Fire Island Pines, New York
|Fire Island Pines|
The marina from the west side shops area looking east
|Nickname(s): The Pines, Pines, FIP|
|Lots first sold||1952|
|• Total||12 (fulltime)/2,500 to 3,000(seasonal)|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|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.
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. Its summer seasonal population is between 2,500 and 3,000 and in 2004 12 people listed it as their full-time residence.
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.
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. Squatters erected temporary buildings.
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.
The Botel and associated yacht club buildings burned on May 31, 1959.
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.
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
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.
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." It also proclaimed "We believe in a community that is clean both morally and physically." 
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."
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 (all of which were Whyte establishments).
All of the commercial buildings are located in the "harbor" area which is where the ferry from Sayville docks. The harbor also includes docks for yachts. Regularly scheduled seaplanes during the season from New York City once disembarked their passengers at the Harbor but that service ended around 2000.
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 real estate maven and hotelier from Manhattan who had been frequenting the Pines since 1985. Kuersteiner bought an oceanfront house in 1998 with his companion and business partner, Anthony Roncalli, Esq. Kuersteiner had been an active member in the community for years and is a member of the volunteer Fire Island Pines Fire Department.
Whyte insisted he get to know the potential buyer and asked 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. Kuersteiner 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 Kuersteiner for $5.5 million because he truly believed he was the only person right to take over The Pines legacy. Jon Wilner, of Island Properties, brokered the deal in the early 2004. When interviewed by the New York Times, Kuersteiner remarked, Things have changed in the past 30 years. You'd open the door, put on some music and everyone would come. The younger gay men these days want different types of things. They want entertainment; they want variety. And this became his mission.
Major transformations began and Kuersteiner invested millions in renovations all with the intention to revitalize the properties. He redesigned the downtown and created a new creative programming and entertainment schedule to attract the new world-wide 20 and 30-something gay generation, who were at the time not familiar with The Pines.
Kuersteiner invested an additional $200,000 in 2004 in marketing and advertising with both domestic and international campaigns to help rebrand the properties. He invested $100,000 in website design and maintenance at www.thepinesfireisland.com. He believed it was crucial to show the new mass audience just what magic was about to happen. And so the tagline, “Your Summer Wonderland” was born. And a wonderland it was. Bright blue flags waved proudly and a busy Blue Whale deck welcomed in all ferries in the harbor and offered a hint of excitement of just what kind of experience a new guest was in store for.
The Botel, was renamed Hotel Ciel, and was designed to offer the aura of South Beach haunts like the Delano in Miami. After improvements, Hotel Ciel ran at full occupancy each season following. The Cultured Elephant, previously a pizza restaurant, was never fully utilized. It became the new island favorite, Bay Bar: a Starbucks-infused coffee shop with sandwiches, full table service menu and bar. While the Blue Whale remained, Kuersteiner created a world of change by offering a savvy NYC style dining experience with a phenomenal menu by an Executive Chef. Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner were served daily and seating both indoors and outdoors doubled. At its peak, The Blue Whale would turn tables three times at breakfast and lunch and twice at dinner.
Kuersteiner, while preserving the heritage of the Tea Dance at the Blue Whale maximized its fullest potential. The restaurant and deck were cleared each day at 4:30pm to prepare for the new 1,500 person Low Tea, complete with a state of the art sound system, lighting design and esteemed local and international DJ roster. The restaurant and deck would then be set again at 8:30pm for dinner service which included live variety acts by such celebrities as Candis Cayne, Edie, Bernadette Peters and more.
Pavilion continued its tradition but with incredible improvements. High Tea which had previously held about 100-200 people was expanded to accommodate up to 1,000. There was such an increased attendance that the support beams of the former Pavilion needed reinforcement to accommodate the extra weight. Kuersteiner launched “Lina’s Lounge” a party with DJ Lina Bradford, who is now one of the biggest attractions in the Pines currently. Kuersteiner also offered nighttime programming with acclaimed domestic and international DJs. In 2006, Kuersteiner created a new Pines staple: Middle Tea. Directly following Low Tea and running simultaneously as High Tea, the main dance floor of Pavilion was opened to the public thus offering another party. The very first Middle Tea, originally called “Party at Pavilion” had one bartender and one of his manager’s CD’s in the DJ booth. This event is now a permanent party in the Pines schedule.
In Fall of 2006, Kuersteiner commenced a tremendous $2 million renovation and rehabilitation on the Pavilion, which he was able to complete in record time before the next season began in May 2007. Keeping the same basic blueprint, he increased guest capacity by 25%. A commercial harbor front retail rental space was also added to the façade. With a larger interior space, all semi enclosed to avoid interference with weather, the Pavilion hosted over 2,000 people between 6pm and 4am every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Kuersteiner also created other businesses that were desperately needed in the community. Bamboo, a high styled florist and landscaping company opened in 2004 and flourished throughout the island. Index, a men’s clothing store opened in 2005, and offered designer duds and accessories. Aqua Gym opened in 2004 and received a major renovation with brand new fitness equipment in 2006, which sat poolside. A Fresh Market was introduced to the Pines community in 2007 and offered fine fresh and prepared foods featuring some tasty treats from NYC’s Citarella.
