[Paleopsych] NYT: (Class) Old Nantucket Warily Meets the New
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Sun Jun 5 16:01:27 UTC 2005
Old Nantucket Warily Meets the New
New York Times, 5.6.5
By GERALDINE FABRIKANT
NANTUCKET, Mass. - In spring, along with the daffodils, crowds on the
ferry and workers raking the beaches, comes the ritual of real estate
gossip. What properties changed hands over the winter? And who could
possibly be paying those out-of-sight prices?
That 15-acre waterfront parcel for sale for $15 million? It was
snatched up after only one day on the market. Turns out the purchaser
was Steven Rales, the billionaire entrepreneur who owns at least 61
acres next door and bought the parcel to protect his privacy and
waterfront views, said Dalton Frazier, a local real estate agent.
Have any other palatial estates expanded? Not so long ago H. Wayne
Huizenga, the billionaire founder of Blockbuster and owner of the
Miami Dolphins, wanted more elbow room and bought a neighboring house
for $2.5 million. Richard Mellon Scaife, the publisher and heir to a
banking fortune, bought an extra house too; he needed it for the
The real estate frenzy, even in the dead of winter, is only the most
visible reminder that over the past decade or so this 50-square-mile,
fishhook-shaped island off the Cape Cod coast has come to be dominated
by a new class: the hyper-rich. They emerged in the 1980's and 1990's,
when tectonic shifts in the economy created mountains of wealth. They
resemble the arrivistes of the Gilded Age, which began in the 1880's
when industrial capitalists amassed staggering fortunes, except that
there are so many of them and they seem to be relatively anonymous.
Like their precursors, they tend to be brash, confident and
unapologetic. They feel they have earned their money, and they are not
shy about spending it. They construct huge mansions, outdo one another
in buying high-end status symbols like mega-yachts (100 years ago it
was private railroad cars) and not infrequently turn to philanthropy.
Their wealth is washing over the upper reaches of society as it did a
century ago, bringing cultural and political clout as they take up
positions on museum boards and organize presidential campaign
And they seem unconcerned about being accepted by the old money. If
the blue bloods want to mix with them, fine. But if not, the
hyper-rich are content to stick with their kind. If they cannot join
an exclusive country club, they form their own. They are very good at
creating a self-enclosed world where the criterion for admission is
not the Social Register, but money.
Once a low-key summer resort, Nantucket is rapidly turning into their
private preserve, joining the ranks of other enclaves like Palm Beach,
Aspen, the Hamptons and Sun Valley. Now that the hyper-rich have
achieved a critical mass, property values have zoomed so high that the
less-well-off are being forced to leave and the island is becoming
nature's ultimate gated community.
"It's a castle with a moat around it," said Michael J. Kittredge, a
53-year-old entrepreneur who realized a fortune when he sold his
Yankee Candle Company seven years ago for about $500 million. He was
relaxing in the living room of his 10,000-square-foot house, which has
a basement movie theater and a 2,000-bottle wine cellar. A separate
residence a quarter-mile away houses staff members and a gym.
"Successful people want to be with other successful people," Mr.
Kittredge said. "Birds of a feather," he added. "On Nantucket you
don't feel bad because you want a nice bottle of wine. If you order a
$300 bottle in a restaurant, the guy at the next table is ordering a
Dressed in blue jeans and a pink button-down shirt, he looked across
the breadth of his swimming pool at a spectacular water view. The
island, he said, is rapidly dividing into two types of people: "the
haves and the have-mores."
Nantucket, with its vistas overlooking cranberry bogs and more than 80
miles of beaches, has always had its share of rich people. In the
first half of the 19th century, owners of whaling ships amassed
fortunes from oil and built the still well-preserved Federalist and
Greek Revival mansions on upper Main Street.
During the last century, Vanderbilts, Mellons, duPonts and other
wealthy families built residences here. Over time, as inherited wealth
smoothed the rough edges, their descendants morphed into American high
society and evolved a signature style of living based on
understatement and old-fashioned patrician values.
Some of the scions of these older families are still here. They spend
their time sailing, playing tennis and sometimes recalling the halcyon
days of crossing the moors behind packs of beagles to hunt down
rabbits. The mix of the old aristocratic families and the hyper-rich
often plays out as a none-too-subtle tug of war between class and
Nina Chandler Murray, an 85-year-old relative of the Poor family from
Standard & Poor's, the investment credit rating firm, is convinced
that the world of the elite was more genteel in the old days.
"Coming from a New England background, you had a honed discipline of
what was expected," Dr. Murray, a psychologist, said over iced tea and
chocolate chip cookies on the porch of her hillside home above the
harbor. "Showing off money was a sin. It was not that status was not
important, but marriage was very closely controlled and predetermined,
and everyone knew where everyone else fit."
A family name alone was enough to place someone in the pecking order.
