Montauk's East Deck to Be Motel No More

When news of the sale got out, rumors ran rampant in Montauk
The new owner of the East Deck Motel, someone local who has not yet been named, has already begun work there, but it will not be a motel, according to Alice Houseknecht, its former owner. Janis Hewitt

    The East Deck Motel at Ditch Plain in Montauk has been sold for a reported $15 million. Alice Houseknecht, who owned the oceanfront motel with her son, Ray Houseknecht, would neither confirm the price nor name the buyer this week, but did reveal that the new owner is someone local who will maintain the integrity of the property but does not plan to operate it as a motel.

    There will be renovations, she said, but a second story will not be added to the flat-roofed building, which has 30 motel units.

    When news of the sale got out, rumors ran rampant in Montauk. Some claimed a group of 17 surfers had chipped in to buy it, others feared it would be subdivided for McMansions, and still others said it would be another Gurney’s Inn with a spa. “None of that is true,” Ms. Houseknecht said with a laugh.

    As for the selling price reported in numerous online publications, she said, “I’m not going to say it’s erroneous, but I’m not going to comment.”

    The property was listed for sale in 2010 for $20 million, but was quickly pulled from the market. There was a lot of interest in that short time. “Most of them wanted to magnify its potential,” Ms. Houseknecht said, adding, “Montauk is my home. I didn’t want to snub my nose at my own community.”

    Sam and Bea Cox, who purchased the five-acre property as a vacant lot in 1949, established the motel there. In 1954, the couple moved some cottages from Navy Road to the site and started renting then out, mostly to fishermen. In the early 1960s the cottages were connected and became a motel, still used by fishermen.

    It was not until the 1980s that Ditch Plain Beach just west of the motel became a mecca for surfers. The hotel has hosted several politicians and movie personalities. Molly Shannon of “Saturday Night Live” was a regular for a while.

    Apparently, Ms. Cox was quite the prankster. When an Olympic-size pool was built on the property it was filled with salt water. One of his jokes was to stock it with striped bass and challenge his friends and guests to dive in and catch the bass with their bare hands. And if one were to even think about parking a vehicle on his side of the parking lot, Mr. Cox would hook a cable to his pickup truck, attach it to the offending driver’s bumper, and tow it away.

    When the Coxes died, they left the property to their daughter, Myrium, and her husband, Fred Houseknecht, who in turn left it to their two sons, Charlie and Steve Houseknecht, Ms. Houseknecht’s husband. Ms. Houseknecht and her son, who lives in Massapequa, inherited it when Charlie and Steve Houseknecht died. 

    During her tenure managing the place, Ms. Houseknecht said she has probably checked in over 12,000 guests, many of whom are writing or e-mailing her, hoping that news of the sale is not true. “I’ve been so busy trying to get back to each one of them,” she said. “This was their home away from home. This is where they vacationed and relaxed.”

    Running the motel was getting to be too much for her to handle, Ms. Houseknect said. Her son, she said, “is very happy” that she decided to sell.

    A member of the congregation of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church, a director of the Montauk Food Pantry, and a private benefactor to local and global charity foundations, Ms. Houseknecht plans to use the money from the sale to do more philanthropic work. “Now, I’m going to do what I always wanted to do,” she said.