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 The Freemasons, Bimbo Jones, Chris Cox, Jonathan Peters, Able, Brett Henrichsen, Hector Fonseca and Theresa. It has hosted such talent celebrities as Dragonette, Kelly Rowland, Neon Hitch, Amanda Wilson, Crystal Waters, Countess LuAnn Delesseps, Mia Martina, and Kristine W. In 2011, Britney Spears dedicated a special message to all Ascension attendees which received nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.
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.
When Kuersteiner began his operations in 2004, property revenue was $1.7 million the year prior. By Summer 2009, sale revenue was reported at a record $5 million.
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. Jon Wilner of Island Properties brokered the sale.
Matthew Blesso, Seth Weissman & Andrew Kirtzman
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. On November 14, 2011 the Pavilion was destroyed by fire that also destroyed 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.
The Pines Scene
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.)
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 for being connected with unsafe sex and recreational drug use. GMHC pulled the plug after the 1998 fundraiser after one man died of an overdose of the drug gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) the evening before the party and a few revelers were arrested for drug possession.
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).
Drug use connected with the parties has remained high with the resident doctor Ed Schulhafer sending out a memo to residents following another GHB fatality in 2007 stating: "This tragic incident follows an unprecedented number of GHB overdoses at the Pines Party, July 29."
Ascension is a relatively new party that benefits the Fund in the Sun Foundation. Its mission is to provide funding for projects and initiatives designed to protect, enhance and maintain the environment, cultural life, health and infrastructure of the Fire Island Pines community.
- Calvin Klein, former resident
- David Geffen, former resident
- Robin Byrd, resident
- Michael Lucas, resident; director who has shot several adult films on the island
- Tommy Tune
- Joan McCracken, early resident
In 2010 about three quarters of the businesses in the resort were sold to a group of investors. Eric von Kuersteiner and Anthony Roncalli, the former owners, sold the businesses for about $20 million. The new owners, Andrew Kirtzman, a journalist turned hotelier; Matt Blesso, a real estate investor; and Seth Weissman, an investment banker, plan to renovate the properties for the 2010 season.
The other major group of businesses in the Pines include Sip n Twirl, Pines Pizza & Ice Cream, and Pines Bistro & Martini Bar. Sip & Twirl is a very popular gay disco and has DJ's and dancing every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night during the peak season.
- "Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce - Retrieved October 31, 2007". Fireislandcc.org. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- Havens: Fire Island Pines, N.Y. – New York Times – May 14, 2004
- "Sites for Houses Are Being Offered In Division of Estate on Fire Island". Web.archive.org. 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- Dennis Harvey (2004-07-12). "When Ocean Meets Sky - Variety - July 12, 2004". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- 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.
- SAGE Nets $35K at Annual Pines Fête - fireislandnews.net - June 25, 2008[dead link]
- Blaze on Fire Island - New York Times - June 1, 1959
- "A Community Called "The Pines" begins… The 50′s | The Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society". Fiphps.org. 1953-09-10. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "When Ocean Meets Sky: Photos from Documentary". logoonline.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- 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.
- 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.
- By Marcelle S. Fischler (2004-05-09). "LONG ISLAND JOURNAL; Pines Developer Plans Upscale Gay Resort - New York Times". Farmingdale (Ny); Fire Island (Ny): Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "Lina Bradford". Facebook. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "Online Exclusives | Eric von Kuersteiner". Noizemag.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "Ascension | Home". Ascensionparty.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "Ascension 2011 - A Message from Britney Spears". YouTube. 2011-08-14. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "Home". Fund In The Sun. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- 1/20/10 12:00pm 1/20/10 12:00pm. "The King of Gay Paradise Abdicates His Throne". Gawker.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- "The Advocate - February 2, 1999". Findarticles.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- Pines Party - pinesparty.com - Retrieved November 3, 2007[dead link]
- 8/23/07 12:00pm 8/23/07 12:00pm (2007-08-18). "Gays Break Records For Deadly Drug Overdoses This Summer - Gawker.Com - August 23, 2007". Gawker.Com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- Renovation in Store on Fire Island Pines - New York Times - Retrieved April 2020
- St, Jason (2010-04-07). "Edge Magazine - March 2010". Edgeonthenet.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fire Island Pines, New York.|
- Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines News and Travel Guide
- Fire Island Men: Gay Men of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines
- Fire Island Q News - Fire Island Pines & Cherry Grove Monthly Gay Webzine
- Fire Island News and Online Travel Guide
- Grove Pines Connect - 24/7 Gay Social Networking Haven
- Fire Island iPhone App (free) Ferry schedules for all Fire Island, including Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines.