Gatsby’s Gold Coast
Just a short ride from New York City on Long Island’s north shore lies a place of uninhibited wealth and opulence immortalized in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby. Many of the mansions on the “Gold Coast,” so-called due to the huge concentration of fortunes here, are known to have inspired the setting in The Great Gatsby, and are open for the public’s perusal and enjoyment.
Come to Long Island’s Gold Coast and take a step back in time to the 1920s. Here you’ll find the actual setting in The Great Gatsby. Explore how neighbors at the upper echelon of high society strove to out-do each other in terms of lavish, castle-like mansions and gardens of European caliber. Visit Old Westbury Gardens, the Vanderbilt Estate, or the Frick Estate at the Nassau County Museum of Art. Over a half-dozen estates, once owned by some of the most famous people from New York, have been converted to public use. Many offer art galleries and tours, and others open to allow visitors to stroll the grounds and spectacular gardens to get a feel for what life was like for the privileged few.
Some of the actual estates found on Long Island are the purported inspiration for The Great Gatsby mansion. There are about a dozen of these magnificent structures open to the public for events and tours, and some are even available for overnight accommodations.
Long Island’s Gold Coast Mansions
This elegant estate, which features a 70-room English manor house and traditional English formal gardens sprawling over 100 acres, was built by financier John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, in 1906. The spectacular estate has been featured in many movies, including Love Story, The Age of Innocence, Wolf, and Cruel Intentions. The public is welcome to explore both the house, furnished with English antiques and decorative artwork, and the grounds, which include rose gardens, walled gardens and a pond. Old Westbury Gardens is also the site of many special events, such as concerts by Juilliard students, living history weekends, costume exhibits and fairs.
William K. Vanderbilt II cut a dashing figure. In addition to adventuring all over the world, bringing back plant and animal specimens, the great-grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt had a true passion for the automobile. In the early 20th century, he built his own private, limited access highway across much of Long Island, then instituted a series of wildly popular car races. Today, “Eagle’s Nest,” the estate he built overlooking the Long Island Sound, has become the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium. In addition to a 24-room Spanish Revival Mansion designed by the architects who created the original Grand Central Station, the 43-acre museum complex encompasses a marine museum, natural history habitats, seaplane hanger, gardens, fountains, and a host of other unforgettable sights. The Planetarium, Long Island’s largest, features the domed 60-foot Sky Theater, which recreates celestial events with over 11,000 stars strewn across the Milky Way.
In 1919, Henry Clay Frick, the co-founder of U.S. Steel, gave this estate to his son Childs, as a wedding present. Childs Frick, a dedicated naturalist and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. Today, the Georgian mansion in Roslyn houses the Nassau County Museum of Art, which features a permanent art collection as well as changing exhibits. The 145 acres, which featured one of the most noted landscape designs in America, include a sculpture garden, formal gardens, a unique trellis and a wildflower walk. Also on the premises is the Ridder Miniatures Museum, with an outstanding collection of miniatures that includes such exquisitely crafted items as a reproduction of an 18th century harpsichord with an oil painting inside the lid and a lady’s writing desk with a secret compartment.
This estate was just one of the many Pratt estates which formed the Pratt compound in Glen Cove. Charles Pratt, one of the founders of Standard Oil, settled in the area in 1890. Harold Pratt, who resided at Welwyn, was an avid horticulturalist, and the 204 acres of grounds remain open to the public as a nature preserve. Its exceptional collection includes the tall, straight tulip trees that Native Americans once used to make canoes. Today, the mansion is the site of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center of Nassau County. The recently renovated facility includes both indoor exhibits as well as outdoor sculptures.
Hempstead House at Sand’s Point Preserve
In 1909, Howard Gould, son of railroad magnate Jay Gould, built a dramatic estate on 300 acres on Sands Point. The castle-like mansion was designed in the true manner of the Gold Coast era, with dramatic foyers, stone gargoyles and overlooking the Long Island Sound. Gould soon sold it to Daniel Guggenheim, who made his fortune in metals. Today, it is part of the Sands Point Preserve, along with Falaise. Interior scenes for the film New Jack City were filmed here.
Howard Gould, son of Jay Gould the railroad tycoon built Castlegould for his wife, actress Katherine Clemmons. Architect Augustus Allen was commissioned to design the building. It was modeled after Ireland’s Kilkenny Castle. Completed in 1904 the exterior was constructed using Onondaga limestone from upstate New York. If you look closely, you can see actual fossils in the facade. It now serves as the Sand’s Point Preserve’s visitor center. With 100,000 square-foot floor space, it contained an equestrian arena, horse stalls, blacksmith shops, a veterinary clinic, a kitchen, dining room and housing for approximately 200 workers. The estate also included a greenhouse, a dairy barn and farm, a hunting lodge, guest houses, and a beachfront casino with an indoor pool
Falaise at Sand’s Point Preserve
Daniel Guggenheim gave his son, Harry, property on which to build his own estate, Falaise. The Normandy-style mansion was constructed in 1923. Guggenheim was a close of friend of Charles Lindbergh, who wrote his book, “We,” while a guest at Falaise. Guggenheim’s wife Alicia went on to found Newsday, which remains Long Island’s primary daily newspaper. Today, in addition to the imposing and spectacular mansion on the site, the 216 acre Sands Point Preserve offers nature trails, exhibits, and special events like an annual Medieval Fair, for which it serves as the perfect backdrop.
