon after, some clever second-story men who became known as the “Dinnertime Boys” started to work the houses in town. They would rob the upstairs floors while the families were downstairs eating supper. At one point the men put a ladder up to the Greens’ house while they were having a large dinner party and relieved them of their jewelry. Or you’d come back from church or from the Club and discover that you’d been burgled. They almost seemed to have an inside accomplice.
The Dinnertime Boys were followed by the even more methodical “Social Register Burglars.” In those days everybody who mattered in Bedford was listed in the blue book (which is actually black). My mother kept it on her bedside table. The burglars, who had a copy, would choose their victims from the book, under the mistaken assumption that everyone listed in it was loaded. Hitting at night, they would grab jewelry and silverware, then jump on 684 and make their getaway. After a joint three-state investigation, the gang was finally caught in flagrante with a trunkful of goods and two well-thumbed copies of the Register beside them.
The 60s hit Bedford hard. “I think the children started to think there was something really rather wrong with the way it was, that it wasn’t an ideal Utopia, with people on the hilltops looking down on the public schools,” Tanya Lowe, whose children came of age during that turbulent decade, reflected a few years ago at a gathering of the Old Guard. (Tanya was born a Litchfield, a family that has had a succession of big houses in Bedford going back to the 1920s. They also own Litchfield Hall, a stone castle on 10,000 acres in the Adirondacks.)
“They’d seen too much of the two cars in the garage,” agreed Kathie Van Cortlandt Wilberding, who grew up in a McKim, Mead & White-renovated farmhouse on Guard Hill, “and the mother who didn’t do much except arrange flowers. I think the kids were right. They gave us a jolt. They didn’t want to live our lives, mother and father and puppy dog.”
By the late 60s there was a counterculture with communes and ashrams to join. Radical lawyer William Kunstler gave a talk on the Bedford Green after the Kent State massacre. Families were split down the middle. By the 70s, wives, inflamed with the new feminism, became restive, and marriages in which the husband had never washed a dish and had no intention of doing so blew up. As divorce became common, the kids at Rippowam grew uncontrollable. Sixth-graders went to school stoned, while their parents sniffed cocaine. John Revson, the Revlon heir, threw wild parties at the old Straus place with his fiancee, the actress Jennifer O’Neill. A half-dozen years later, O’Neill accidentally shot herself in the McLain Street house she was sharing with her fifth husband, who accidentally stabbed himself a few weeks afterward. The house is now being done up by a new buyer, who was no doubt surprised to find lipstick on his gargoyles last Halloween.
I saw a fair amount of Carll Tucker III during this period, due to our mutual interest in racket sports and the written word. He bought The Saturday Review in 1977 from Norman Cousins, then sold it and took over The Patent Trader, a local paper started by his father, who had died in his 40s. In 1976 he married Diane Straus, who was from the prominent Jewish family which owned Macy’s. Diane had been the captain of the women’s tennis team at Yale, and we quietly rooted for her when she was playing one of her matches at the Club, to which, as Tucker’s wife, she was automatically admitted.
At first Carll and Diane lived in a house which Carll had commissioned from the architect Robert Venturi. It was built in the woods of the old Fowler estate and, with its top floor in the canopy, resembled a birdhouse. The architectural critic Vincent Scully called it “the ultimate revolution against Frank Lloyd Wright’s horizontals, a great thrusting arrow out of the ground.” Carll’s mother, Emily, had married Fiduciary Trust Company chairman Harry Fowler, who had inherited a very big house and several smaller big houses on two hundred and some acres on Upper Hook Road. Most of the estate now belongs to Ralph Lauren.
In 1982, Diane gave birth to their second child. Bursting out of the Venturi house, they moved to the David Hays House, right off the Bedford Green. Hays had been a Jewish shopkeeper at the time of the Revolution and turned out to be Diane’s fifth great-grandfather. So she had much deeper roots in Bedford than the Tuckers. The couple made the unusual decision of sending their children to the local public schools, which Glenn Close’s daughter also attends. Living in Bedford was already insulating enough, Diane explained, without sending the kids to private school.
