Ronald Lauder Shrubbery Scandal in Hamptons

Lauder Shrub Scandal

Ah, springtime in the Hamptons. Time for perennial petty rivalries to bloom again, and for newly sown seedlings of human spitefulness to take root after a bleak, unpopulated winter.

With March barely finished, locals in Wainscott, L.I., have already spied what they suspect is an example of antagonistic landscaping on a parcel of land owned by cosmetics baron Ronald Lauder.

Mr. Lauder and his family own quite a bit of land in Wainscott and the surrounding area–more than 140 acres at last count–and his motives for hoovering up the acreage have been largely lauded by the locals. Mr. Lauder has said that one of the reasons he’s buying up all the surrounding land in the area is to protect the fast-disappearing farmlands from the real estate developers who have turned other parts of the Hamptons into a Levittown for the cash-rich and taste-poor.

Yet, the manner in which Mr. Lauder has developed some of his land occasionally means that his neighbors don’t get to enjoy the views he has preserved. Which brings us to Mr. Lauder’s privet hedge. This particular hedge, which was planted last fall, runs approximately 200 feet back from Wainscott Main Street and borders the driveway and property line of the home of Eric Bregman, an attorney.

Those who see the hedges as more than just a collection of shrubs note that Mr. Lauder and Mr. Bregman have a history. Back in the late 1980’s, Mr. Bregman represented a client who owned a house on three and a half acres on Beach Lane, which is a short southeasterly jog from Mr. Bregman’s house, and also happens to be the street where Mr. Lauder’s house is located. At the time, Mr. Bregman’s client, a real estate developer named Michael Shure, wanted to expand his house from more than 2,600 square feet to 6,475 square feet, a renovation that would have cut into Mr. Lauder’s ocean views. Mr. Lauder, whose family owned land to the north, east and west of Mr. Shure, objected to Mr. Shure’s expansion plans. Eventually, he preserved his views by buying Mr. Shure’s property for $2.5 million.

Even though Mr. Lauder emerged victorious, some locals wonder whether he continues to associate Mr. Bregman with that costly real estate transaction. A few years before he planted the line of hedges, Mr. Lauder saved an old L-shaped cedar-shingled barn that was slated to be torn down on a nearby farm. Mr. Lauder moved the barn to the property he owns adjacent to Mr. Bregman’s house, where it sits just 10 feet from the property line–which, locals note, is about as close as Mr. Lauder could legally put the structure to Mr. Bregman’s home. (Mr. Lauder also sullied some of his Beach Road neighbors’ views a few years ago when he moved a 150-year-old Greek Revival church from its original upstate location onto property behind his home.)

Eventually, the hedges, which extend past the barn, will obliterate Mr. Bregman’s view of the barn as well as any southwestern views the lawyer has of Wainscott Pond (often referred to as Lauder Lake, because Mr. Lauder owns virtually all of the land around the body of water) and the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. Bregman is said to be unhappy about the new shrubbery in his life, but perhaps because the two men are nominally neighbors (they’re also both members of the congregation of Central Synagogue in Manhattan), he wasn’t interested in talking about it. When The Transom tried to contact Mr. Bregman at his Manhattan-based law firm, we were told that he was unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Jeanine Kemm, a spokesman for Mr. Lauder, said: “This isn’t about neighbors. It’s about preservation. Ronald saved a historic barn from the nearby Osborn property and restored it on his land.

“The barn and the shrubbery,” Ms. Kemm continued, “re-create the bucolic landscape that existed in the area during the 1800’s.”

While hedges are not a rarity in Wainscott, some locals contend they are less prevalent precisely because much of the land in the area once served as farmland. Hedges serve as breeze-killing windbreaks, which was not so desirable when the farmers had herds of stinky animals milling about the property.

Author, Author!

The slackers and film students stared at Irvine Welsh. Irvine Welsh stared at his thumb. Mr. Welsh, the Scottish author of the novel Trainspotting , was in the East Village on March 10, at the Anthology Film Archives, for the U.S. premiere of The Acid House , a film based on Mr. Welsh’s short-story collection of the same name, and for which he’d written the screenplay. Ed Halter, director of the New York Underground Film Festival, was introducing him. Mr. Welsh, a hulking man with a cleanly shaved head (think Nosferatu with a fondness for beer), did not seem to be listening. Instead, he was picking vigorously at his thumb with the fingernails of his free hand.

