In 1925, Carl Fisher bought Montauk Peninsula on Long Island, New York. He believed that the 10,000 acre peninsula was the perfect location for a northern tourist haven like Miami Beach. Fisher’s wildcatting on Montauk appeared to be a brilliant strategy – by luck he was leaving Miami Beach before a devastating hurricane in 1926 stalled the real estate momentum there.
As with Miami Beach, Fisher worked full throttle to construct roads, commercial buildings, and homes between 1926 and 1932. He also brought in Steve Hannagan to help sell the ‘new Miami Beach.’ Fisher paid Hannagan with stock that he never traded and was a worthless investment when Hannagan’s estate tried to sell it.
As part of Fisher’s blueprint to make Montauk a destination for New York travelers, he planned a wharf at Montauk large enough to dock Trans-Atlantic steamers. The passengers would disembark at Montauk and then travel by rail to Manhattan. Docking at Montauk would save a day’s time in both directions. However, Fisher’s Trans-Atlantic scheme never came to fruition.i
Fisher’s main problem at Montauk was that his vision of a resort on Montauk Point fell victim to the Great Depression. Furthermore, Steve Hannagan and others told Fisher that Montauk had a very short tourist season compared to Miami Beach and that the weather was lousy the rest of the year. Even during the summer season wind and rain could bl0w onto the peninsula at gale force. Even the cold and snow of winter attracted few tourist because the upper echelons in New York City did not see Montauk as a winter resort If they wanted a winter resort, they traveled to Hannagan’s other project that opened in 1937 – Sun Valley.
Nevertheless, Fisher and Hannagan pushed the Montauk resort as the place to be in the summer. Their marketing slogan paraphrased their successful campaign for Miami Beach, “Miami in the winter; Montauk in the summer.”ii
In other words, Fisher and Hannagan were swimming upstream as they tried to promote Montauk as a resort for the rich and powerful on the far end of Long Island. Fisher’s resort went belly-up by the middle 1930s leaving him destitute. Fisher returned to Miami Beach to live off the good will of his friends. He died an impoverished alcoholic in Miami Beach in 939.
Now that Carl Fisher’s time has long passed, Montauk is becoming the place for the very rich to build magnificent homes and buy what is left of Fisher’s buildings as elegant locations for their lifestyle.
The poster for the Montauk Resort leading the article covers the main points of the publicity campaign. Since the resort was a summer resort, the poster emphasized that it was “125 miles out in the Cool Atlantic,” a powerful message for New Yorkers seeking to beat the summer heat and humidity. There are also images of activities at or nearby to resort – deep-sea fishing, archery, golf, tennis, horse and coaches, sailing, and aviation. The images make it clear that Fisher’s Montauk is appealing to the wealthy and not the day tripper crowd.
Tour of Carl Fisher’s Montauk
The Montauk Tower opened in the 1920s and was originally known as the Carl Fisher Office Building. The building housed the headquarters for Fisher’s development project
In 1927, Carl Fisher opened the Manor as a ‘grand centerpiece’ to his Montauk Resort. It was filled with hotel rooms, outsized ballrooms, restaurants serving internationally acclaimed cuisine, tea room, and a broad Croquet lawn overlooked the peninsula.v
Carl Fisher’s home was designed by the same architect Schultze & Weaver that designed the Pierre Hotel in New York City. The house has six bedrooms and a guest house. The floors in the main house are timbered with stone fireplaces, paneled ceilings, and arched windows.vii In 2015, Fisher’s home was put up for sale for $10.5 million.
Carl Fisher’s Montauk Homes for the Rich and Famous
Fisher dotted his resort plantation with great homes designed in the Great Gatsby style. These homes were not modest in size, detail, or cost. In the last several decades, celebrities and high finance investors have taken a shine to exclusivity of the Montauk peninsula.ix
For More Information on Carl Fisher’s Montauk Resort go to the article in Dan’s Papers; Wild Developer Who Tried to Build a Resort at Montauk; the link to the article is: http://www.danspapers.com/2014/06/carl-fisher-wild-developer-who-tried-to-build-a-resort-at-montauk/
ix Eichblatt, Sam; Photograph of the Harry Bruno Home; “A Jazz Age Inventor’s Quest to Turn Montauk into Miami Beach” (Retrieved April 3, 2018); https://www.curbed.com/2015/4/22/9975144/a-jazz-age-inventors-quest-to-turn-montauk-into-miami-beach.
As part of Steve Hannagan’s publicity campaign for Puerto Rico, he promoted a bantam weight prize fight between Sixto Escobar, a local fighter, and Harry Jefra of Baltimore. The fight was held on February 20, 1938, at El Escambrón Baseball Park in Puerta de Tierra. The fight was a rematch between the two. Jefra won the previous fight.
Hannagan convinced boxing promoter, Mike Jacobs that the fight would be a money maker because Escobar was a hometown favorite. However, Hannagan did not know that the two boxers had fought before. Escobar wanted the fight because if he won he had a shot at the bantamweight title fight.
To maximize the gate, Hannagan scheduled the fight to coincide with the arrival of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. He expected to draw a large number of officers and enlisted men looking for a rousing fight to start shore leave. However, Steve made a major mistake by inviting photographers to a dinner with both fighters; who rather than glaring at each other through dinner pictures showed them to be the best of friends. Sailors did not want a fight between friends, they wanted rabid enemies pummeling each other into bloody pulp. The result was that the sailors stayed away in droves. However, the locals did come, and they saw Escobar outpoint Jefra in fifteen rounds. The next year Escobar won the bantam weight title.iii