For about a year and a half from the Spring of 1939 to the fall of 1940, a group of ads appeared in the classified section of the New York Times. They are as enlightening, as they are confusing because for as many questions as they answer, they also pose new ones. In one way they reveal, who the true owner of the Knapp Mansion in Mastic Beach was, or do they? I have said from the outset, it was most likely Joseph Palmer Knapp's money that paid for the purchase of the Lawrence Estate in 1916 and the construction of this house, (he seems to know what each feature cost) even though it was titled to his children first Dodi, then to Claire, then back to Dodi on the deed.
All his life J. P. Knapp was a powerful and influential BUT behind the scenes force. Well if you saw one of these ads and wrote (NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE) to Owner, Room 3202, 580 5th ave. NYC to inquire about the property offered, the photo below here, is where your letter would wind up. Actually it would most likely wind up on J. P.'s secretary or his attorney Walter Solinger's desk as "The Old Man" as he was known by his employees, had his office behind door 3206. Most likely at age 75 he wouldn't be in there either, as for 9 months of most years in the 1930's he was at one of his fish camps at Lew Beach in the Catskills, NY, or in Canada, or at his "BIG PLACE" on Mackey Island, North Carolina. Was he just handling the sale for Dodi or just wanting to dump the Mastic Beach place for some reason? The ridicously low asking price sounds like J. P just wanted to dispose of it very quickly and there was no personal attachment to it. The confusion in the ads on the features, also suggests that it had been a long time since J. P. or whomever wrote the ads had paid a visit. I Know Dodi's mother Sylvia was there in 1925. As the time marched on "The Charming Old Colonial" (Unless Frank Lawrence built it at the turn of the century, It would only have been 25 years old in 1939 ) got cheaper by the month.
From $11,500 to $9,750, why thats only $2,750 more than the cost of the wood used (see first ad) to panel the "living room" alone. It wasn't pine as some of the ads claimed, it was walnut or mahogany. The "Living Room" at 50 feet long and 25 feet wide , certainly had room to live in it and have a ball there too. (we called it "The Ballroom" as did future owner St. Jude's) You don't want to know what it cost to build the Tennis or Golf courses. Notice it says Jefferson and Dogwwod. That's where the Knapp's Secretaries home was directly across Jefferson Dr. from the barn with the wireless radio equipment.
Some of the other sales points made in the ads, lead me to suspect whomever wrote it, had not been out to the property for awhile or never. As kids we always got between 21 or 22 rooms counted during our walk throughs. The ads have it with 19 & 20 . Perhaps we counted the walk in closets on the upper foors that were as big as a bedroom in a Bohouris or Shelter Tech home. Then there is address confusion: for example....the mansion was on Dogwood & Monroe, the other houses were on Jefferson & Dogwood but they were all on one piece of property. The ad writer may of thought too that certain things were better selling points as some of the unique features we found in there were not mentioned. Like, hidden compartments and passageways in the Ballroom and tunnel to the garage. A roulette wheel. And a BIG dumbwaiter. Frigidaire? How about a wall full of refrigerators. Brass pipes...not only pipes but fancy brass hardware and fixtures throughout. I remember the solarium well. It was on the east side just off the first landing of the staircase. There were two benches still in it after the place was abandonded and a small balcony too over the east portico. It was out of the solarium and over the balcony my brother Butch and others climbed down on a rope practicing their escapes!
The tennis court must of been very near where the future road Tennis Place (later renamed Phyllis Dr. ) was cut in by Home Guardian. The caretakers, Willie & Honey Schluder or Schluter were the last people connected to the Knapp's to have lived in the mansion and would be the ones showing clients who drove on out to Mastic Beach around. Where was J. F. "Dodi" Knapp? in the summer of 39? Sweating it out in Florida? He doesn't turn up in the Hampton Bays phone books till 1941 or 2.
You got to wonder why it took so long to sell this place. My parents house on a 1/4 acre plot of former Knapp property that had 4 rooms, a loft and a small bath cost almost as much in 1949 as J P was asking for the mansion and three acres just 9 years prior. Could the sluggish sale of been aided by the possible self interest of the Schluder's, ( You don't want to know what it costs to heat this place ) knowing once it sold they would have to move back into their little superintendents cottage (that still stands) on the corner of Monroe & Neighborhood?
This ad which was one of the last ones I found that J. P. ran in the Times appeared from September through October of 1940. COULD IT BE THE FINAL KNAPP PRICE FOR THE MANSION ?!!!! $4,950....Once again the ad copy smacks of "absententia" on the part of the writer. This could also be the "Knapp secretaries house" that wound up being moved behind Schulte's Stable and is still standing today. That house which was actually on Dogwood and Jefferson sat on a little over one acre of ground. One thing for sure is J. P. Knapp did not have to "SACRIFICE" anything , but it certainly seems he wanted to wash his hands of this place....the question is why? And at that price why didn't Willy & Honey Schludter buy it for themselves?
The thing that is even more confusing now is the fact that I know that Home Guardian Corp. who had bought up the all the other Knapp property, the year before, wound up on New Years Eve 1940, with the remaining 12 acres, the buildings, and the mansion. Dodi and his wife Marion signed the deed and the kicker is Home Guardian mortgaged it for $55,000.00 ..................
Now I have never been any good at math....but something isn't adding up here or perhaps I should take a drive to Philadelphia and hire a lawyer to read the deeds. Why would Dr. Warren & Arthur Smadbeck, who were as successful as they come in the real estate field, pay Dodi Knapp $55,000.00 for the Mansion all the house's, barns, kennel's and the remaining 12 acres in December of 1940, when his father had everything "attractively priced" at well under $15,000.00 just two months before????? OR was the $55,000.00 a refinancing of the whole enchilada....all two hundred + acres that they already carved up into sections 9 & 10 of Mastic Beach and now the grand prize that sadly no one seemed to want anymore.
If there was only someone left alive that knew the truth........the whole truth.......and nothing but the truth!