Three black and white photographs, one capturing the spirited duo Sam and Bea Cox, and two more referencing the motels that were part of their legacy (that’s Sam sitting with the dog; Bea is on the Maisonettes deck, standing left of the table)
Fred Houseknecht and Alice Houseknecht Collections
Montauk Library Archives
It’s a safe bet Sam Cox would be out surfcasting if he were alive today. In fact, he and his wife, Bea, spent a lot of time in general having fun on the ocean — which is where they operated Montauk’s first motel, called the Maisonettes, and later, to the east, another motel called the East Deck.
Montauk’s oceanfront was still so undeveloped after World War II, when the Maisonettes first opened, that guests had to walk on planks over sand to reach the building. Yet the motel – on South Emery Street near what today is the Montauk IGA — was an immediate success, and the Coxes were welcoming return visitors in no time flat.
Before long, in the mid-1950s, the Coxes and their son-in-law, Fred Houseknecht, moved a group of cabins from Fort Pond Bay, where Hurricane Carol had tossed them around, to the oceanfront in the Ditch Plains area. Strung together by a deck running perpendicular to the beach, the cabins collectively formed a new motel called the East Deck — as opposed to the deck to the west at the Maisonettes. Proximity to the sea trumped the type of luxury many visitors have since then come to expect: the rustic cabins slept four people in bunks, were unheated, and went for $40 a week.
It was at East Deck that Bea Cox founded the East Deck Duplicate Bridge Club, accounting for six bridge tables in the motel lobby. Club members included both local characters and loyal motel guests; they were said to argue the game rules with a high degree of heat.
The East Deck Motel stayed in the Cox/Houseknecht family until less than 10 years ago, but Sam and Bea sold the Maisonettes only about eight years after they built it. By 1960, there were already more than 70 motels and hotels in Montauk; today the motel (now the Ocean End) is just the westernmost link in a chain of resorts on the oceanfront.
“I knew the motel business would be big,” Mr. Cox told the East Hampton Star in an interview in 1969. “I realized it had something in the way of climate that would attract vacationers.”