Fire Island Pines, New York

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Fire Island Pines
The marina from the west side shops area looking east
The marina from the west side shops area looking east
Nickname(s): The Pines, Pines, FIP
Fire Island Pines is located in New York
Fire Island Pines
Fire Island Pines
Location within the state of New York
Fire Island Pines is located in Fire Island
Fire Island Pines
Fire Island Pines
Location on Fire Island
Coordinates: 40°39′55″N 73°4′6″W / 40.66528°N 73.06833°W / 40.66528; -73.06833Coordinates: 40°39′55″N 73°4′6″W / 40.66528°N 73.06833°W / 40.66528; -73.06833
Country United States
State New York
County Suffolk
Lots first sold 1952
Population (2004)
 • Total 12 (fulltime)/2,500 to 3,000(seasonal)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 11782
Area code(s) 631 Exchange: 597
Website Fire Island Property Owners Association

Fire Island Pines (often referred to as The Pines, simply Pines, or FIP) is a hamlet in the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, New York, United States. It is located on Fire Island, a barrier island on the southern side of Long Island.

Fire Island Pines along with its bordering vicinity Cherry Grove, comprise the majority of the gay community on Fire Island.

The Pines, which has the most expensive real estate on Fire Island, has approximately 700 houses on its square mile of location. It has two-thirds of the swimming pools on Fire Island.[1] Its summer seasonal population is between 2,500 and 3,000. In 2004, 12 people listed it as their full-time residence.[2]

Transportation is via foot on the boardwalks. If a person wishes to carry groceries, the traditional way to do so is to pull toy wagons (commonly the popular Radio Flyer).


Fire Island Pines derives its name from the scrub pine trees in the area, which, according to legend, started growing after a ship with Christmas trees and holly foundered off its coast in the late 19th century.[3]

The Pines was originally the site of a Coast Guard station built in 1876 and known as Lone Hill Saving Station. The area was purchased by the Home Guardian Company in 1924. As no development occurred the area became a popular nude beach.[4] Squatters erected temporary buildings.[5]The "harbor" is the area where all the commercial buildings are located including docks for yachts, the passenger ferry from Sayville and freight operations are located. The area also once served regularly scheduled seaplanes during the season from New York City but ended after the September 11 attacks.

The Smadbecks[edit]

Plans for development first began in 1952 when Warren and Arthur Smadbeck, doing business as the Home Guardian Company, announced plans to sell 122 lots in the new subdivision while building a private harbor for yachts, a large landing dock, and a private park facing the harbor. The Smadbecks, who sold more than 700,000 lots around the country, had purchased the property from the Sammis family, which had owned it since buying most of Fire Island in 1855 when they built the Surf Hotel near the Fire Island Light, in what is now the community of Kismet.

The basic Smadbeck layout of the Pines remains to this day, including the Botel which was designed to be a simple, no-frills, dormitory style accommodation for those who docked their yachts in the harbor.

Among the earliest property owners were Pola Negri, Xavier Cugat, Mary Martin and Joan McCracken. A 15-year-old Jane Fonda taught dance classes.[6]

The Botel and associated yacht club buildings burned on May 31, 1959.[7]

Peggy Fears[edit]

Peggy Fears circa 1950

Peggy Fears, a Broadway Showgirl, had discovered Lone Hill on an outing to a neighboring Fire Island community. Fears built the original Yacht Club. Part of the construction was a cinderblock hotel which still stands today. She invested $10,000 and bought an inlet on Great South Bay. In 1959, she paid off the last of her debt on her property. It was then valued at $350,000.[8]

While a resident of Fire Island, she had a stormy romantic relationship with Tedi Thurman, famed in the 1950s as the sexy voice of Miss Monitor on NBC's Monitor. Thurman was interviewed about her life with Fears for Crayton Robey's documentary film, When Ocean Meets Sky (2003), which features Sara Ramirez as the voice of Peggy Fears. In 1966 she sold out her interest to John B. Whyte.

The now more known landscape of the Fire Island Pines takes shape after a fire. Fears rebuilt Botel.