Wealthy people dressed down. Women eschewed heavy jewelry. The uniform
for a man was a plain shirt, faded "Nantucket red" Bermuda shorts and
Topsiders. Now, Dr. Murray suggested, the rule is: If you've got it,
"What has happened in America is that achievement is so important that
everyone wants everyone else to know what they have done," she
continued. "And in case you don't know, they want to tell you with a
lethal combination of houses, cars and diamonds."
Dr. Murray was appalled at a recent dinner party when a woman leaned
over to her and said, "My husband paid $250,000 to join the golf club,
and he doesn't even play golf."
Work Hard, Spend Hard
Mr. Kittredge, who began his candle-making business at age 16 in his
mother's kitchen and says he was raised in a "lower-class to
lower-middle-class" home, holds attitudes typical of many of the
newcomers. When prodded he will say that he worked hard for his money
and that others can do the same. He is unapologetic about spending it
lavishly and says that he has paid his dues in the form of taxes,
which he estimates at $500 million so far. He also says that the chasm
between the old-timers and the newcomers is inevitable.
"Money makes a lifestyle," he said. "It creates a division between the
old money and the new. It is a little bit of class jealousy. We go to
a cocktail party and a guy is telling my wife about his airplane. So
finally the question comes up: 'How do you get over to the island?'
and she says, 'We come by plane.' And he says, 'What kind of plane?'
and she says, 'A G-IV.' And so the wind comes out of the guy's sails."
"The old money guy has a twin-prop airplane and that is pretty
incredible," Mr. Kittredge continued. "For his time, that is pretty
great. Now he is talking to a guy who is half his age who has a
transcontinental jet. That is the end of the conversation.
"Or you meet someone and they start telling you about their boat. He
has a 45-foot boat and he is very happy with it. Then he'll say, 'Do
you have a boat?' And you say, 'Yes.' 'Well, what kind of boat do you
have?' And you say, 'A Fed Ship.' And he says, 'How big is it?' That's
how people rank them. So I have to say, 'It's 200 feet.' It's the end
of the conversation. Is there envy? Yes, could be. Was he a wealthy
guy in his day? Absolutely, but relative to today - no. The two worlds
can mix as long as they don't talk too much."
The accouterments of wealth play a different role for the old-money
clans than they do for the new wealthy, says Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.,
author of "Old Money."
"For many self-made men," Mr. Aldrich said, "homes, boats and even
membership in expensive clubs are trophy signs of wealth. But for the
older money, a boat may well be part of a tableau that has to do with
family, with his grandparents and his children. It is part of his
identity. If he walked away from the conversation, it was because he
thought he was talking about his boat as part of his life. Instead he
found he was talking about money, and he doesn't like being reminded
that he lives in a competitive world."
Over time, some say, the new money will not prove much different.
"Ultimately, the new money becomes as insular as the old money because
it gains the power to exclude," said Michael Thomas, a novelist who,
like his father, was a partner at Lehman Brothers and whose mother
came from an old New England family. "Once you have the power to
exclude, you have what people have been seeking in old money."
The single greatest change brought by the hyper-rich is in the cost of
housing. The average Nantucket house price last year jumped 26
percent, to $1.672 million, said H. Flint Ranney, a veteran real
Last fall one waterfront residence, with its own elevator, wine
cellar, theaters and separate guesthouse, sold for $16 million, the
"Shame has somehow gone out the window," Mr. Thomas said. "There is no
incentive to exercise control."
A handful of the new affluent indulge their fantasies with gusto.
Michael S. Egan, the founder of Alamo Rent-a-Car, built his own
baseball field, complete with a batting cage and stands. Roger Penske,
the automotive tycoon and former race car driver, tussled for months
with the Historic District Commission until he finally won permission
to build a faux lighthouse that joins the two wings of his
multimillion-dollar home. The investment banker Robert Greenhill likes
to fly his Cessna jet to the Nantucket airport or his Cessna seaplane
to his waterfront dock.
The rise in real estate values has, of course, benefited many of the
old-timers. With some of their fortunes eroding, they find they are
sitting on an extremely valuable asset, a realization that adds a
touch of ambivalence to their protests against changes that are all
One such change is at the airport. On high summer weekends, more than
250 Challengers, Gulfstreams and Citations a day might land there,
vying for parking spaces. Some jets drop off passengers for a round of
golf and whisk them away after.
In easternmost Siasconset, the gray-shingled fishermen's cottages that
occupied the corners of plots of sea grass and wildflowers are giving
way to mansions in private cul-de-sacs. Here and there hedges have
sprouted up, tall as windsurfers, to partition the property parcels.
