On June 1, 1927, the Montauk Manor opened with a splash – “a Carl Fisher masterpiece,” the East Hampton Star proclaimed on its front page, referring to the man who hoped to transform Montauk into a Miami Beach of the North.
A reporter marveled that the luxurious, $1.5 million, nearly 200-room resort had been completed in barely a year with everything in “apple-pie order.”
“The finishing touches were applied to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon and when the first guests arrived … everything was ready,” the Star reported, noting that installing 26 miles of telephone wiring had been only one of many details. “Pictures were on the walls, carpets had been laid, the Western Union operator was at her desk, the cigar stand was doing a flourishing business and the clerks were busy assigning rooms to those who had already arrived.”
Fisher and an entourage of distinguished guests arrived by private yacht and automobile as well as on special trains. Entertaining some 300 diners, the opening-night festivities honored railroad and government tycoons as well as personal friends of Fisher, to whom glasses were raised. Among the speakers were a well-known polo player and a speed boat racer who predicted that Montauk would become a popular destination for sports enthusiasts of many stripes. Such visions – of men on horseback, playing tennis or golf, or water sporting — were even depicted on the hotel china.
Fisher planned a second grand hotel on Lake Montauk and a third on the Atlantic, but those dreams never came true. Even so, his mark on Montauk was indelible, from the Manor to Montauk Harbor to the Yacht Club to Shepherd’s Neck to downtown Montauk to the Montauk School and Montauk’s churches.
Despite the scope of his aspirations and the grandiosity of his marketing, Carl Fisher was said to be shy and a man of very few words. He reportedly had little to say at the opening dinner and wore his “usual costume,” including his signature eyeglasses, while others turned out in “gala attire.”
Who, exactly, was this bespectacled visionary? The Montauk Historical Society provides some interesting clues in an exhibit and slideshow that can be seen at the Montauk Library. Even the china pieces have a tale to tell.