Throwback Thursday – Recreating That Leisurama Vibe

A pitch in 1963 for the Leisurama development at Culloden Shores, a waterfront portion of Montauk that Carl Fisher had already eyed for high-density development in the 1920s. | Al Holden Collection, Montauk Library Archives

A poster promoting the Leisurama homes and lifestyle and, below, a detail from the poster. | Montauk Library Archives

A Leisurama home. | Al Holden Collection, Montauk Library Archives

Leisuramas were small, cookie-cutter vacation homes built in the Culloden Shores subdivision of Montauk in the early 1960s. They were designed to be affordable and came conveniently pre-furnished from top to bottom. “All you need is a key and a six-pack,” Frank Tuma, who managed their construction, was rumored to have said.

The marketing of Leisuramas was brilliant – including, in 1963, a full-sized, fully decorated model home that inhabited the ninth floor of Macy’s department store in New York City. So why not try to do something like that more than half a century later?

A checklist of Leisurama furnishings and accessories. It doesn’t mention toothbrushes, but they were included as well. | Montauk Library Archives

The Montauk Historical Society acquired a collection of original furniture from one Leisurama that had recently been sold. An exhibit of the donated furniture has been installed at the former house of Carl Fisher, Montauk’s early and very vigorous promoter, a site now operated by the society. The family of the society’s executive director, Mia Certic, owned and spent summers in a Leisurama, where Mia now lives full time.

Above, the kitchen table, chairs, and light fixture from the Leisurama’s earliest days. Montauk Library Archives. | Right, original kitchen table, chairs, and tableware from the current exhibit.
An original drop-leaf dinner table set with original Malmac tableware (Malmac was a predecessor of Melamine) in the current exhibit.
Presto! Chango! Watch as an informal 1960s modern leisure vibe meets that of a grand 1920s-era Dutch Colonial estate!

A Twister board on the Fisher house front porch greets visitors. Inside, the stage for the exhibit (which occupies only part of the Fisher house) is set by clever props like a humongous television airing Mr. Clean commercials and vintage shows. Pan Am swizzle sticks and a cigarette pack rest on an original Leisurama end table. Photographs from the 1960s have been enlarged to provide bona fide “views” of the yard through make-believe windows. There is a poster of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, Life magazines ready for a read, a tin of Sucrets, and Princess phones that play, when you put the receiver to your ear, brief narratives recited by people who spent childhood summers in the Culloden Shores summer colony.

Visitors will also find panels evoking the history of the era: Sputnik, Tab, the pill, JFK, Johnny Carson, Twiggy, the Jetsons, the end of switchboard operators, anyone remember these? – which include super cool graphic designs by Diane Sheridan.

Above: Information about the famous “kitchen debate” between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon.
Right, a comparison of prices for items, including a Jantzen swimsuit at White’s Drug and Department Store, that are 60 years apart.

It’s particularly interesting to note that in 1964 the “Expanded Convertible” version of the Leisurama (with two bedrooms, it accounted for most of the 200ish sales of the three Leisurama designs) cost a mere $15,990. One of the same models sold last month for $2.2 million.

The exhibit, at 44 Foxboro Road in Montauk, will be up through Labor Day. More information and tickets for guided tours can be found at the Montauk Historical Society’s website.

Meanwhile, check out more Leisurama history in the book Leisurama Now.

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