The Romantic Story Behind Startop Ranch

Closely following the historic sale of neighboring Deep Hollow Ranch, news has arrived that another sizeable piece of Montauk Real Estate, Startop Ranch on Startop Drive off East Lake Drive, is on the market. According to the prominent realtor Paul Brennan, Hamptons Director of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, this is a property that can never be duplicated. As Brennan describes it, “Startop is one of those unique Montauk locations that transports you into another world. Looking southwest over the lake to the ocean the stunning view is a touch Caribbean, to the southwest horses graze in ruggedly bucolic western-like terrain, and to the west hundreds upon hundreds of acres of wooded parkland roll on forever like nowhere else in the Hamptons. And best of all the only changes you will experience are those of the four seasons!” If it sounds breathtaking, it is.

But Startop Ranch comes with another special feature: the romantic story of Dr. Leon Star and his family, a story of horses, airplanes, medicine and…bowling!

Dr. Star (1913-1987) was first and foremost a family man. Behind everything he did was his loving devotion to his wife, Winifred Vickery, his children Priscilla Star of Montauk, Winifred Lee Star now of Oakland, California, and Priscilla’s daughter Amanda Star Frazer. In addition, he was a true Renaissance man, involving himself in an incredible range of human endeavors and adventures.

With his medical degree in hand, Dr. Star was not the kind of person to be content to take the career route taken by most of his colleagues—opening a local medical practice or working in a hospital. So, in 1950 he and his Far Rockaway High School buddy Dr. Louis Abelson decided that New York’s new Idlewild Airport (now JFK International) needed a medical facility to provide local care for the pilots and airport support staff. In his typical out-of-the-box, entrepreneurial style, Dr. Star made a deal with the Port Authority of New York to build a Quonset hut to house the medical office right on airport property. Between 1950 and 1990, when the facility was sold to the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens, it became the largest airport medical facility in the world. It had expanded to include a mobile emergency hospital, and evolved into a two-story hospital and clinic with 10 physicians and a support staff of 70. It handled 40,000 medical cases per year, ranging from simple bruises to heart attacks.

In the early 1960s another one of Dr. Star’s passions was burning in his soul: his love of horses. Perhaps inspired by his mother Esther (“Essie”), he was drawn to the ranch lifestyle of Montauk, where he kept his first horses. When he was growing up in the Rockaways with Essie and his father Morris, a furrier, he frequently accompanied his mom to nearby Aqueduct Race Track, where she loved to place bets, dress up in her fancy dresses, wear her special cocktail ring, and, most of all, be around the horses. Essie loved to be the center of attention when she got together with her friends and told her horse tales.

After vacationing in Montauk for so long, Dr. Star decided that he and his family needed their own home there, to satisfy his desire for the ranch life. In 1957 he found out that a couple from Bellport had purchased a three-acre property on the hilly east side of East Lake Drive. They were in the process of building their hilltop dream house, but had only gotten as far as putting in the foundation when they decided to sell. Dr. Star seized the opportunity, purchased the property, and built his own dream home right on the existing foundation. He was now a real Montauker. But how was he going to combine his professional career with his passion for ranch life? In his typical style, he had decided to learn to fly a plane. Every Friday he and Winifred would pile into their car with the kids, drive from their home in Lawrence to Kennedy Airport, and fly a half hour to Montauk Airport, which was conveniently located right on East Lake Drive.

Never doing anything in a small way, Dr. Star decided to develop his property into what he called Startop Ranch, and then adding 50 more acres of ranch land, with its own racetrack, horse barns and viewing stand. Startop eventually became one of the most successful thoroughbred breeding and training ranches on the East Coast. Even his horses became official Montaukers, with names like “Shagwong,” “Culloden Point” and, of course, “Startop”.

Even all of this was not enough for Dr. Star’s entrepreneurial nature. So, to cash in on the bowling craze of the time, in 1960 he built two bowling alleys, called Star Lanes, one in Southampton and one in East Hampton (now East Hampton Bowl).

The incredible life of Dr. Leon Star is a testament to the fact that real property is not just imaginary lines drawn around rocks, trees and dirt, but it is also the sum of human experiences that have taken place there and they make it a very special place.

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