Dick Cavett to Sell His Montauk Retreat, Tick Hall

$62 million buys one of storied Seven Sisters
Tick Hall, which was put on the market last week for $62 million, is the easternmost of seven houses in the Montauk Association. Designed by Stanford White’s firm McKim, Mead, and White in the 1880s, all of them are on the National Register of Historic Places. Corcoran

Tick Hall, Dick Cavett’s house in the historical Montauk Association, went on the market last week for the first time ever, and for a cool $62 million, a new owner can experience the special something that has beguiled Mr. Cavett for over half a century.

“It has, until now, passed from hand to hand,” Mr. Cavett wrote in an email. “It’s never been on the market in its 135-year history.” In the past, the property traded hands privately, most recently to Mr. Cavett in 1966.

Tick Hall is the easternmost in a string of houses designed by Stanford White’s famed architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White in the early 1880s. Known collectively as the Seven Sisters, they were sited by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect responsible for Central Park, and their original occupants were a who’s who of America’s Gilded Age. All seven houses are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Arthur Benson, who bought nearly all of Montauk for $151,000 in 1872, established the Montauk Association in 1881; Mr. Cavett’s house was built for Alexander E. Orr, a businessman and financier who was president of New York’s Transit Commission.

After Tick Hall burned down in 1997, Mr. Cavett and his late wife, Carrie Nye, had it rebuilt with such exacting detail that even minor idiosyncrasies were replicated, all without benefit of the original plans.

“We asked the architects [Wank, Adams Slavin Associates] if they could make the new staircase squeak and also asked them to sand down some of the door saddles so they’d look as though many feet had been crossing them for many years,” Mr. Cavett said, “and the porch sags just a little, as it did before. The Wrightmoor stained glass was reproduced perfectly, from photographs. Stairbuilder James Dean reproduced the staircase with the exact balusters and newel post, all handmade. The fireplace tiles came from the same place in Shropshire, England, as the originals. James Hadley, the forensic architect, said ‘If we are very close in what we build, the rest will be finished by God.’ ”

“So now we have the best of both worlds: an exact reproduction that perfectly echoes the past glory and details of Old Tick Hall, but New Tick Hall hides excellent insulation, full central air and heat (although the ocean breezes mean we only have to use the A.C. a week or two every summer), and wiring for electricity and communication. The pipes and plumbing are all up to code. But the old touches are there. The old anchor, originally put there by Joe Emmers, captain of Franklin Roosevelt’s yacht, is back atop the chimney, visible for miles.”

A few years ago, Mr. Cavett’s wife, Martha Rogers, worked with the architect Nick Botta “to leave the McKim, Mead, and White part of the house intact, but revise a thoughtless rear addition put on for convenience in the 1930s so we could enlarge the kitchen and add on upstairs and downstairs screened porches,” Mr. Cavett wrote. “Colin Brown did the work on that project.”

Asked what inspired that level of devotion, Mr. Cavett pointed to Tick Hall’s setting, and to Montauk in general. “There just isn’t a bad day in Montauk: Rain is good, snow is charming, storms are spectacular, and occasional fog takes away first the horizon, then the beach, and finally the trees at the end of the lawn, leaving us in our own little world where we can hear the ocean waves but only know their direction from memory. And the perfect days are almost heartbreakingly beautiful. As the Bard said, ‘beauty too rich for use.’ My wife Martha matched the ceiling color of the big porch to the blue of the sky on one of those days.”

Mr. Cavett bought Tick Hall in 1966 from the estate of Harrison Tweed, a prominent attorney who also owned another property in the association.

“It was sheer luck that got me into this place,” he recalled. “I had already rented a shared house for the summer in East Hampton when I heard Tick Hall was available. I said to a friend ‘Let’s drive out to see the house I missed.’ At the end of a winding unpaved road, the house loomed into view and my friend started to get out of the car before it had come to a complete stop, yelling ‘Get it! Get it!’ ” He rented Tick Hall and then bought it from Mr. Tweed’s widow.

He would come to be an expert on Tick Hall’s history — in part through the research done after the fire — and a key player in maintaining the character of the Montauk Association, but “Back then,” Mr. Cavett wrote, “all we knew was that this was a great old place with porches and fireplaces and high ceilings, and moonlight, and a big beach on the ocean. It’s the only one of the Seven Sisters with oceanfront because in the 1920s, then-owner Harrison Tweed bought all the available land down to the ocean and some behind the house. His friends thought he was nuts to spend five dollars an acre, since in those days, nobody else came out this far on Long Island to this ‘wild and inconvenient’ place.” The seven-bedroom house sits on close to 20 acres in the historic district and is surrounded by preserved open space. “We didn’t know then that nothing could ever change as far away as you can see. . . .”

“There’s no comp,” said the Cavetts’ agent, Karen Kelley, an associate broker with Corcoran, who is partnering with Tim Davis on the listing. Although there are other properties people might be tempted to compare it to, none of them, she said, have the unique qualities of Tick Hall: beachfront, a cove of its own, preserved property on nearly all sides. The old Warhol estate, Eothan, a 5.7-acre compound on the ocean just east of the Montauk Association, may be the closest comparison. It sold in late 2015 to Adam Lindemann, a billionaire gallerist and contemporary art collector, for $50 million.

Whoever the buyer of Tick Hall may be, “We just hope the next owners love it as much as we do,” Mr. Cavett said.

What special qualities would he like a new owner to be aware of? “The sunsets are differently beautiful every day,” he wrote. “I wish we had set up a timed camera to capture each one. And they are not just in the west; out here on the end of Long Island, the sunset colors often surround us 360 degrees. We watch the very special ones from the big porch on the first floor, and then run up as fast as we can to the attic and watch it again!”

Moonrises are equally impressive, he said. “We try to be here for the full moon; that golden orb rises directly out of the water and casts a golden light and then a silvery glow on the waves and offers light you think you can read by, all night. It's stunning."