Fire Island Forever

Just to clarify, in response to a confused e-mail: I refer to several different Fire Island communities in the post below, but all photos were taken this week in Ocean Beach.


IN THE ANNALS of my personal real estate regrets, Fire Island is a biggie. Coulda shoulda woulda.

For non-New Yorkers, Fire Island is a 40-mile-long, quarter-mile-wide sandbar off the south shore of Long Island, reachable only by ferry and banned to cars; the only wheeled vehicles are bicycles, golf carts, and little red wagons.


We rented the Ocean Beach charmer, above, for a month in 1985.

In the early 1980s, my parents rented a 1920s cottage on a huge lot in Lonelyville, reached via a long wooden boardwalk through stands of tall grass, invisible to all comers until the last instant. It could have been had for $100,000. They didn’t buy it, nor did we. I was worried about mosquitoes, and money.


In 1998, having rented in Fire Island many more summers, we bid in earnest on a property in Fair Harbor, very near the ocean — one of those quirky places you know by now I like. It was known as ‘Half House,’ because half of it (the bottom half) had been washed away in the great hurricane  of 1938. So the original 2nd floor sat atop a wood deck — just a cedar-shingled triangle, with a separate guest shack, on two lots, a rarity. We negotiated all winter to get the price down to $245,000, then backed out at the last minute. I was worried about beach erosion, flood insurance, and money.


Somebody slap me upside the head, willya?


Of course, now there’s not a thing under half a mil anywhere on Fire Island, and in that price range it’s going to be the size of a trailer.


Earlier this week, I spent two days in Ocean Beach, visiting a friend who reminded me I passed on the house next door for 180K, now on the market for 850K.


Ocean Beach is the metropolis of Fire Island, the only community with an actual main drag, below, of stores and restaurants. It’s also the only year-round community, with water and an elementary school, but that is not a lifestyle for the faint-hearted (or sociable). The Ocean Beach ferry runs all year long, weather permitting, though in January and February it’s more like an ice-breaker.


I walked around Ocean Beach taking pictures, noting how few and far between the remaining old houses are. Most have been torn down and replaced, or expanded beyond recognition, but it’s those funky vintage cottages that are dearest to my heart.


Of course I looked in the windows of real estate offices. There’s a geodesic dome (!) for 595K in nearby Corneille Estates, and a number of other properties in the 5’s and 6’s, which is probably a comedown from years past.


I’m in no position to take advantage at the moment, but the beach is nice and wide, and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite.