Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Grey Gardens

'Grey Gardens' ~ Before the Beale residency. 
'Grey Gardens' ~ During the Beale residency. 
In the 1970's, Lee Raziwill, sister of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, suggested to two film-making brother named Albert and David Maysles, that a documentary be made about the lives of Lee and Jackie's aunt and cousin, both named Edith Beale, and their East Hampton home, 'Grey Gardens'. And so, in 1975, a documentary film was released mystically called 'Grey Gardens'. The documentary focused on the tenure of Edith Bouvier Beale, called "Big Edie", and her daughter, Edith Beale, called "Little Edie", and the ruinous conditions they lived in at their once grand estate, 'Grey Gardens'. 


Little Edie on the cover of the Maysles's documentary ~ Grey Gardens.
In 1924, Edith Bouvier and her husband Phelan Beale purchased 'Grey Gardens' in East Hampton, a few miles away from Edith's father's Hampton residence 'Lasata', where future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy would grow up with her sister. Grey Gardens was known locally for it's stunning and beautiful gardens, which had been designed in 1913. The home was located a block away from the Atlantic Ocean, a was where Little Edie grew up. The Beales separated in 1931, later divorcing via telegram in 1946, Phelan Beale was in Mexico at the time. She received no alimony, however was given child support. After a few years of living in upper Manhattan, Little Edie returned to live permanently with her mother at Grey Gardens in the 1950's. Despite a severe shortage of cash, mother and daughter managed to survive by selling off various pieces of Bouvier silver service or antique jewelry. They remained active in Hampton society, however that ended when Big and Little Edie returned home one evening from a party to find the house had been burglarized, the thief making off with several pieces of antique furniture. The Edies rarely left home afterwards. As costs began to rise, including taxes on the home, the Beale girls found it harder and harder to maintain the home, and thus allowed the place to fall into disrepair. The lush gardens and lawn became overgrown with weeds and bushes, the house began to fall apart. The cozy hall and rooms of the house, soon became cluttered with dust and trash and garbage, not to mention there was a never ending supply of animals running around the rooms, mostly strays taken in by Big and Little Edie. Empty cat food cans were piled up along the walls of the rooms, as the paint she and sagged off, and water leaked through the roof and walls. Broken furniture heaped in every room, and blankets and pillow were lying about, since the home had no heat. The living room was perhaps the only recognizable room left in the mansion, with antique furniture propped up in the center of the room, and a portrait of Big Edie in her thirties sitting crooked in a corner. 


Big Edie in her eighties, sitting near the window of the living room at
Grey Gardens, with her portrait sitting in the corner beside her. 
The documentary proved to be the legacy of the Beale ladies, as the home was eventually cleaned up by Jacqueline and a crew of trash men. Big Edie died in 1977 at Grey Gardens, and afterwards Little Edie listed the home for sale. She was stunned at how many offers came in to demolish the home. Little Edie refused to sell the home to anyone with plans to demolish, hoping to find a buyer to restore the home. 

"All the house needs is a new coat of paint!!" Little Edie said to potential buyers. 


Eventually, the home was purchased, and completely restored. It was good timing, too, for when Grey Gardens was purchased by it's new owners, the roof and walls were literally caving in. Today, the home is a beautiful reminder to a forgotten era. 


Please, also visit the website dedicated to the home, known as 'Grey Gardens' Blog, by clicking HERE.


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