Photograph of the Carl Fisher House under construction, Judy Sauers Collection, Montauk Library Archives.
The East Hampton Town Board will vote this week on whether to purchase the Carl Fisher House and grounds. If the Board vote passes, this house will become an historic property funded by the CPF, or Community Preservation Fund.
Carl Fisher’s Montauk home, his private residence, was completed in 1928 and sits atop Foxboro Road. Originally, it commanded a 360-degree view of the Montauk landscape from every level. The house is now surrounded by shrubs and trees, but the same spectacular vistas can be seen through windows on the top floor.
The design aesthetic of Fisher’s own home differs from the Tudor Revival style he employed in Shepherd’s Neck house construction. The architecture of the Fisher House is considered Colonial, or Colonial Revival, but there may be another influence. In the very first collection donated to the archives at the Montauk Library, a photograph reveals Carl Fisher, tourist, walking in front of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia home. The visual similarities between Washington’s respite and Fisher’s Montauk house are worth noting, and without a doubt, the references to classical architecture and our first president would be meant to impress. The Carl Fisher home is where Fisher, Montauk’s brilliant entrepreneur, could bring potential buyers and backers to “close the deal.”
Fisher was a living legend long before he came to Montauk. Among many other achievements, he developed the Indianapolis Speedway and created Miami from a swamp. Montauk, with its “moors,” as Carl called them, represented his last great project, and with typical, Fisher-style intensity, he conceived a gargantuan resort of oceanfront hotels and multiple golf courses to be enjoyed by wealthy members of society.
He began by altering Montauk’s topography, dynamiting Lake Montauk’s north perimeter and bulldozing roads through open bluffs. As a town planner, Fisher took the moors by storm. Between 1926 and 1929 his ambitious building program shook up the quietude of Fort Pond Bay. Banging hammers and roaring machinery defined everyday life in the Village, and ultimately, this period represented the dividing line between “old” and “new” Montauk. The rich and famous were photographed mounting horses at Montauk Manor foxhunts or sunbathing in cabanas at the Surf Club. A skyscraper became a permanent fixture on the horizon. However, a Florida hurricane and stock market woes brought Fisher’s plans to a halt. He started to hemorrhage money. Unable to rally, his spirit broken, he turned to alcohol as his consolation. Carl Fisher died in 1939.
Elizabeth Job, who was the caretaker of Carl Fisher’s House and grounds, participated in a 1995 oral history interview with the Montauk Library. She described a conversation with Fisher’s widow, his second wife, Margaret Collier Fisher, who enjoyed the house but eventually decided to sell. Margaret confided to Job that “she had promised her late husband that none of his belongings would be used for monetary gain…. so when she left, she pretty much took everything out of the house with her.” And, indeed, nothing was left of his presence in this building – no letters, no records or diaries, no Christmas greetings or party invitations, no photographs of people dancing at lavish balls in the timber-ceiling great room. All we have is the structure itself, and this may be one of the strongest reasons to preserve it as an historic entity, a truly direct link to the personal life of Carl Fisher.