Back when Walter King was a boy making hats for his sister’s dolls, he couldn’t have known his legacy would later reach from America’s captains of industry to the White House and across the globe to the French Riviera.
“He really did a lot of the high society fashion,” Myron Lyzon King Jr., says of his milliner grandfather, who died in 1968. “His hats were worn by the Vanderbilts, the du Ponts, the Fords, the Rockefellers . . . I think it’s Good Ground’s past that people don’t know about.”
It was “around 1920,” after Walter King had studied window design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, that he and his wife, Helen Case, opened the Lyzon Hat Shop in his hometown of Good Ground, now called Hampton Bays. That’s when he inadvertently stepped into the world of the rich and famous with his much sought after custom designs, family members say.
And now the public will get a chance to step back in time to the days when King’s shop was the headquarters for his thriving business, which Walter King maintained until he was in his 70s. In June, the 19th century building reopened as a free museum after an 11-month, $595,000 restoration.
The Community Preservation Fund paid for the repairs and upgrades, which include a modern bathroom and restored floors and windows.
The exhibits on the museum’s first and second floors feature about 70 original handmade hats King fashioned for socialites from near and far until the shop closed. Also included will be some of the original decorative Lyzon hat boxes, a wood form King used to make hats and some of the original brand labels.
King, 57, who lives in Nashville, says his grandfather’s hats were “works of art” and word of his talents “just somehow spread.”
Socialites from Manhattan and elsewhere would have their chauffeurs drive them to the East End shop to be fitted by the milliner and consult on the styling. While the women were inside, they were entertained on a concert grand piano by Walter King’s brother, Raymond, and the chauffeurs would sit at a table outside sipping glasses of lemonade.
“Princess Grace’s bridesmaids wore his hats when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco" in 1956, says Brenda Sinclair Berntson, president of the Hampton Bays Historical Society. A black-and-white photograph of the royal wedding used to hang near the front door of the shop.
Then there was the day a mysterious man came into the shop and asked to take a look around. “It was the Secret Service,” Berntson says. “He looked around and then Jackie Kennedy got out of a car and went in.”
Some of the hats displayed were donated by their owners to the Hampton Bays Historical Society, which bought others on eBay, Berntson says.
The store had its heyday “around the 1920s into the early 1960s,’’ and was open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with the Kings living six months a year in Hampton Bays and the rest of the year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says another grandchild, Carryl Jane King Ryan, 76, of the Chattanooga suburb of Harrison. The shop closed about 1968, she says.
Helen Case would go to Manhattan’s Garment District to buy materials and decorations for the hats, many adorned with ribbons or feathers or festooned with flowers, King Ryan says.
Walter King would create the handmade hats, and his wife would do the linings.
“He would find the prettiest features in a lady’s face and accentuate that feature,” Myron King said. “They all wanted a hat that no one else would have.” That was an easy request, he said, because his grandfather refused to make any two hats alike.
The restoration of the shop “almost brings us to tears,” he said.
According to the Historical Society, the building, constructed in the mid-1850s, remained in the family and was used as an art gallery, but when the structure fell into disrepair the Historical Society advocated for the town to purchase it for restoration. The town then donated the building to the Historical Society in 2013.
“They worked with high society but they were just regular folks, plain craftsmen,” Myron King said. “It [the hat shop] represents a gentler time — a different era when you had shops with handmade items and the people who made them were there.”
LYZON HAT SHOP MUSEUM
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment, 116 W. Montauk Hwy., Hampton Bays