The Closes are one of Greenwich’s founding families, but Greenwich is “shot,” as a former resident put it, its local life smothered by wall-to-wall mansions, so Glenn’s decision to move to Bedford in the mid-80s was quite logical. She lives not far from one of the two houses in town that were used for the terrifying closing scenes of Fatal Attraction, when she tries to murder Michael Douglas. On Saturday Night Live’s 1997 Christmas show, she brought down some of the town’s shopkeepers and service people to join her in a hilarious rendition of “Silver Bells.”
Other people began to discover the beauties of Bedford. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. arrived in 1984. (His house is in adjacent Mount Kisco, which seceded from Bedford in 1978.) After a turbulent youth, he found his metier as an environmental litigator. He busted General Electric for polluting the Hudson, and in 1989 he nailed the Bedford Hills Women’s Correctional Facility for dumping raw sewage into Beaver Dam Creek, which feeds Muscoot Reservoir, part of the New York City water-system. Going through five years of the prison’? own discharge-monitoring reports, Kennedy found 10,000 violations and forced it to put in a new, $10 million treatment plant.
The roster of past and present inmates of the women’s prison reads like the Who’s Who of female crime in America. Amy Fisher (who shot the wife of Joey Buttafuoco), Alice Crimmins (who was convicted in 1971 of killing her two children), Kathy Boudin (who baby-sat for John Baker’s kids in Greenwich Village before becoming a Weatherwoman and pulling the Brinks robbery in 1981), and, most famous, Jean Harris, headmistress of the Madeira School (who in 1980 shot her philandering lover, Herman Tamower, the “Scarsdale Diet” doctor). Harris became a shining example to the inmate population, and was paroled in 1993, three years early. “I was always thinking of going to see her,” Averil Payson Meyer, a Madeira graduate who lives in town, told me.
Bobby Kennedy is “our local riverkeeper,” as a grateful Bedfordite put it. He was the first to take an interest in the quality of the dark, leaf-stained brooks and streams that run through town. Happily remarried to Mary Richardson, with three new children (he has five in all), he lives in the old Goldschmidt place. (Carel Goldschmidt was a Dutch importer of Sumatran tobacco. His wife Helena’s exquisite flower garden covered the grounds which are now the scene of the Kennedys’ Sunday-afternoon capture-the-flag game.) Bobby greeted me in his skivvies at the front door, the picture of lean, vibrant Kennedyhood. We went into a sunroom filled with animal skulls, beetles, shells, a 20-foot anaconda skin hanging from the ceiling, a stuffed owl and pronghorn antelope, and hoods for the falcons he keeps. “I monitor the New York City watershed, and Bedford is the center of it,” he explained. “There are 12 blue-ribbon trout streams within 50 minutes of Manhattan, and many of them run through Bedford, feeding three reservoirs.” New York City’s touted tap water, he went on, in reality “contains partially treated sewage. They don’t remove the urine. A glass of water from a Hell’s Kitchen tap contains a trace of urine from Bedford commodes.”
Other folks quietly came to the Bedford area. The pianist Misha Dichter is in North Salem, just to the north. To the east, in Pound Ridge, are singer Eartha Kitt and actors Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve. (A few months before his tragic fall I met Reeve in his riding duds filling up his Wagoneer at the Bedford Shell station.) According to the documentary-film maker Robert Leacock, who has just finished his house in Bedford but is still keeping his house in the Hamptons, actor Richard Gere, who has had his place in Pound Ridge for about 15 years, was “the pioneer of having three known houses and one in Westchester where you hide.” In 1983, Phil Ramone, who has produced the albums of musicians from Burt Bacharach to Paul Simon and Pavarotti, bought on Guard Hill. He and his new wife, Karen, he explained, “fell in love with the look of Bedford and the Boyd place,” an unpretentious farmhouse, and she didn’t want to live in the house he had occupied with his ex-wife in Pound Ridge. In the Boyds’ day, kids and animals were running around all over the place, and the scene today is the same. It’s a good-Karma, family house.
