John B. Whyte

John B. Whyte

John Burlingame Whyte (May 22, 1928 - March 22, 2004) was a real-estate investor who developed Fire Island Pines, New York.

Biography

Whyte was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for two years before moving to New York City.

According to legend, Whyte parlayed a brief stay at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel into a male modeling career that landed him on the back cover advertisements of Life Magazine and Look Magazine. He was regularly seen in campaigns for Stetson hats, Inverness Scotch and Salem Cigarettes and True Cigarettes.

In the early 1960s, Whyte and Peggy Fears, a former Ziegfield Girl, bought the Pines Hotel, which they renamed Fire Island Pines Botel because of the yachts docked in the Pines' harbor nearby.

Whyte bought Fears' share of the Pines Hotel in 1966 and eventually owned 80% of the commercial space in the Pines, including the Pines Dune and Yacht Club; the Cultured Elephant, a restaurant; the Pavilion, a legendary club in the disco era; and the Blue Whale Bar.

Social events in the Pines revolved around Whyte's establishments, including "Low Tea", a cocktail hour or Tea Dance from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Blue Whale; "High Tea" from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Pavilion; and dancing from midnight until dawn at the Pavilion.

Despite the Pines' flamboyant reputation, Whyte enforced conventional mores of the era in his establishments, going so far as to shine flashlights on dancing couples at the Pavilion, for example, if he felt they were pushing the limits of acceptable behavior. Indeed, in 1975, at one of his bars, Whyte refused service to a drag queen named Pansy and some of her friends. In protest, Pansy later returned to the bar with more drag queens and compelled Whyte to serve them. This now notorious event eventually evolved into an annual drag show, called the Invasion of the Pines, in which hordes of drag queens sail into the Pines Harbor via the Fire Island Ferry. (Reportedly, given the success of the Invasion as one of the highlights of the Pines' summer season, Whyte later termed his refusal of service one of the best mistakes he ever made.)

He co-founded The Pines Conservation Society in 1970. In 1984, he founded "From the Pines With Love" which recruited celebrities to perform at fundraisers for AIDS research. In 2002, the Fire Island Pines Community House was named Whyte Hall. Shortly before his death in 2004, Whyte sold his Fire Island Pines properties. Funded largely by his estate, a completely reconstructed Whyte Hall was completed during 2007.

He died on March 22, 2004. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= John B. Whyte, 75, Model And Fire Island Developer |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9500E3DB1138F931A25757C0A9629C8B63&scp=1&sq |quote=In the early 1960's, he became a partner in the Pines Hotel, which later became the Fire Island Pines Botel, a playful reference to the docking of boats at its harborside front door. In 1966, he bought the remaining shares from the original owner, Peggy Fears, a former Ziegfeld girl and theatrical producer who had helped establish the hotel as a destination for Broadway actors and movie stars. |publisher=New York Times |date=April 12, 2004 |accessdate=2008-06-17 ]

References

Further reading

* [http://www.fipines.com/news/newsdetail.cfm?QID=2097 FIPines.com obituary]
* [http://www.fireislandqnews.com/2006/07/invasion_flash/437.html Fire Island Q News on Invasion of the Pines]
* [http://www.fireislandcc.org/fipines.html Fire Island Pines Chamber of Commerce on Whyte]
* [http://fireislandnews.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=64 Fire Island News on Whyte donation of $500,000 for Whyte Hall]
* [http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117924355.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&p=0 When Ocean Meets Sky Documentary on the founding of the Pines]


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