In 1919, banker Otto Hermann Kahn, whose wealth and prominence rivaled J.P. Morgan’s, built the nation’s second largest private residence. (The largest was Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House in North Carolina). Kahn’s 126-room mansion was modeled after Napoleon’s Chateau Fontainebleau. His 443-acre estate included a golf course, gardens, stables, greenhouses, a working farm, private airstrip, tennis courts, indoor pool, and a gatehouse. Its name came from the first letters of his name O-He-Ka. Kahn entertained many famous friends at his estate, including Fanny Brice, Helen Hayes, George Gershwin, Enrico Caruso, and Arturo Toscanini. While Oheka Castle is currently used for private events, visitors who call ahead can tour the grounds and even reserve a room to stay overnight. Oheka Castle is said to be one of the inspirations for The Great Gatsby mansion.
Coe Hall was built in 1921 by Standard Oil heiress Mai Rogers Coe and her husband, insurance magnate William Robertson Coe. Today, Planting Fields still consists of 409 acres, with much of its historic landscaping intact. Greenhouses, hiking trails, formal gardens, and huge stretches of green lawn make it a peaceful and scenic spot to stroll. Inside the Tudor Revival mansion, Coe Hall, visitors can view many of the family’s original furnishings, including the completely restored Louis XVI reception room. Other extraordinary features include wood and stone carvings, ironwork, and 13th through 19th century stained class windows. Scenes of the remake of the film Sabrina were shot at Coe Hall. Plantings Fields numerous special events include outdoor concerts in the warm weather months most notably, the Friends of the Arts Summer Festival, which includes an exceptional jazz series.
The 55-acre estate of John and Ruth Pratt was built in 1910 and was designed by the noted architect Charles Adams Plat (1861-1933). John Pratt was an attorney and an executive with Standard Oil Company. Ruth Baker Pratt was the first Republican Congresswoman from the state of New York. She represented New York City’s “Silk Stocking” district. Ruth and her family maintained the estate until her death in 1965. Since 1967, additions and conservation have succeeded in creating a premier hotel and conference center. The brick Georgian mansion acts as the reception, meetings and restaurant area, while an extended hotel with indoor/outdoor pool and recreation facilities welcomes overnight visitors.
Marshall Field III was an investment banker and heir to the Chicago department store empire his grandfather Marshall Field founded. In the early 1920s, he commissioned famous architect John Russell Pope for the construction of a 1600 acre estate on Long Island’s gorgeous North Shore at Lloyd Neck. The English style estate included tennis courts, stables, a dairy featuring prize cattle, and a farm. Today, the estate is preserved as state park, with hiking and biking trails. You can venture to the mansion itself, currently under renovations, or down to the rocky shoreline and salt marsh.
Comprising 550 acres of fields, woodlands, ponds and grounds from two former estates, Muttontown is Nassau County’s largest nature preserve. Owned and operated by the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums, it encompasses miles of marked nature trails with local wildflowers, trees, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians (maps and brochures available for self-guided tours). Guided public nature walks and school educational programs are available by appointment. Rooms in the Chelsea Center are available for rental to non-profit educational and public service organizations, excluding fundraising events. The circa 1904 Nassau Hall, home to the Nassau Parks Conservancy, is open to the public weekdays.
Coindre Hall/West Neck Farm Coindre Hall Park is a 33 acre park and 80,000 square foot mansion overlooking Huntington Harbor. Built for pharmaceutical giant George McKesson Brown in 1912, this mansion represents the height of the Gold Coast era with its Medieval turrets and sweeping views of the harbor. Suffolk County acquired the estate in 1973. In 1989 this magnificent example of French chateau architecture was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and dedicated to the Suffolk County Historic Trust. The public can walk the grounds and arrangements can be made for weddings and special events.
The Braes/Webb Institute Herbert L. Pratt estate, built 1912-Designed by James Brite in the Jacobean style. This is the largest of the Pratt mansions built in Glen Cove. The name Braes is Scottish for “hillside” and a notable landscape feature of this estate is the terraced grounds facing Long Island Sound. Now houses Webb Institute of Naval Architecture. Tours not available although you may be able to drive in and resepectfully view the grounds.
Hillwood/Long Island University/CW Post From 1921 to 1951, Hillwood, was one of the famed estates of Long Island’s Gold Coast, and was the home of Post Cereal Company heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E.F. Hutton. Built in a Tudor revival style it is now an administrative building at Long Island University at C.W. Post. Tours available by reservation.
White Eagle/Templeton/New York Institute of Technology Alfred DuPont’s White Eagle is a neoclassical/Georgian mansion situated on almost 300 acres in Old Westbury and completed in 1918 at a cost of $1.1 million. Two years later, Mrs. DuPont, the former Alicia Bradford Maddox, died unexpectedly. After DuPont remarried, he sold the estate in 1926 to Fredrick E. and Amy Phipps Guest, who renamed the estate Templeton. It is now the DeSeversky Center at the New York Institute of Technology. You may be able to drive in and respectfully view the grounds.
Mill Neck Manor. Located on the prestigious North Shore of Long Island is a majestic Tudor Revival mansion. It is set on an 86-acre scenic estate overlooking the Long Island Sound. The mansion, once called Sefton Manor, was owned by Robert Leftwich Dodge and his wife, the cosmetics heiress Lillian Sefton Dodge. Now the Mill Neck School for the Deaf. Tours by reservation.
Inisfada/St. Ignatius Retreat. Built in 1916 and designed in the Tudor/Elizabethan style by John Windrim for businessman Nicholas Brady and his wife Genevieve. “Inisfada” is Gaelic for Long Island. An interesting feature of the mansion is the exterior details. Among them, representations of the Zodiac signs, and various nursery rhymes carved out of limestone. After Mr. Brady’s death, Mrs. Brady donated the mansion to the Jesuits in 1937. The mansion was used as the St. Ignatius Retreat House. No tours available.