Some serious financial muscle was also moving in. Carl Icahn bought the Ben Smith Jr. place, a stone Tudor, and Michael Milken’s protege Dort Cameron III purchased the Hyde place, a beautiful Italianate Victorian (which he still has). After the death of DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the founders of Reader’s Digest, Nelson Peltz, who had made a huge amount of money merging American Can with National Can and then selling it, picked up their 106-acre estate with its collegiate-Gothic mansion, High Winds. Jerome Kohlberg, inventor of the leveraged buyout, bought the old Spring place, where Flying Ebony, the winner of the 1925 Kentucky Derby, was trained, and renamed it Cabbage Hill Farm. Henry Silverman, the owner of the Cendant conglomerate, bought the old Williams place in the late 80s and, as one of the Williamses seethed, “cleared the trees so you could see the house, and put blood-red Moorish wallpaper in the entry hall, including the ceiling. He turned old English into bordello.” Cendant Corporation, which includes Avis Rent A Car, Days Inn, and Coldwell Banker, is currently in trouble, and the house is on the market—it seems it was just sold for $3.5 million.
The social nexus of this new crowd was Roni Sokoloff, a strong personality and the sister of the original nasty boy, Saul Steinberg, who had made the famous runs on Chemical Bank and others. Steinberg and his wife, Gayfryd, lived in town until the mid-1980s. Roni took over the benefit for the summer classical-music festival at Caramoor, the old Rosen estate, and turned it into a flashy gala that raised a ton of money. But the new crowd rubbed the Old Guard the wrong way.
Ivan Boesky was charged with insider trading in 1986 and later sentenced to three years. Nine years earlier he and his wife, Seema, had bought the old Straus place, one of the really grand ones, from John Revson. It had actually been built by the Woodwards, the fancy New York family who would become notorious in the 50s, when Billy Woodward was shot by his wife, Ann. She was acquitted on the grounds that she had thought he was a burglar. After being savaged by Truman Capote in an Ew/w/re-magazine article, she killed herself. Its next owner, Jesse Straus, an ambassador to France in the 30s, was the son of Isidor and Ida Straus, who went down on the Titanic. As Seema Boesky understands it, it was Ida’s climbing out of the lifeboat to die with her husband that inspired the movie. After Jesse’s death, his wife, Irma, tore the Woodward place down and rebuilt it with the same bricks.
Ivan Boesky didn’t return, and now lives in California. But Seema is still in the house. Everybody who knows her says she is a lovely woman. One morning she buzzed me through the most tasteful new gate in Bedford, and I drove up the long driveway, past a little house where the Strauses had grown mushrooms. Then the magnificent, domed house, strongly reminiscent of Monticello, hove into view at the end of a vast, rising expanse of lawn. The dome was Seema’s contribution. I drove on past voluptuous nudes and other eye-catching sculptures by famous artists that I agreed not to name. Seema, dressed in black, a tall, handsome woman of indeterminate middle age, opened the door. She was taking care of a four-month-old deer head Chihuahua that her daughter had given her. Poor Cota had pneumonia and a collapsed trachea. “This is my first involvement of a serious nature since I divorced Ivan,” she said in a down-to-earth midwestern accent.
Seema, not Ivan, had originally been the one with the money. “My father owned the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I grew up like Eloise,” she told me. She and Ivan “were not looking for a social life. Ivan was a bit reclusive. We only had a few dinner parties in the years we were together here.
“And the neighbors were not making an effort to pull us out. This was not the territory one expected us to settle in. There was a clear division between the mavericks like us and the Icahns and the Peltzes and those who had been here for some time.”
