Fire Island Pines, New York

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
The marina from the west side shops area looking east
The Pines, Pines, FIP
Fire Island Pines
Location within the state of New York
Coordinates: 40°39′55″N 73°4′6″W
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
Lots first sold1952
  Total12 (full-time)/2,500 to 3,000(seasonal)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
  Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)631 Exchange: 597
WebsiteFire Island Property Owners Association

Fire Island Pines along with the adjoining Cherry Grove, are the areas most strongly associated with the gay community on Fire Island.[1] The island has been referred to as America’s first gay and lesbian town[2] and served since the 1920s and 1930s as a refuge for vacationers and others who desired the more liberal attitude the island's occupants allowed.[3]

The Pines, which has the most expensive real estate on Fire Island, has approximately 600 houses and a 100 unit condominium complex on its square mile of location. It has two-thirds of the swimming pools on Fire Island.[4] Its summer seasonal population is between 2,500 and 3,000. In 2004, 12 people listed it as their full-time residence.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] Squatters erected temporary buildings.[8] The "harbor" is the area where all the commercial buildings are located, including docks for yachts, the passenger ferry from Sayville, and freight operations.


On November 14, 2011 a large fire destroyed the Pavilion, including its commercial tenants. That building had been built in 1980. 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.[9]

Developers and real estate owners

The Smadbecks

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.[10]

The Botel and associated yacht club buildings burned on May 31, 1959.[11]

Peggy Fears

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.[12]

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 took shape after a major 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.[11]

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."[13] It also proclaimed "We believe in a community that is clean both morally and physically." [7]

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 endmen weren't allowed to dance with men back thenand everyone would have a good time."[14]

Visitors in the 1960s included Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable and Zachary Scott.[14]

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[15] (all of which were Whyte establishments).

Eric von Kuersteiner

For three decades, John B. Whyte helped attract a celebrity crowd and developed the area with a more sophisticated cachet. In 2003, Whyte decided to sell all of his commercial holdings and sought out a specific buyer: Eric von Kuersteiner, who had been frequenting the Pines since the late 1980s. Whyte had an asking price of $11 million. His broker negotiated the sale for $9 million.

Matthew Blesso, Seth Weissman & Andrew Kirtzman

In 2009, Matt Blesso, Andrew Kirtzman, Seth Weissman were a trio of investors known as FIP Ventures.[16]

Ian Reisner and P. J. McAteer

In January 2015, the majority of the commercial properties and operating businesses, including the Pavilion and Blue Whale, were purchased at auction by Ian Reisner for $10.1 million in debt and equity. At that time, competing operator P.J. McAteer contributed three businesses (Sip & Twirl, Pines Pizza, Pines Bistro) to the purchasing entity, Outpost Pines, in exchange for a minority equity stake in the new company. McAteer is the current operator of the Outpost Pines harbor businesses (Canteen, Pool Bar, Botel, Blue Whale, Bistro, Pizza, Sip & Twirl) with Reisner providing additional financial support. [17][18]

Life in the Pines

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," with reference to one of Manhattan's gayer 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 between 1983 and 1998.[19] Morning Party had evolved into a major circuit party and was GMHC's biggest fundraising event. However, the party itself developed a reputation for recreational drug-use that contradicted GMHC's mission statement, so the organization announced the end of the event on December 30, 1998 after a death and 21 arrests at that year's event.[20][21][22] 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).[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]


Fire Island Pines is typically accessed by boat, with most visitors and residents utilizing a nearby ferry service in Sayville. Sayville itself is accessible by train, including from New York City. The Pines had been served with regularly scheduled seaplanes during the season from New York City.[26] That service ended after the September 11 attacks, but returned with some regularity at the end of the 2015 season.

With limited exceptions, motor vehicles are not permitted in the Pines, and bicycles are uncommon.

Health care

Northwell Health operates two urgent care facilities during the season, located nearby on Fire Island (one in Ocean Beach and the other in Cherry Grove).

Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, Southside Hospital, and Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center are located directly across the Great South Bay from Fire Island in the Long Island hamlets of West Islip, Bay Shore, and the village of Patchogue, respectively. A heliport for medevac helicopter use is adjacent to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center. Specially equipped boats provided by the Suffolk County Police Department Marine Bureau docked at the various communities on Fire Island provide emergency transportation to individuals in need of dire medical care. In many cases, Long Island-based ambulances will meet the boats once they cross the Bay and then drive individuals the short distance to one of the three hospitals. Also, one emergency access road connects Long Island (West Islip) to Fire Island (Kismet). However, the road ends there and does not extend the full length of the island into the other communities.

Notable people

See also


  1. "Fire Island". Equality Archive. 2015-10-27. Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  2. Esther, Newton (2014-11-12). Cherry Grove, Fire Island : sixty years in America's first gay and lesbian town. Durham. ISBN 978-0822377214. OCLC 895230980.
  3. Thomson, T.J. (2018). "From the Closet to the Beach: A Photographer's View of Gay Life on Fire Island From 1975 to 1983". Visual Communication Quarterly. 25: 3–15. doi:10.1080/15551393.2017.1343152.
  4. "Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce - Retrieved October 31, 2007". Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  5. Havens: Fire Island Pines, N.Y. – New York Times – May 14, 2004
  6. "Sites for Houses Are Being Offered In Division of Estate on Fire Island". 2009-10-26. Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  7. Harvey, Dennis (2004-07-12). "When Ocean Meets Sky - Variety - July 12, 2004". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  8. Ketcham, Diane (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.
  9. Finn, Robin (November 15, 2011). "On Fire Island, Blaze Destroys Hub of the Gay Social Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  10. SAGE Nets $35K at Annual Pines Fête - - June 25, 2008
  11. Blaze on Fire Island - New York Times - June 1, 1959
  12. "A Community Called "The Pines" begins… The 50s | The Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society". 1953-09-10. Archived from the original on 2014-01-11. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  13. "When Ocean Meets Sky: Photos from Documentary". Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  14. Ketcham, Diane (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.
  15. 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.
  16. Williams, Alex. "Andrew Kirtzman, Guardian of Fire Island Pines". Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  17. 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.
  18. Fred A. Bernstein.Renovation in Store on Fire Island Pines. The New York Times, March 23, 2010
  19. "The GMHC Morning Party 1983–1998". Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  20. Ramirez, Anthony (August 24, 1997). "Fire Island Party's Morning After". The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  21. Capehart, Jonathan (September 29, 1998). "Morning-after mourning; one death and three overdoses lead some to ask if GMHC should scrap its place on the circuit". The Advocate. Retrieved December 23, 2017 via The Free Library.
  22. "Sunset for Morning Party on Fire Island". The Advocate. February 2, 1999. Retrieved December 23, 2017 via The Free Library.
  23. "Pines Party". Archived from the original on September 11, 2007. Retrieved November 3, 2007.
  24. "Ascension". Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  25. "Home". Fund In The Sun. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  26. May, Clifford (July 1, 1986). "A quicker (and more costly) way to Fire Island". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
Preceded by
Water Island
Beaches of Fire Island Succeeded by
Cherry Grove
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.