Saturday, February 25, 2012

Driving to Great Neck, Long Island for Naomi

In my last post I explained the reasons for taking our trip to Long Island, New York. We arrived there last September 2011. Because of a water leak, we could not check into our motel in the town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County, New York. We were told to come back in the evening. Where to go? All our luggage was in the car. It looked like it might rain so we needed to go somewhere close by. My friend Naomi of the blog Here in the Hills had asked me to go, if we got a chance, and look at her childhood home located in Great Neck, a city also in Nassau County. Great Neck was only 12 miles away, so we decided to drive there to check on Naomi’s former home.

Great Neck, Long Island,watercolor over pencil drawing by Thomas Hart Benton, American 1889-1975

We arrived and parked across what I believed was Naomi’s former house. I started taking pictures. I took pictures from the front, the side and even a picture of the backyard of this house.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on individual pictures to biggify

It started to sprinkle so I went back into the car. We thought we would wait a while so I could take more pictures of the street. I reread Naomi’s email and that is when I realized I had taken pictures of the wrong house! I had not put my glasses on and misread the number of the house…. I felt pretty silly. We drove up a bit and found the right house.

It was not raining anymore so I started taking pictures again.

My husband was patiently waiting across the street near our rental car.

Another car had stopped in front of me – a lady inside was talking on a cell phone. I kept taking pictures of the side of the house and the street.

The lady came out of her car and asked me, suspiciously, what was I doing – could she help me? I answered that I was just taking some photos for a friend who used to live in this house years ago. She then said “Do you mean a member of the Hirshhorn family?” “Yes, Naomi.” She smiled and said she would be pleased to show me the inside of the house but she had an errand to attend to right now – “But, please go inside the yard and take pictures there, although we have placed a top on the swimming pool. I’ll be back shortly.” I pushed the gate and went inside the yard.

When the current owner came back she invited us inside. First we went into the living-room.

My husband was waiting for me, holding my purse with Naomi’s email, while I was photographing each side of the room which contained several beautiful musical instruments.

The lady of the house told me that being the start of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, her house was being readied to celebrate it and many guests were coming that night for dinner. (Rosh Hashanah in 2011 started from sundown Wednesday 28 September until nightfall on Saturday 29, 2011.) I helped her spread the tablecloth on the dining room table.

She invited me to go upstairs and take pictures. I did not wish to go inside the bedrooms, not to intrude. She showed me that one of the bedrooms had been converted into a small den. I had gone up the main staircase but went down the back staircase. I am showing as many pictures of the house as possible so that Naomi can see how her house looks now.

We visited the kitchen and the current owner’s office/study which I did not photograph to preserve their privacy. I took pictures in the back den with its beautiful wood paneling and wood floor.

The current owner told me that the kitchen had been renovated but the outside of the large window had been left alone so as to keep the wood engravings. Naomi does not remember these engravings – they may have been sculpted after she went away to California while her mother lived in the house.

I liked the engraving of the violin and of the children’s initials.

We thanked the owner for having so kindly let us in her house and then we walked around the neighborhood. I am showing the photographs in case Naomi recognizes some of these houses.

Naomi told me that her father bought the house in Great Neck in 1926. She was born there and went to schools in town. She graduated from the local high school. Another well known person graduated a bit later, from the same high school – Francis Ford Coppola, (born in 1939) the director and producer of the Godfather movies, shown below.

In addition to the lot where the house is located her father had bought 3 more lots around it. One of the lots had a 3-car garage with apartments above them. The house-help used to live there. It was sold by the estate after her mother passed away and a house was built on the site, shown below.

In the 1920s Great Neck was a small town, a suburb of New York City. Naomi’s parents wished to raise their family in nice surroundings and in an area welcoming to Jewish parents. Her family was instrumental in establishing, with the help of 12 other families, a Reform synagogue in Great Neck called Temple Beth-El. At the time there where very few Jewish people in town. Her father had an office on Wall Street – and one in Toronto, Canada. Great Neck was a quick ride on the train and not far from the airport. Naomi’s father who had emigrated from Latvia at 6 years of age became an entrepreneur, financier, mining and oil businessman and an art collector. He amassed an extraordinary art collection which he gave to the United States in 1966. He donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. over 6,000 works - paintings and sculptures - with a $2 million endowment to hold the collection. This collection included works by Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and many others. Below is a sample of these art gifts, and I only looked under the letter B!