I asked Seema if she had met Thomas and Pat Keesee (he was the chairman of the board of the National Audubon Society for many years), her neighbors of 21 years, and she had never heard of them. In fact, in the late 80s some of the neighbors had gotten together to oppose the variance Seema had thought was needed for her dome. They claimed it would be an eyesore, even though the house is so far back on the property that you can’t see it, let alone the dome, which raised the existing roofline only two and a half feet. In my opinion, it is an unqualified success. After a year of rancorous planning-board meetings, it turned out she hadn’t needed the variance after all.
Following Ivan’s arrest and the ensuing swarm of paparazzi, Seema was even more shunned. “I felt some rejection,” she went on. “It kind of tests who your real friends are. No one in Mount Kisco knew me. I’d go to the cleaner and he’d look at the name on the ticket and say, ‘You work for that Mrs. Boesky? I hear she’s not nice.’ ‘She’s perfectly pleasant,’ I’d say. But I was brought up with the value that you have to give back to the community, and I started to help at the hospital and at the boys’ and girls’ club in Mount Kisco, which I am in the process of rebuilding. Carll and Diane Tucker were among the first to reach out to me. He was instrumental in getting me on the board of Caramoor.” Seema had just received an invitation from the grande dame who serves Popov vodka and cheese popcorn, which means that she has really arrived, that perhaps the negative stereotypes are finally dissolving as the old and new Bedford get to know one another and discover that they have a lot more in common than they thought. New money coming in and acquiring the trappings and graces of old money. Isn’t that what Bedford has really been about all along?
The 90s have been characterized by the arrival of even more money. Guy Wyser-Pratte, who has a big asset-management fund, is in the Canfield place on Guard Hill Road; a Federal Revival with attenuated columns, it is arguably the most elegant house in all of Bedford. Before its semicircular portico, photographer Slim Aarons made a famous portrait of Cass Canfield, whose family owned Harper & Row, with his shotgun in one hand and his pipe in the other. Financier and real-estate tycoon Leon Black has bought the neighboring estates of Jane Canfield’s two sisters. There is a new tendency among the “megafolks,” as Carll Tucker called them, to increase their holdings, buying up whatever property around them comes on the market, so the old estates are being not only reconstituted but also in some cases expanded. All of which bodes well for the future of Bedford’s open, rural .character, because “the nature of the money is not vulnerable,” the New York gallery owner Richard Feigen told me. “There is so much financial power up here now it would be difficult for someone to come in and spoil the green spaces.”
Real estate is booming. “Now that a critical mass of interesting people has been reached, more will follow,” Dan Ginnel, Bedford’s top real-estate agent, predicted. FOX News’s Catherine Crier, who everyone says is “absolutely charming,” and Steven Brill, who started Court TV and Brill’s Content, live practically across from each other. Clive Davis, the president of Arista Records, and the discoverer of Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Santana, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Earth, Wind & Fire, has called upon the Los Angeles architect Mark Rios to design a little island of L.A., with an infinity pool and a 30-seat screening room, tucked away in the woods just over the Pound Ridge border. To Davis the allure of Bedford is that “it’s much handier than the Hamptons, which are more industry-populated, so you don’t get the change of pace you do here.”
Carll Tucker, whom I recently dropped in on at his office at The Patent Trader, is thrilled with what’s happening. His gamble, his contrarian impulse to stay in his hometown, has paid off. The big news in Bedford these days is about Carll’s new stepsister-in-law. After the death of Diane’s mother, Ellen, who was a New York Times Sulzberger, Diane’s father, R. Peter Straus, last year married—”Are you sitting down?,” Joan Van Kleeck asked me as she prepared to floor me with the news the Bedford grapevine was just beginning to pick up on—Monica Lewinsky’s mother!