John B. Whyte[edit]

John B. Whytecirca 1974

Former model John B. Whyte encouraged its reputation as a gay destination after buying the rebuilt Botel Pines and Dunes Yacht Club in the 1960s (Cherry Grove was already a gay destination when Whyte developed the Pines). Whyte bought the property after a May 31, 1959 fire destroyed the entire complex. The Botel, which was known as The Hotel Ciel from 2004 - 2012, is still the central landmark and only hotel in the Pines.[7]

The conversion to a gay destination proved divisive among the initial owners. A large sign near the dock headlined, "Welcome to Fire Island Pines A Family Community."[9] It also proclaimed "We believe in a community that is clean both morally and physically." [4]

Whyte bent rules to accommodate the gay crowd. "We had a hully-gully line right here in the restaurant. I would put a girl at each end -- men weren't allowed to dance with men back then -- and everyone would have a good time."[10]

Visitors in the 1960s included Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable and Zachary Scott.[10]

Whyte, who owned 80 percent of the commercial property in the Pines, instituted the community’s central social activity schedule of “Low Tea” (drinks—particularly the "Blue Whale" cocktail of Curaçao liqueur and vodka that turned patrons' tongues blue—at the Blue Whale from 5 PM to 8 PM) followed by “High Tea (drinks at the Pavilion from 8 to 10 PM) followed by an evening of dancing at the Pavilion[11] (all of which were Whyte establishments).

Eric von Kuersteiner[edit]

Eric von Kuersteiner

For three decades, John B. Whyte helped attract a celebrity crowd and developed the area with a more sophisticated cachet. In the later years of his dynasty, Whyte’s health deteriorated and The Pines properties consequently became run down and dilapidated. Overall tourist attendance had dropped considerably causing decreased revenue at all commercial businesses.

In 2003, Whyte made the difficult decision to sell all of his beloved commercial holdings and sought out a specific buyer: Eric von Kuersteiner, a Manhattan entrepreneur with real estate holdings and a background in hotels who wad been frequenting the Pines since the late 1980s. Whyte insisted he get to know the potential buyer and Mr. Kuersteiner to attend five individual meetings at Whyte’s various homes in Acapulco, Dana Point and Palm Springs. This interview process took months before Whyte made his final decision. Whyte felt it was very important that his legacy be continued, and that the property continue to run the way he saw fit. The prospective new owner agreed to preserve the cultural history that had been established in the many years prior, but knew there were definite changes that would need to occur to save the now dwindling community. Whyte had an asking price of $12 million, but agreed to sell to the young man for $5.5 million as he truly believed he was the only person right to take over The Pines legacy.

Matthew Blesso, Seth Weissman & Andrew Kirtzman[edit]

Blesso, Kirtzman, Weissman

In 2009, Kuersteiner was approached by a trio of investors known as FIP Ventures. They had a keen interest in purchasing the commercial properties as soon as possible. Kuersteiner refused the initial offers, but the group continued to increase their interest to the price of $17 million. With the potential of a triple return on his original investment, Kuersteiner agreed to the sale in late 2009.[12]In 2010 a team of investors led by Andrew Kirtzman, known as FIP Ventures bought the Pavilion giving them control of 80 percent of the commercial structures in the business district for a reported $17 million.

Devastating Fire[edit]

On the evening of Monday, November 14, 2011 a spectacular fire destroyed the Pavilion and the adjacent LaFountaine building, which contained the Sip n’ Twirl disco, a pizza parlor, a clothing shop and two real estate offices. That building was built in 1980 and was owned by Nicole LaFountaine.commercial building known as 36 Fire Island Blvd. The fire illuminated the horizon. Forty-three Long Island fire companies responded to the blaze, which began around 8 p.m., with 400 firefighters working in shifts through the night to contain and extinguish the fire. [13]

Pavilion 2008
Ascension 2008 with Kelly Rowland
Ascension 2013 Fireworks Specactular

Renowned Gay Mecca on Fire Island Goes to Auction[edit]

On January 22, 2015 the section of commercial properties that extent along Harbor Walk that include the famed Pavilion, Botel, Cultured Elephant and the Blue Whale have bet set for action.[14] The strip of commercial real estate along the harbor in Fire Island Pines sold for $10.1 million at auction to developers with plans to continue the revival of a former mecca for closeted gay men. In a deal hammered out over several hours, the property was bought by Ian Reisner, who also owns the “straight-friendly” Out NYC, a hotel on West 42nd Street in Manhattan that focuses on a gay clientele. The deal is expected to close in February. Mr. Reisner bought the property in a partnership with P.J. McAteer, who is the owner of several food and beverage outlets that include the club Sip-N-Twirl, the Bistro restaurant and a pizza parlor in the adjacent commercial properties and a small team of investors.

