Fire Island National Seashore: The Hidden History of the Carrington Estate

by Elizabeth Rogers

He cofounded the Arts Project of Cherry Grove and one of the oldest continuously operated nonprofit theaters in the United States, the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. He was an actor and Broadway producer, and he and his acquaintances helped shape the culture of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. But to many, the story of Frank Carrington and his Fire Island beach bungalow are relatively unknown.

Hidden behind the dunes between Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines is the Carrington Estate, an undulating ocean-to-bay parcel boasting well-developed dunes, thick maritime forest, and wetlands. The Estate’s beach bungalow, typical of those built as development on Fire Island expanded from a few hotels to a number of summer residences, was built around 1912. Additions to the bungalow came after Mr. Carrington purchased it in 1927, and a guest house made of outbuildings from the former Lonehill Life Saving Station was completed in 1942.

In the 1940s and 1950s, actor and writer friends of Mr. Carrington, including Truman Capote, Henry Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn, stayed at the Carrington Estate, finding the seaside setting ideal for their creative pursuits. Though no one knows for certain, the guest cottage is believed to be where Truman Capote penned Breakfast at Tiffany’s. These famous figures played an important role in establishing an openly gay culture and strong ties between Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines and the New York arts and theater communities.

The six-acre parcel was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) in 1969, six years before Mr. Carrington passed away. After it was transferred to the NPS, Bob Freda, a Fire Island National Seashore staff member, lived in the guest house seasonally from 1976 to 1980 with his family. Mr. Freda and his family moved to the main house in 1981, where they stayed until his retirement in 1997.

Since the early 2000s, the Estate has remained vacant due to funding constraints and the challenges of accessing the mid-island location. The NPS completed work on the siding and roof of the guest cottage, but additional work must be completed on the interior of the cottage, as well as on the interior and exterior of the main house. In 2014, the Carrington Estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance, and for the cultural influence of Frank Carrington on the theater community and the communities of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines.

In recent years, the NPS has explored partnership opportunities to ensure the proper and continued preservation of the Estate. The intended use of the property is to partner with a group that can help carry out Mr. Carrington’s vision for the Estate as a public place for the arts and historical significance of the area, and one which can engage all Fire Island communities and visitors.

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