Across from the Soroses is Cantitoe House, a particularly gracious Georgian brick mansion, designed for the Litchfields in 1935 by the architect Frederick Godwin. Tanya Lowe grew up there. Then it was the home of Jim and Minnie Fosburgh. Jim was a painter, and Minnie was one of the three Cushing sisters, the great socialite beauties. Jackie Kennedy is said to have holed up here for several weeks after her husband was assassinated. Since 1977 it has been the home of Richard Feigen. Feigen came to Bedford in 1971 with his then wife, Sandra Walker, who, having grown up in Mill Neck, Long Island, was agitating for a place in the country and had two ancient widowed aunts who lived on the Bedford Green. They bought the Hays place, divorced, and his ex-wife sold it to the Tuckers.
As Feigen was explaining all this, a Chinese butler came in with some coffee, and the cell phone Feigen had laid on the sofa sounded. “Tell Mrs. [a Japanese name] she can have the extension on the Matisse until Tuesday, but no later,” Feigen instructed.
Unlike many of the new crowd, Feigen took great interest in the history of the town and in the preservation of its architecture and landscape, which brought him into contact with the Old Guard, who were fighting at planning-board meetings to keep Bedford open. “A number of accidents saved Bedford,” he explained. “Through the 70s most of the town was still owned by the old-line people who had lived here forever. Then came the ’77 recession and firms like White Weld were absorbed. There was an exodus of these people to places such as New Hampshire and Vermont. Sunnyfield Farm, a crucial parcel that defines Bedford’s rural character [you see its rolling pastures with horses grazing or being ridden on the right as you drive to Mount Kisco], was bought by a developer named Hyman Shapiro, who wanted to put a house on every four acres. We were going bananas in meetings at the Canfields’. Then I heard that Shapiro went bankrupt. This was lucky for Bedford—he would have ruined the Mount Kisco entrance to the town.
“The Fowler place,” continued Feigen, “was bought by a Chinese developer, who sold it to another developer reputed to have bad taste. Every obstruction was thrown in his way, but finally he won the right to build 43 houses. But he ended up selling the property to Ralph Lauren for a very good price. That would have ruined the Cross River end of Bedford.
“Ralph called me one day. He asked me to come to London to help him buy some paintings. ‘By the way,’ he asked, ‘do you know anything about a 200-acre property in Bedford?’ I told him he couldn’t find anything like it in an hour radius of the city, so he bought it for $20 million, and sank many more millions into it.”
Everyone is now worried about what Donald Trump is going to do with Seven Springs, the old Meyer place. Even Tommy Mottola told me, with a hint of menace in his voice, “We’re watching Trump. There are too many people up here who want to keep it nice.”
One afternoon Joan Van Kleeck and I sneaked in to see what Trump was up to. “Happiness hasn’t been in this place,” she pronounced. “You see all this beauty and say, ‘Yum, yum, yum.’ But if you read the books, they were all miserable.”
And indeed, Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, Personal History, contains these sad, familiar paragraphs about her childhood summers at Seven Springs:
All my life I had ambivalent emotions about Mount Kisco. On one level I deeply loved it and had happy times there when I was young, largely because there were children on the farm. As I grew older—say, from twelve to eighteen—I went on thinking of the farm as wonderful because as a younger child I had thought it was, but in reality, throughout my later childhood I had no friends in the neighborhood and felt completely alone there.
It was not until I was much older that I realized we were almost totally isolated. Though we had many visitors for weekends or longer, there was little or no local social life. Only later did I learn that my parents had suffered from local anti-Semitism. They had, I believe, been warned when they first started to build the large stone house that they would be snubbed socially. And, in fact, they were never invited to their neighbors’ houses and were excluded from the country club until it went broke, at which time they were asked to join.
Trump could be the key to understanding what is in store for Bedford in the next millennium. I approached him with the suggestion that we should get to know each other in the course of playing 18 holes together. He thought it was a great idea, and invited me to tee off with him Sunday at noon at Winged Foot Golf Club, the fabled course in Mamaroneck, 20 minutes south of Bedford. Actor Joe Pesci was supposed to join us, but it ended up being just Trump and me and the old Native American caddie who lugged our bags. What about Bedford?, I asked. “It’s the hottest place there is. It’s crazy,” he answered.