Top left Winter Morning by Paul Emile Blanchard, American (1881-1938) next to Bowl and Bottle by Bernard Butter, French (1928-1999).
Below left The Morning Paper by Warren Brandt, American (1918-2002) next to The Great Warrior of Montauban by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, French (1861-1929.)

When Joseph Hirshhorn, Naomi’s father, passed away in 1981, he willed 6,000 more art works and an additional $5 million endowment to the museum. Here are four more paintings below, picked at random.

Top right Evening Rocky Neck by John Sloan, American (1871-1951) next to Woman with Hat by Andre Derain, French (1881-1973) on left Body of a Woman by Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881-1973) next to Boats on the Lake of Gorda by John Singer Sargent, American (1856-1925.)

After her schooling Naomi attended for two years The Feagin School of Drama in New York City at the Rockefeller Center. She still lived in Great Neck and commuted to the city via the local train. She had asked me if I had gone to the Great Neck station. I had not, but found these photos of the station below on the subway web site.

In 1961 Naomi left for Hollywood, California to continue her singing and acting career. You can read about it on the posts I wrote last April, part one here and part two here. The house in Great Neck was sold in 1966 after her mother’s death. The current owners bought the house in the 1970s. It was still early afternoon so we went to visit other interesting sights in Great Neck, but this will be in my next post.

I’ll end this with a painting by Naomi, who is a talented painter and has had several one-woman shows and whose art is part of several museums’ collections.

Two Distant Butterflies, synthetic polymer on canvas at the Smithsonian ( Naomi Hishhorn Caryl)

More next time…


In the comment column Naomi gave some clarifications – here they are:

“Incidentally....My parents built the Three Car Garage with the Apartment above was not there. In fact there was nothing on that lot when my father bought it....They made some changes in the house, too, of course--as did my mother, after my parents were divorced, etc.....After all, she lived there for 40 years…….. One thing that needs a little bit of correcting...My parents moved to Great Neck because it was commuting distance to Manhattan and had very good schools. My father always moved to places where there were very FEW Jewish people because HE wanted to be a Pioneer in that regard---The First Jew, or, near that (lol)...So, in 1926 there were very few Jewish families in GN...And that is why in 1931-32 they and the other 12 family's started the first temple....Temple Beth-El... The first Rabbi was Jack Rudin. I went all through school with his son Steve.....Like I said, Great Neck was a small town back then.....”


OldLady Of The Hills said...

It was so onteresting to see the house I grew up in, once again...! Much has been changed, of course, as other people bought the house and lived in it.
Incidentally....My parents built the Three Car Garage with the Apartment above was not there. In fact there was nothing on that lot when my father bought it....They made some changes in the house, too, of course--as did my mother, after my parents were divorced, etc.....After all, she lived there for 40 years. I was born in 1931....And, I didn't know that Francis Coppola was a Great Neck boy...! You always uncover such interesting things wherever you go, my dear....
I did recognize a few of those houses in the neighborhood...It is such a pretty area, isn't it?
And the Train Station looks very much like it did back in the day....I like that!
I look forward to seeing more of your Great Neck pictures!!!

Anonymous said...

*** Un petit bonjour amical en ce dimanche Vagabonde !!!!

Merci pour ce post fort intéressant !!!!!

GROSSES BISES !!!!!!! :o) ***

Perpetua said...

What a fascinating post about a lovely house in a beautiful, tree-filled neighbourhood, What an extraordinary art collection that must have been.

Fennie said...

Great Neck could be Memory Lane. Having the most sketchy knowledge of New York I can't really relate to this post other than to comment on the beauty and spaciousness of the houses, which is almost unknown here apart from those belonging to a very few fortunate souls. When I first went to Canada I marvelled at just how much my money would buy and how all the houses were individual and not, as here, just little boxes. I grew up in a house with two staircases and that is an essential requirement for children to play chase around the house. So I have that in common with Naomi. Thanks for another most interesting post.

FilipBlog said...

Good shots, it is always nice to meet friendly people who even invite you in their house.


Jojo said...

You are such a dear friend and what a wonderful post you've shared with your friend Naomi.

Anonymous said...

