Grey Gardens, a large estate in the East Hamptons, was once crumbling and squalid, overrun by feral cats and raccoons. Its occupants, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, also named Edith, were impoverished socialites, whose bizarre and often tragic relationship was portrayed in the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. Last month, the famed estate was placed on the market for a cool $19.995 million, Katie Rogers of the New York Times reports. Rest assured that all feline tenants have been evicted.
Journalist Sally Quinn bought the property from “Little Edie,” as the younger Edith is known, for $220,000 in 1979. Though Little Edie reportedly told Quinn—while pirouetting through the living room—that the house just needed “a little paint,” Quinn and her husband, the late Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, undertook an extensive renovation and cleaning project. Chief among the necessary upgrades was purging the pervasive stench of cat urine from the house. (A task made even more pressing seeing as Bradlee, according to Quinn, was "wildly allergic to cats.")
The estate wasn't always in such a state of disrepair. Little Edie and her mother (“Big Edie”), who were cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy, once led a privileged life at Grey Gardens, Kirstin Fawcett reports for Mental Floss. But Big Edie’s divorce from her husband left the pair with little except the sprawling mansion, where they lived as recluses for decades.
In 1971, Big and Little Edie became tabloid sensations after it was revealed that Department of Health investigators had visited the home and found it in a shocking state of disrepair. Around that time, the Edies agreed to collaborate with documentarians David and Albert Maysles. In the film, the Edies emerge as larger-than-life figures: loopy, flamboyant, and locked in a tortured co-dependency. Grey Gardens—once a stately home—became a decrepit embodiment of their social isolation and declining mental health.
After they acquired the estate, Quinn and Bradlee sought to return Grey Gardens to its former glory. They restored beds, lamps, sofas, chairs, and even a glass menagerie that once belonged to Big Edie. The property now has a working “Har-Tru tennis court, expansive gardens, and a heated gunite pool,” writes Sam Dangremond of Town & Country. These are luxurious amenities, to be sure, but perhaps not by East Hamptons standards. “There are 10 bedrooms,” Rogers writes of Grey Gardens in the Times, “but no in-home movie theater.”
Quinn decided to sell Grey Gardens after her husband died and, according to Rogers, she is determined to find a buyer who will not tear it down. Though Grey Gardens lacks a home entertainment system, it is rich with legacy.