They separate the community, contributing to the ineffable sense that
something familiar and precious about the ethos of the island is
"At least one new family has built a hedge to avoid people seeing them
as they pass by," said Wade Green, 72, who has summered here for
years. "Those open paths had an old-fashioned elegance to them. It is
part of an old and fading spirit of community. Blocking them off is an
unfriendly and antipublic thing to do."
Not all the changes here are striking. Downtown, with its cobblestone
streets and absence of traffic lights, could still pass as a quaint
New England fishing village. But some harbingers horrify the
old-timers: upscale restaurants, boutique windows displaying expensive
designer jewelry and the arrival of the first ever chain store, a
Ralph Lauren shop.
On the sidewalks, class speaks through clothes. "The old money wears
Lily Pulitzer, J. McLaughlin and C K Bradley," said one saleswoman,
who wanted her name withheld to avoid offending customers. "They wear
gold hoops, and if they buy new jewelry it is pearls or they upgrade
their diamond rings. The new money wears Juicy Couture, Calypso and
big necklaces. They even go to different restaurants. The old people
go to 21 Federal and the new people go to the Pearl. They don't want
to mix. They want to show off for each other."
But the lines cross. A handful of the hyper-rich gravitate toward Lily
Pulitzer to give themselves a blue-blood look. And some pedigreed
teenagers lust for Juicy Couture.
Daisy Soros, wife of the harbor designer Paul Soros and sister-in-law
of the financier George Soros, has been coming to Nantucket since the
1960's, an era when few women, new money or old, dressed up. She
thinks that the newcomers are beginning to influence the culture.
"Everybody is building monster houses now, and they are all dressing
up," Mrs. Soros said. "Now even I wear Manolos," she added with a
Some say that too much is being made of all these distinctions. "The
only people who are truly class conscious," said Roger Horchow, who
realized his fortune when he sold his catalog business to Neiman
Marcus in 1988 for $117 million, "are the second tootsie wives of men
with big bankrolls."
Why Wait? Build a New One
When there is a division between the old and the new, it is apt to
express itself on the most time-honored of battlefields: the putting
green, the tennis court or the marine berth.
The existing clubs are still the preserves of the old wealth, but new
clubs are springing up to welcome newcomers, as well as some longtime
residents who grew impatient with waiting lists. For years the Sankaty
Head Golf Club had a waiting list that seemed to extend for decades.
So in 1995, Edmund A. Hajim, an investment banker in Manhattan, and
others created the Nantucket Golf Club, assiduously designed to look
as if it had been around forever. It became such a hit that its list
is now full, too, even at a cost of $325,000 (80 percent reimbursable
upon departure), as opposed to the $30,000 it costs to join Sankaty
In the same way, the old Nantucket Yacht Club has spawned a rival, the
Great Harbor Yacht Club. About 300 families have already bought
memberships, which now cost $300,000.
Some Nantucketers applaud the new clubs.
"Why shouldn't they start a club if they can't get into the old ones,"
said Letitia Lundeen, who was raised in the social whirl of New York
and Washington and now runs an antiques store here.
The resentment of new money riles Liz Petkevich, whose husband, J.
Misha Petkevich, an investment banker and former Olympic figure
skater, helped found the new yacht club.
Her husband worked hard for what he achieved, she said. "Does that
mean we are better than anyone else? No. But we should not be
penalized because we cannot get into the old yacht club."
In the old days, the clubs were homogenous and dominated by white
Anglo-Saxon Protestant families.
"When I first came here it was the tail end of the 'grande dame' era,"
said David L. Hostetler, a sculptor, who arrived in 1971. "The place
was dominated by WASP women in Bermuda shorts. There were hardly any
Today the island's elite is diversified enough to support a synagogue
where membership has reached 250 families and where the yarmulke worn
during services is Nantucket red and decorated with miniature whales.
One place where the old and the new do mix is charity events. As in
cultural and philanthropic institutions from San Francisco to New York
City, the old money has made room at the table for the new money to
replenish the coffers. There are more and more fund-raising events,
and they are no longer the low-key affairs they once were. Last year
the annual cocktail party and auction for the Nantucket Historical
Association instituted valet parking and a classical quartet in black
Some appreciate the infusion of money and energy that the newcomers
have brought. "The old money doesn't like to spend money because they
worry about whether they can make it again," Ms. Lundeen said. "Even
when they can spend it, they often think it's vulgar and unnecessary.
The newcomers have brought the island up to par with their demands."
Everything New Is Old
Old-time Nantucketers are given to trading what one of them called
"barbarian stories." Did you hear that Rick Sherlund, a Goldman Sachs
partner, annoyed some of his neighbors when he hired Jackson Browne to
entertain at his anniversary party? Or that Jon Winkelried, another
Goldman Sachs partner, had the nerve to close off a small road that
people had been using for as long as anyone can remember? Or that
Louis V. Gerstner, the former I.B.M. chief executive, hired a Boston
litigator to help him push through a plan for a large new house on his
$11 million waterfront plot?
