To cap off Curbed's first inaugural Whale Week, a five-day tribute to all the "whales"—the high rollers and big spenders, to use popular Vegas slang—across the Curbed Universe, we're going back in time to look at one of the biggest Hamptons whales of all time: Carl Fisher.
In the history of the East End, the biggest whale of them all may have been Carl Fisher, the builder of Miami Beach, who attempted the most ambitious real estate development in the history of the Hamptons. In 1925, he bought the entire peninsula of Montauk, 10,000 acres in all for $2.5M (that's about $315M in today's dollars). His dream was to develop Montauk into the Miami Beach of the North. Fisher wanted the Gatsby crowd to think, "Miami Beach in the winter, Montauk in the summer."
Originally from Indianapolis, Fisher's personal life was scandalous. In 1909, at age 35, he married a 15 year old girl. That surprised his longtime opera singer girlfriend, who then sued him for "breach of promise," seeking $500k. She won damages of $25k.
Fisher's first Montauk building was the 250-room Manor Hotel (pictured above), which opened in June 1927. He also built a polo field, the Montauk Yacht Club, the Montauk Tennis Auditorium (now the Playhouse), the Surf Club with its enormous oceanside pools, the Beach Casino, and a boardwalk. He developed downtown Montauk into the town we know it today (and the seven-story office building in the downtown plaza he created was then the tallest building on Long Island). The Montauk Community Church he built still stands, and his pink sidewalks largely remain. For the maids, porters, and croupiers to work in his establishments, he built a section of town still known as Shepherds Neck, complete with grazing sheep.
Unfortunately, Fisher's vision came more or less to an end with the crashing of the stock market in 1929. The Montauk Beach Development Company went into receivership in 1932 and by the mid 1930s, Fisher was virtually penniless. He died in 1939 of complications from alcoholism. His wife had divorced him in 1926, tired of his womanizing ways, but always said she couldn't forget him: "I married again and again," she wrote, adding, "I couldn't stay married to them because life was just too drab.? You see, living with Carl Fisher was like living in a circus?. It was excitement, aliveness, that I never found again."