The opening bid was $8.5 million, but because it was below the $12 million reserve, Mr. Reisner said he had to negotiate a final price with the sellers, the brokers and the bank. [15]

Life in the Pines[edit]

A ferry with drag queens during the Invasion of the Pines arrives at Pines Harbor

While all of Fire Island may have an official year-round population of 310, the summer population swells to much higher levels, especially on weekends. In the Pines, the large houses are filled with summer shares and a four-bedroom house can easily contain eight people at a time. The population is primarily gay men 20–50 years old. It is affectionately referred to as "Chelsea with sand." (Chelsea is one of Manhattan's gay neighborhoods.)

Fire Island homes amongst the brush.

There are a number of high-profile events and fundraisers that occur during the summer season. Some of the bigger events include Fire Island Dance Festival, Invasion, Pines Party, and Ascension.

The Fire Island Dance Festival is produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The Invasion of the Pines is a drag-queen parade held each year on July 4, commemorating the time when Whyte refused service to drag queen Terry Warren. After promenading through the Pines, the drag queens from Cherry Grove proclaim victory and return to Cherry Grove.

Pines Party, an all-night dance party held each July on the beach, is the reincarnation of GMHC's former Morning Party fundraiser held on the beach. Morning Party had evolved into a major circuit party and was GMHC's biggest fundraising event. However, the party itself developed a reputation that contradicted GMAC's mission statement.[16]

Despite the loss of the high profile sponsor the party continued under the name of the Pines Party which is held on the last weekend of July. Proceeds go to lower profile organizations of the Stonewall Community Foundation (which uses the money to help those with HIV) and the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association Charitable Foundation (which uses the funds to make improvements to the common areas).[17]

von Kuersteiner started Ascension Weekend, a not-for-profit charitable three day weekend event, to serve as another travel and tourist attraction in the month of August, a month which had been very lackluster in the past. Ascension debuted in 2006, and brought thousands of new faces to the Pines beach. It has played host to award winning DJs such as Freemasons (band).[18]

The Fund in the Sun Foundation was established in 2006 as a direct result of Ascension. Acting as the parent charity, it has donated over $750,000 of Ascension net proceeds to many LGBT charities like Hetrick Martin Institute, Trevor Project, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Live Out Loud, Standing Tall and Friends in Deed.[19]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce - Retrieved October 31, 2007". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  2. ^ Havens: Fire Island Pines, N.Y. – New York Times – May 14, 2004
  3. ^ "Sites for Houses Are Being Offered In Division of Estate on Fire Island". 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  4. ^ a b Dennis Harvey (2004-07-12). "When Ocean Meets Sky - Variety - July 12, 2004". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  5. ^ By Diane Ketcham (1993-08-01). "At the Pines, Sadness Amid The Splendor - New York Times - August 1, 1993". Fire Island (Ny): New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  6. ^ SAGE Nets $35K at Annual Pines Fête - - June 25, 2008[dead link]
  7. ^ a b Blaze on Fire Island - New York Times - June 1, 1959
  8. ^ "A Community Called "The Pines" begins… The 50′s | The Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society". 1953-09-10. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  9. ^ "When Ocean Meets Sky: Photos from Documentary". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  10. ^ a b By Diane Ketcham (1993-08-01). "At the Pines, Sadness Amid The Splendor - New York Times - August 1, 1993". Fire Island (Ny): New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  11. ^ Fischler, Marcelle S. (2004-12-26). "The Dearly Departed, Class of '04; John B. Whyte - Mr. Fire Island Pines – New York Times – December 26, 2004". Fire Island (NY); Long Island (NY): New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  12. ^ 1/20/10 12:00pm 1/20/10 12:00pm. "The King of Gay Paradise Abdicates His Throne". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  13. ^ Finn, Robin (November 15, 2011). "On Fire Island, Blaze Destroys Hub of the Gay Social Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2015. 
  14. ^ A.V. Chaban, Matt (January 21, 2015). "Renowned Gay Mecca on Fire Island Goes to Auction". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2015. 
  15. ^ Southall, Ashley (January 22, 2015). "Gay Mecca on Fire Island Sells for $10.1 Million at Auction". The New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2015. 
  16. ^ "The Advocate - February 2, 1999". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  17. ^ Pines Party - - Retrieved November 3, 2007[dead link]
  18. ^ "Ascension | Home". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  19. ^ "Home". Fund In The Sun. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 

External links[edit]