A Most Charming Summer Residence

Item of the Week From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

Houses come and go, but some experience transformations that can be both commonplace and intriguing. 

The house that later came to be known as Spencecliff on Georgica Road in East Hampton was originally built as a summer residence in 1895 for Preston B. Spring, who was one of the founding members of the Maidstone Club. The Spring property was located directly behind a lot belonging to one W.H. Willis, which fronted Georgica Road. Spring’s lot ran to Baiting Hollow Road, and both property owners shared a driveway. 

The property contained a two-and-a-half-story wood-frame house known as Winklehawk, which was designed by the architect Joseph Greenleaf Thorp, as well as a windmill and a one-story outbuilding.

After Spring’s death in 1913, Winklehawk was sold to Walter Scott Roberts, who had it remodeled by the architect Howard Greenley in 1915. Aside from those structural changes, he increased his land holdings, had trees planted and tennis courts installed, and constructed a 40-by-50-foot brick bungalow in 1919. 

In 1925, the house was sold to Maj. Spencer Fullerton Weaver, an architect whose firm, Schultze & Weaver, drew the plans for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. As noted in a July 12, 1929, East Hampton Star article about the house (illustrated with images of its exterior and pool, seen here), Weaver is credited with remodeling it and naming it Spencecliff, after his two sons, Spencer and Clifton. It boasted an additional wing, a 10-acre polo field and golf course, beautiful gardens, and a swimming pool.

Weaver died in 1939, and the house was eventually sold to William Seligson in 1949. He made his own modifications to it and subdivided the 12-acre property into multiple lots, having six new houses built in the 1950s. 

The final owners were the lyricist and playwright Adolph Green and his wife, the actress Phyllis Newman. In the summer of 1969 during a wedding, a caterer’s gas line sparked and the subsequent fire engulfed and ultimately destroyed the house. Oddly enough, the wedding ceremony was moved to the lawn, with about a hundred uninvited spectators.

Gina Piastuck is the department head of the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Library.