Fred Houseknecht, an Army corporal who was stationed at Camp Hero in Montauk in 1946 and was so taken with the scenery that he never left, becoming a builder who made his mark on the hamlet by constructing Montauk’s first motel, along with a host of others, died on Sunday at the Westhampton Care Center. He was 86 and had complications of a stroke he had five months ago.
Mr. Houseknecht served as the grand marshal in the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2004. In an interview with The Star at the time, he told how, after his discharge from the Army in 1949, he learned several trades, plumbing and electrical work among them, before starting his own building business in 1952.
Montauk’s first motel, which was called the Maisonettes before becoming the Ocean End, was followed by more of Mr. Houseknecht’s projects: the Oceanside Beach Resort, the Montauk Motel, the Snug Harbor Motel, and other buildings, including one containing a hardware store. That downtown building was being reconstructed after a fire eight years ago, when, Mr. Houseknecht told The Star with a smile, “The part I built didn’t burn.”
He was married on July 11, 1947, to a Montauk girl, Myriam Cox. She died in October 2011. Another marriage, to Ann Stephens, ended in divorce.
Ms. Cox’s father, Sam Cox, had owned the East Deck Motel on the beach at Ditch Plain, which started as a group of individual cabins that had been moved from the bay beach at Navy Road. Over the years, Mr. Houseknecht connected them by building hotel units between, creating, by the late 1960s, the project of which he said he was most proud.
For another project, Mr. Houseknecht renovated a building that he had moved from New Jersey to Montauk’s Main Street, where he and his wife opened the Montauk Diner. Today it is the Point Bar and Grill.
The couple had two sons, Steve and Charlie Houseknecht. Both predeceased their father.
Mr. Houseknecht discussed his years in the service at Camp Hero in a chapter of “American Gibraltar: Montauk and the Wars of America,” a history book by Henry Osmers. He had been stationed at Fort Wright on Fishers Island and was sent as a caretaker and later to help decommission the big guns at Camp Hero.
He enjoyed Nascar racing and was once a partner in a car entered in Riverhead Raceway competition. A hunter, he used to travel several times a year to Maine and to Hughesville, Pa., his hometown.
He was born there on Aug. 3, 1926, a son of Frank Houseknecht and the former Pearl Kempner. Three brothers predeceased him.
Mr. Houseknecht is survived by three stepchildren, Gary Stephens of Montauk, Bob Stephens of Zephyrhills, Fla., and Terie Stephens of Los Angeles, as well as Alice Houseknecht of Montauk, a daughter-in-law. Three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren also survive.
Mr. Houseknecht was cremated. A graveside service will be held today at 11 a.m. at Montauk’s Fort Hill Cemetery.
The family has suggested memorial contributions to the Montauk Friends of Erin, P.O. Box 1472, Montauk 11954.