“This is one of the great houses in America, but it’s not known,” Trump said, describing Seven Springs. “The last and greatest of the estates, and nobody knows about it.” Not only that, but Nonsuch, the summer retreat of Henry J. Heinz, the ketchup king (and an old beau of my aunt’s), was being thrown in, so Trump grabbed it and then figured out that it would be a perfect setting for a golf course, he has said.
This is a little disingenuous, because Trump is developing three other tracts as golf courses in the New York City area. But this one, he assured me, was going to be the Rolls-Royce of the series. “Absolutely top of the line. On par with Winged Foot, but the one thing I can’t do is get seven U.S. Opens, pictures of Hogan coiled like a snake on the wall.” There were going to be only 200 members, so nobody would ever have to worry about having to make a tee time. At $300,000 a pop, that will be $60 mil right there, eight and a half times what Trump laid out for the place. “I’ve already received 10 checks from people, and I sent them back because we don’t even have the zoning yet,” he told me. Most of the property is in Bedford, but two other townships have jurisdiction, and Byram Lake, which sits below a cliff that drops off from the house, is Mount Kisco’s water supply, so there is concern about runoff from the fairways and greens. Another worry is the traffic and parking problems that the P.G.A. tournaments Trump is planning to host will bring. Only narrow back roads lead up to the place.
But Trump didn’t foresee a problem with the zoning. “The Achilles’ heel of the town boards is that I have the right to put in 109 units. Is that what they want, as opposed to having the most beautiful golf course in the country? They’ll find out what congestion is about.”
As far as his golf game is concerned, Trump walks the talk. He plays to a handicap of 5, and that day, taking only one roving mulligan, he shot a 71. He just stepped up and hit the ball where it was supposed to go. No angst. It was fascinating to watch how his game mirrored his approach to life. “Life is all in the head, isn’t it?” he said after stiffing a three-iron to a tiny pin flapping 200 yards away. “Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die, so what difference does it make? Ever hear that expression?”
Casually birdieing the 18th hole, one of the toughest in golf, he said, “I just wanted to finish with a bird to indelibly imprint on your frigging head that the Trumpster can play.”
Then we drove up to Seven Springs. We passed Nonsuch, a beautiful stone mansion in its own right, which Trump is planning to turn into a guesthouse. “What I bought for eight million is fucking nuts,” he said. We pulled up into the courtyard of Seven Springs, which he had finished with Belgian cobblestones and a big Italian fountain in the center. The house itself, sided with pinkish granite quarried on the premises, has about 50,000 square feet, with three stories and two wings, one containing an indoor pool. It was designed in 1915 by Charles Platt, who also did the Soros place. It is inarguably the most palatial house of all, far more deserving of the term chateau than the many other approximations in the neighborhood.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, you’ll agree, for a piece of land,” he said as we careened down one of the future par-5 s, in his black Wagoneer, chasing some deer into the woods. Six of the most celebrated golf-course architects, including Tom Fazio and Greg Norman, had submitted plans. Trump had gone with Arthur Hills, “who is known for using the land as is,” he explained. “The other plans would have ripped the shit out of it. The course will take 190 acres, more than you need, but there will still be room for 11 mansions, and I’m going to spend $30 million on it, twice the usual price of a top-of-the-line new course. I’m going so overboard, but, Alex, to be honest, you’re given one opportunity with a piece of land like this.”
And then he declared, “Bedford is beautiful and classy. And now it has life.”
2 thoughts on “#99 – And So To Bedford – Dispatch #99”
Trump didn’t say “I wanted to impress on your frigging head,” he said “I wanted to impress on your frigging gourd.” Gourd didn’t pass muster with Vanity Fair’s grammarian, I guess.
Hey Alex, Andre is a really good writer (!). Fun to see the old stuff – and a very slim looking Donald. Take care, keep it up.