Aggressive behavior, Dr. Murray said, is natural to the species. "And
after all, why should they give it up?" she said. "Look where it has
gotten them. That is exactly how they made their money."
One Nantucketer was L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of
Tyco International, on trial a second time on charges of criminal
larceny, accused of looting the company of tens of millions of
dollars. His lavish New York apartment, with its $6,000 shower
curtain, became a symbol of the over-the-top corporate lifestyle.
To some, the multimillion-dollar party that Mr. Kozlowski gave on
Sardinia to celebrate his wife's birthday - replete with a
vodka-spewing ice sculpture fashioned after Michelangelo's "David" -
was a modern echo of the lavish celebrations of the Gilded Age.
Subtler distinctions between old and new money lie in the attitude
toward work. The financier David Rubinstein bought a 15-acre
waterfront property, tore down the existing house, as many wealthy
buyers have done, and put up an 8,000-square-foot home. The stunning
view lets him watch the sun rise and set, and yet he has boasted to
friends that he spends only 12 days a year here; a rock on his front
lawn reads: "I'd rather be working."
Robert E. Torray, who is a co-manager of a mutual fund family and has
been flying here on his company's Gulfstream since the 1980's, is
either on the golf course or working the phone in his cranberry red
library. He likes it here because there are Wall Street moguls
everywhere and wherever he goes he can talk business.
That is hardly the attitude of some veteran summer residents, who find
comfort in the thought that they can occasionally be fogged in without
worrying about the office. For them, being rich means a license to
break schedules and to play. "If you are working," said Nicki Gamble,
whose husband, Richard, is an heir to the Proctor & Gamble fortune,
"it is very nerve-racking. The way to be here is not to be working."
Caught by a Boom
The high cost of housing is squeezing middle-class people off the
The former principal of Nantucket High School, Paul Richards, and his
wife, Martina, a nurse, moved last year to Needham, Mass., after
renting here for five years. "The expense of that together with having
two little children made a home beyond reach," Mr. Richards said. "It
was frustrating to be driven away from two jobs that we very much
enjoyed, but a starter home for our family would have cost over
Linda Finney Williams, administrator of the Nantucket Zoning Board of
Appeals, who has a 19-year-old son in college and an older daughter in
law school, said, "I'm hanging on by my fingernails."
"The cost of living has risen so much that it's very hard on us."
The demand for labor is so great that every weekday roughly 400
workers fly in from the mainland for construction, gardening, plumbing
and other services. The commute may be a nuisance, but the money makes
it worthwhile. It also explains why building is so expensive; the
additional costs are passed along to customers.
John Sheehan, a 65-year-old construction worker who rises every day at
4:30 a.m. to catch a plane from Hyannis, does not complain. "I have
always been in the lower-middle-class area," Mr. Sheehan said. "But
the times are good for me now. I'm making more money than I ever did
and I'm living more comfortably."
To try to stem the outflow of workers the Nantucket Housing Office, a
private nonprofit group, has proposed a one-time "McMansion" tax of $8
per square foot on any construction space exceeding 3,000 square feet.
The bill has several more hurdles, but if it is approved, the proceeds
would be used to build housing for families making $120,825 a year or
Some real estate agents worry that the hyper-rich will resent the tax,
but so far wealthy homebuilders seem to regard it as a pittance
compared with the other costs they incur.
Despite the money to be made, some shop owners and other locals miss
the way the island used to be.
Though she applauds their self-confidence, Ms. Lundeen, the antiques
dealer, says she is sometimes appalled by what she considers the
cavalier ignorance of some women who are suddenly rich. "They don't
want to learn," she said. "I had a monogrammed tray and when I
proposed it to a customer, she said, 'Why would I want other people's
monograms?' These women have never inherited anything."
Robin Bergland, a young florist who moved here from Manhattan, has
stopped providing flowers for weddings. "The final straw was a wedding
where a Wall Street executive tried to bill me for the wedding gown
and medical expenses," she said. "He charged that the roses I used to
decorate their party tent ruined the hem of the bride's dress and
caused her aunt to trip and break her leg.
"I got threatening phone calls daily. I was terrified until I gave the
case to my lawyer and they went away. There's no question it was
unlikely to have happened five years ago."
The old summer people "used to try and fit in," said Arlene Briard, a
taxi driver who has lived here 35 years. "They didn't want to
differentiate themselves by class or by a look that said how much
money I have. When I sold TV Guides to people, I'd walk into a house,
sit down and have a lemonade with people or play tennis with them at
the yacht club. Now they get in my taxi and find a way to tell me that
they belong to the Nantucket Golf Club.
"Class has a certain grace," Ms. Briard said. "Just because you can go
to Chanel and buy a dress does not mean you have class. A person who
just pays their bills on time can have class."
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