How amazing that the "new" owner would invite a stranger into their home and encourage photos to be taken. You could have been anyone, and may have had nefarious intentions! But how special. I sometimes have dreams of returning to previous homes. What a gift to have provided these photos to your friend.
Very interesting story.

Dutchbaby said...

How very nice of you to take the time to photograph your friend's childhood home. I think it's quite telling of you and your husband that the current owner invited you in.

I went to Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's home in Oyster Bay, a few years back. It was a beautiful home loaded with memorabilia from his adventures. Sadly they did not allow photos inside, but I took lots of mental pictures.

Can't wait to meet you in a couple of months!!

Sally Wessely said...

This post was amazing in its topic, scope, and personal touch. I loved reading about the home, the legacy, and the family who once lived in the home. This must have been an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

Pat said...

Lovely post. Visiting one's childhood home takes courage. Sometimes memories are the best of all. But this was so special being invited inside to share. Long Island seems to be a beautiful place with much history. Thanks.

Rosaria Williams said...

First, that you took the side trip to photograph the home of a blogger=friend, and then to update her on all other parts of the neighborhood! I remember the post about your visiting Naomi in Hollywood, and now, this makes good sense too.

I can't wait for your next post!

Shammickite said...

Hello Vagabonde! What a marvellous post about the home that Naomi lived in as a child in Great Neck. I have followed Naomi's blog for quite a few years, and I remember her posting pictures of the house as it was when her family lived there. And now I can see it as it is today. What a treat to be invited inside the house and given a guided tour by the current owner, I am sure that Naomi must be thrilled to see the pictures. And probably a little bit sad too, to remember the happy times there. Lovely post!

Madelief said...

Dear Vagabonde,

What a beautiful house this is! You (and Naomi) must have been very pleased to get a tour of the house. It looks very spacious and well taken care of inside.

Happy new week,

Madelief x

Elaine said...

What a lovely house and neighborhood. I can well understand the lady of the house questioning you as to why you were photographing her house, and how sweet of her to allow you to come inside and take more photos, especially when she had guests coming that evening.

Wild_Bill said...

A lovely and educational post about a world that I know little about! This was really interesting. Some things seemed to have changed and others remained the same. How lucky to have met the owner and gotten an invitation inside!

My name is Riet said...

What a beautiful house Vagabonde and so wonderful to read the story.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

My dear...One thing that needs a little bit of correcting...My parents moved to Great Neck because it was commuting distance ro Manhattan and had very good schools. Ny father always moved to places where there were very FEW Jewish people because HE wanted to be a Pioneer in that regard---The First Jew, or, near that (lol)...So, in 1926 there were very few Jewish family's in GN...And that is why in 1931-32 they and the other 12 family's started the first temple....Temple Beth-El....The first Rabbi was Jack Rudin. I went all through school with his son Steve.....Like I said, Great Neck was a small town back then....

OldLady Of The Hills said...

AND....I realize I didn't say how FABULOUS this post is---I thank you so much, my dear Vagabonde...It was fantastic to see Great Neck and our neighborhood as it looks now...! Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!

Olga said...

I am always amazed by the places you visit. It's great that I have found your blog and can learn about them in detail.

Barb said...

So interesting to trace Naomi's roots in this lovely town. How nice the owner was to invite you inside!

Ann said...

such a beautiful house.
the people who live there now seem so warm and kind.
how sweet of you to do this for Naomi!
i enjoyed this post so very,very much!!!

Walk in New York said...

c'est un endroit magnifique, qui me fait penser a une partie du Bronx : riverdale.
Un superbe post complet

Publicity ;o) Every Friday (and the Weekend), The Challenge "Walk In The Street Photography"

Pondside said...

There are two gifts in this post - the first is to your friend, Naomi, who got a look at her childhood home - and the second was to those of us who love houses. I enjoyed looking at these houses that are nowhere near me, mean nothing to me but are, still, so very interesting. I'd love to have some special, meaningful carving on the side of my house. There - that's the third gift - an idea!

Ginnie said...

I can just imagine the thrill this must have been to Naomi, Vagabonde. WOW! What a wonderful trip down memory lane for her. And what a gift from you to her!

CrazyCris said...

WHat a fascinating story! And a lovely collection of photos that make the house come to life... You sure were lucky to have the current owner invite you in! When you mentioned a woman talking at a cellphone and looking at you oddly I was sure you were going to say she was calling the cops or something! :p

Sheila said...

