A Connecticut ‘Gold Coast’ mansion sold by talk show pioneer Phil Donahue for $25 million is to be razed by its current owners who say it is collapsing and overrun with vermin.
The once lavish Tudor on Westport’s most exclusive avenue has become a home for rats and raccoons with a collapsing roof, according to its new owner Peggy Reiner.
She is involved in an attempt to demolish the 8,500 square foot rectory after building a 20,000 square foot beach view home with a sweeping perspective of Long Island Sound in front.
The project met with resistance from the city Historic District Commissionwho asked for talks to find alternatives to demolition.
But Reiner and her husband Gary have made no attempt to discuss how to save the building during a commission-mandated 180-day stay, which means the mansion is set to start collapsing in September.
It would end the glamorous history of the 114 Beachside Avenue home, which was once part of Westport’s “Hollywood of the East” when the suburban town was home to some of the biggest names in showbiz.
For about two decades from the mid-1980s, the seven-acre estate with an expansive lawn down to a private beach was a weekend getaway and summer getaway from Manhattan for conversation guru Donahue and his actress wife, Marlo Thomas, star of the popular 1960s sitcom “That Girl.”
Beachside Avenue was home to Don Imus, who owned the nearby 106, while other Westport residents included Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and home guru Martha Stewart.
Now imprisoned producer Harvey Weinstein had two plots at the west end of Beachside Avenue. The rapist’s mansion was recently razed by its new owner.
In 2006, Donahue purchased another multi-million dollar mansion on the nearby Gold Coast and sold the Tudor and grounds for a record $25 million to financier Herbert M. Allison, Jr.
Allison later served as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, overseeing the controversial bank bailout in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
After Allison’s death in 2013, the estate was listed in 2017, but there were no takers and the grand old place fell on hard times.
The Reiners bought him in 2020 for $16,500,000, a bargain at nearly half the $32 million listing price.
They have now completed construction of the new 20,000 square foot contemporary oceanfront home, valued at over $20 million, located directly across from the Old Square.
And now they have applied for permission to demolish the stucco of seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five fireplaces and a wooden behemoth dating from around 1911, which is unlisted.
A Westport estate agent closely involved in the sale told the Post: “The Tudor was not in good condition when the Reiners bought it. The purchase price was strictly for these nearly eight beautiful oceanfront acres, with spectacular views of the Sound. The house itself was quite bastard, and had been very badly renovated before.
During a recent Historic District Commission hearing on Zoom, Reiner requested permission to begin demolition immediately.
“It’s been infested with many different types of rats, rodents and moths, and we’ve had a really hard time…it’s falling apart, it’s under (not up to) code,” she said .
“It has many beautiful parts, but most of them have been ruined over the years by many different occupants.”
Reiner listed the issues as balconies that are unsafe to walk on, a collapsing roof and a waterlogged basement, telling the commission: “It’s kind of not fixable, unfortunately. “
She said she was speaking to an organization that could hopefully use some of the craftsman-grade materials used in the house before demolition.
Grayson Braun, the chair of the commission, told the Post that they had wanted to find alternatives to demolition, so they imposed a 180-day waiting period.
“In the case of 114 Beachside Avenue, due to the age of the house over 50 years, the style of the house and the importance of the house, we have maintained the waiting period of 180 days” , she said.
But such talks did not take place, she added.
Braun, who works in the construction industry and sells architectural products, visited the site and viewed the exterior of the mansion and found it to be in good condition.
“It’s a beautiful neo-Tudor house very intact, and I really hoped it could be saved. But I can’t say whether or not it’s infested with rats, raccoons or moths, or everything Mrs Reiner claims in court, and I don’t know what she knew when she bought it.”
Meanwhile, the Reiners and/or their representatives have declined to attend further hearings and are awaiting a deadline to begin demolition.
They declined to comment on The Post.
A demolition sign is posted on one of the stone pillars leading to the property. “There’s nothing we can do,” Braun said.
The city, on the Metro North line to Grand Central Terminal, has attempted to address the issue of preserving historic homes, as teardowns are constantly being replaced with McMansions.
Noting the impending demolition of Tudor, unofficial Westport town crier Dan Woog, 70, a lifelong native of the town who writes the popular gossip and current affairs blog “06880”, Westport’s postcode, was reminiscent of the Donahue Tudor and grounds in its heyday.
“This was a stunning property that was located right on the water. It was really something! What people do with real estate here sometimes baffles you. People will tear down a multi-million dollar house, to build another even bigger multi-million dollar house, also tear down big houses with a ton of historical value, without even thinking about it.
Donahue, 87, and Thomas, 83, were not part of the city’s social scene, he added.
“They weren’t a big part of the community like Paul Newman and Rodney Dangerfield,” Woog observed. “People who live on Beachside Avenue, they have a lot of property, they don’t have to leave their property and get to know the city.”
But the couple – who live in a Manhattan apartment on The New York Times describesd as in “Malibu overlooking Central Park” – got embroiled in their own row over a Westport teardown in 1988 when they owned the Tudor.
When they bought the Tudor for $3.5 million circa 1986, it was on three acres.
Two years later, the couple paid $6.8 million for the nearby 2,500-square-foot home and the 7.2 acres it stood on.
The house was an experimental concrete design by architect John M. Johansen, a famous mid-century designer known as one of the Harvard Five.
Donahue tore down the house, saying it had been vacant for some time and was attracting “vagrants, lovers and other strangers” who he said littered the place with “empty beer cans and beer wrappers.” McDonald’s”.
When Johansen learned that the house – known as the Taylor House, or the Labyrinth – had been bulldozed, he said The Los Angeles Times, “It was not a very exemplary act on the part of a public figure. And they nicknamed him, ‘Mr. Sensitivity.'”
And the city’s architectural historian, Mary McCahon, said The New York Times, “It was a magnificent building. Westport’s finest design. Tearing it down, I think, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 10.”
Donahue was unrepentant. “Many people who express deep concern have never seen the house, nor been there,” he said.
And he stressed that he was not offended by all the criticism. “When they pass the scandals,” he asserted, “I’ll take this one.”
But Thomas was less pleased with the reviews.
In a dismantled 1990 memoir by Ms. Donahue, “That Girl and Phil”Donahue’s butler Desmond Atholl discussed the house’s bulldozer in a chapter titled “Excuse Me, Your House Is Blocking My View”.
Atholl claimed that Marlo said of his posh neighbors who complained about the bulldozer: “Whose money is that anyway? Fuck them all!”