Then Mr. Welsh took the microphone. Problem was, he spoke in his guttural North Edinburgh accent, which made much of his speech indiscernible–with the exception of “David Bowie,” “models” and “a whole lot of shite.” When Mr. Welsh finished, the audience applauded. As the film started, Mr. Welsh left the theater through the back door. After the film let out at 11:30, the audience traipsed to a party for Mr. Welsh at Barmacy, a smoke-filled East Village bar. But the guest of honor was nowhere to be found.

“Umm, Irvine is sort of M.I.A.,” said Susan Norget, the publicist for the film festival, as she eyed the door. She had ushered Mr. Welsh through a battery of press interviews all day at the bar of the Paramount Hotel. “He was drinking mineral water all day,” said Ms. Norget. “He was so well behaved. He was really a sweetheart. Punctual ! Lovely !” Still, Mr. Welsh has a reputation: In February, he was tossed in jail in England for drunk and disorderly conduct (a two-day bender after the premiere of the new play).

Mr. Halter, the director of the film festival, said Mr. Welsh “likes to crawl around the bars, I think. He was going to deejay tonight, but I think he’s too gone by now.”

But then Mr. Welsh arrived, two American brunettes hovering, a liquor bottle hanging out of his parka. He homed in on the bar and soon hoisted a red cocktail. Mr. Welsh said that he had chosen to do The Acid House because “I wanted to something really noncommercial. I made too much money after Trainspotting .”

Mr. Welsh was dragged away by one of the brunettes. “C’mon, they have fucking go-go dancers back there,” she said, leading him to a back room where a blue-haired beauty was dancing in a bikini. Mr. Welsh was more interested in a group discussion about the acceptability of mixing alcohol with antibiotics.

But then he was approached by a self-described “performance artist legend” with duo-tone hair named Otter, who motioned Mr. Welsh toward the ladies’ room. She promptly swung open the loo door to reveal a bare-breasted go-go dancer in the process of slipping on a sheer, fur-trimmed blouse. The dancer gave the high sign to Mr. Welsh. Ms. Otter pushed Mr. Welsh inside and stood guard. A heavy, bearded man brushed past Ms. Otter, and she slapped him across the face. He skulked away. “He pinched my ass,” she explained.

The Transom asked Ms. Otter what Mr. Welsh was up to. “What? Do you think they’re doing drugs or something?” she asked. “They’re talking about deejaying. They’re talking about art.”

Ms. Otter, apparently weary of The Transom’s presence, said, “Piss off.” She repeated her comment 11 more times, in progressively louder fashion, accompanied by some shoving. It was 1:15 A.M. The Transom decided to piss off.

–Andrew Goldman

Bill Gates: Computer Genius

There it was, March 24, barely eight months until the new millennium and, while everyone was feeling, well, a little freaked, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates was sitting there in his moccasins with a smile on his face as he flogged his new book– Business @ the Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System –at the Barnes & Noble outlet at Rockefeller Center.

A woman in a yellow blazer decided to ask the question that everyone wanted to ask: the one about Y2K and whether planes would fall from the sky. Well, Mr. Gates had a funny video (starring his NBC anchor buddy Tom Brokaw!) that showed things like planes crashing into buildings, but he was saving that for his next gig, a talk to a bunch of college students at the Ziegfeld Theater later that day. “I’m not the one who tracks all the numbers in this area,” Mr. Gates said, sounding serious and adding, “The one good thing you can say about it is that a year from now, by and large, we’ll be past it.”

Answers such as these did not dim the inquisitiveness of one young E-Commerce salesman, who stood up in the crowd at one point to say, over and over: “I just want to pick your brains, Mr. Gates. I just want to pick your brains.” Mr. Gates smiled and said nothing when the man added: “Are you free between 4 and 6, Mr. Gates?”

–Julie Lipper

The Transom Also Hears

… Palm Beach, Fla., locals who’ve been observing the flirtation between Anna Murdoch, ex-wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and New York financier William Mann, whose late wife was Detroit auto heiress Lydia Buhl Mann, are beginning to get the idea that the couple’s relationship is more than just a passing fancy. Besides spending New Year’s Eve at the Coconuts, Palm Beach’s toughest invite, one social source told The Transom that she had seen Mr. Mann and Ms. Murdoch attending several masses at St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church. Ms. Murdoch could not be reached for comment. Mr. Mann did not return calls to his Manhattan home.