Great post as always Vagabonde.
This is a beautiful property, and obviously holds many memories for your friend. How gracious of the present owner to allow you to photograph the interior.
Naomi must be thrilled with the results.

PeterParis said...

The "old lady" must be very thankful to you! What a complete investigation!

Ruth said...

Isn't it incredible how each person's story leads in so many directions, and we barely cross over any others in a lifetime. The art collection of Naomi's father's is mind boggling, you'd think he was a Rockefeller!

Kay said...

Oh my goodness! What a gorgeous house. How very kind of them to let you go in and take photos of the house and post them on your blog.

Jeanie said...

Thank you for this incredibly fascinating post. Through your blog, I discovered Naomi's some time ago and have been privileged to enjoy her stories and life as well. So to step within and savor this bit of her childhood and youth, is really a treasure -- what a gorgeous home; simply beautiful. You are fortunate indeed to have found a thoughtful and generously-spirited owner who would allow you such thorough access.

I'm not quite certain, but I believe I am familiar with the Hirshhorn name as a benefactor of great art, but had not made the connection. And I'm so glad you showed Naomi's painting as well. It's lovely. Such a satisfying visit. Thank you.

Lonicera said...

I reckon you know America better than most Americans do. Naomi's former home is truly beautiful. Have now caught up on all your lovely recent posts.

Dianne said...

how wonderful you got all these photos for Naomi!!
My brother lives in Whitestone and we used to meet often for dinner in Great Neck
one of the first things my nephew said as a child was "Leonards" any time we passed the catering hall

I haven't been on the island in too long, must go visit

great post

Jenn Jilks said...

What a wonderful saga of trip, history, family.
How wonderful!
Nice to see green leaves, too.
We have snow on the way!
Cheers from Cottage Country!

Reader Wil said...

Quelle belles maisons! Je vois toujours des programmes á la télévision anglaise pour ceux qui veulent acheter une autre maison. C ' est toujours trés intéressant, parce que il y a beaucoup de belles maisons comme vous avez photografié.

Anonymous said...

Quelle aventure!
Ce reportage était très intéressant.
Merci, Vagabonde!

Al said...

What fun to see these photos of Long Island, where I spent several years of my youth!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your house tour and some of the artsy photos. Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

*** Coucou Vafabonde ! Merci pour ce post et GROS BISOUS ! :o) ***

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde.
Il me semble que je suis un peu en retard. Je viens de faire une bien agréable visite.
Belle maison tant de l'extérieur qu'à l'intérieur. Dans les intérieurs américains je remarque que le style des tables et des chaises est souvent le même, Anglo/espagnol, je pense. Julia a la même chose chez elle.

stardust said...

Thank you for taking us to the house tour with you. The house is simply gorgeous and the owner would be proud of it. All the houses of Long Island in your collage is so attractive.

stardust said...

Thank you for taking us to the house tour with you. The house is simply gorgeous and the owner would be proud of it. All the houses of Long Island in your collage is so attractive.

Arti said...

Some people are just destined for greatness, and some oscure, little places, destined to be the nurturing hub for them. A home in a town like this is exactly it. Wow, what a place, and the lives lived there. To be fellow alumni with Francis Ford Coppola is quite something. Your friend Naomi is destined for greatness the moment she was born. ;) As always, your post is full of rich, aesthetically pleasing display of art and photography, as well as informative and insightful writing. Thank you again, Vagabonde!

Vagabonde said...

Dear Friends – I re-read all your comments again. I am pleased that you liked this post about Naomi’s former home. I appreciate that you took the time to come and read it. I am going to stop now, because thunder is coming closer and tornadoes will be in our area shortly, I am closing my computer but my next post is already scheduled for tomorrow. Thanks to all.

Jeanne said...

I so much enjoyed reading your post, and think it is so awesome that you took the time to do these photographs for your friend. Loved how your husband kept waiting patiently ..... isn't that a gift. great photos and such an interesting story!

sonia a. mascaro said...

What a fascinating post about the house that dear Naomi grew up!
The house is gorgeous and the neighborhood is beautiful too.
I just can imagine that Naomi loved to see again her former house. You gave a wonderful gift to her. Great photos, great reportage!

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