Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Long Island, New York ?

Last month I wrote two posts on the reasons for selecting certain travel destinations. Some were selected because of stamps, postcards, art exhibit, books, movie, etc. There is another reason which I did not mention then, and that is: selecting a destination because of an article that I read online. I read it in March last year and this made me decide to visit the North Shore of Long Island, New York. We have been to New York City many times and have seen most of the sights there. The last few times we decided to visit the surrounding boroughs like the Bronx and Brooklyn but had not thought about Long Island, until I read an interesting article last March. Why did we decide to visit the North Shore of Long Island? I’ll explain below.

On the old postcard above you can see the North Shore which starts at the bottom left of the card. It is on the north coast of Long Island bordering Long Island Sound. Long Island Sound is the estuary of the Atlantic Ocean between the state of Connecticut and Long Island in the state of New York. The photo at the top of this post was taken in Great Neck, Long Island.

Long Island Sound by Thomas Moran, American, 1837-1926

Long Island is close to the center of New York City and has been an affluent area for many years. The area was nicknamed “The Gold Coast” because of the opulent estates built there between the 1890s and 1950s by wealthy New York City business tycoons. The Vanderbilt's, J. P Morgan, David Guggenheim, F. W. Woolworth and President Theodore Roosevelt had large mansions with acres of formal gardens on the North Shore.

From October 1922 to May 1924 F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Great Neck, one of the towns there. There he found inspiration for his celebrated novel, The Great Gatsby, in the glitzy soirees given in the large estates around him and the estate across the water in Sands Point.

Articles I read in early March last year announced that the Long Island mansion that was thought to have inspired The Great Gatsby was going to be demolished to make way for several McMansions – 5 huge custom homes starting at $10 million each. The 25-room colonial property, called Lands End, was built in 1902 on 13-acres facing Long Island Sound in Sands Point. Lavish parties were hosted there in the 1920s and 30s with such high-profile guests as Winston Churchill, the Marx Brothers, Ethel Barrymore, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, the Wright Brothers, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, writer Oscar Wilde and hundreds more. The 24,000 square foot house had original hand-painted wall paper, marble, parquet floors, Palladian windows, two private beaches, two tennis courts, a 75-foot swimming pool, a greenhouse, horse stables, French gardens and more. Below are pictures of the estate found on a 1970s real estate brochure.

I was truly astounded that such an illustrious part of America’s history would go under the wrecking ball. I read more about it and found out that the current owner had let the house deteriorate for many years and had decided not to spend the $2 million to renovate it. It was more beneficial for him to have the house demolished and sell the land. I was also surprised that no one, including the state or the government would step in to save it. It was in such a beautiful and unique setting along the Long Island Sound.

North Shore, Long Island by William Moore Davis, American 1829-1920

The land could have been made into a gorgeous park and the mansion used for many art venues, or at the very least, it would have made a fantastic convalescent home. But, of course, parceling the property and developing it for millionaires would bring more money… (it is well known that in the pursuit of financial gains many such mansions have been demolished after suffering intentional neglect.)

So this is why we decided to travel to Long Island – to see some mansions before they might be razed. We went to Long Island last September and I’ll have more posts on our trip later. Last April though I read an article on the Los Angeles Times that a planned demolition had taken place at Lands End that week. A photographer was sent to take some last pictures – here they are below courtesy of the LA Times.

A photographer, Jen Ross, who is also a blogger, took many pictures of Lands End at Sands Point and allowed me to show some of them here.

Please go to Jen’s site and click under the main picture on “start slideshow” – her pictures are exceptional and help us witness the demise of this once elegant and grand house. Please click here for Jen Ross Photography. Below is a last view of Lands End (courtesy LA Times.)

Hundreds of mansions have been lost on the Gold Coast – at least 100 of them in the last fifty years. These opulent houses were built by top-notch architects with the best material available. They are now being replaced by tacky houses or more malls and highways. Below are postcards of a couple of mansions which were razed as well - the George Rose estate in Westbury and the Stanley Mortimer estate in Roslyn (partner of Standard Oil.)

I am surprised that some of these houses are not being saved by the US government as part of the nation’s historical heritage. It is a total shame to demolish authentic period houses and replace them with flashy and ostentatious houses which are tasteless or in a variety of styles. I grew up in Paris where we are respectful and proud of our “patrimoine.” It is a hard word to translate – in a broader sense it means “heritage” – to cherish the culture, the environment, the monuments, art and the music of the country. French people pay taxes to keep it up. Where would all the castles, museums and cathedrals be if they had been left to deteriorate and then their land had been sold to the highest bidder? Here are some examples of the French patrimoine: the cathedral of Chartres, the castle of Chambord and the Maison Carrée in Nimes.

By the way the Maison Carrée in Nimes (south of France) which was a Roman Temple built in 1 BC has been in continuous use ever since. In the 18th century Thomas Jefferson copied its architecture in the construction of the Virginia State Capitol (it is fortunate that this temple has been preserved…)

Virginia State Capitol painted in 1860, attributed to Howard W. Montague

Here in the US, I read that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had a “Save America’s Treasures” program and tried to find out more about it and about the funding of culture and the arts. It was not easy, but I found out that the US budget for the arts and humanities was about $6 per capita per year back in 1996. In 2010 it was down to 54 cents per capita per year and in 2012 it is now 44 cents! Arts funding has been steadily blocked by Conservative Republicans. Last year the total budget for the arts and humanities was $167.5M and in 2012 it shrank to $146.3M (or the salary of 3 NBA/NFL players or a fraction of the cost of a new sports stadium.)

Among industrialized countries the US has a historical low rate of overall taxes. It is ranked dead last in arts funding (as a point of comparison France gives $20+ per capita to the arts yearly.) But then I saw that in the 2012 US budget 59% went to defense (42% of the worlds military spending is done by the US) 6% on education and 2% on justice (which may explain why with 5 percent of the world’s population the US has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners…) At least since millionaires are taxed at a 60-year low rate they may still employ artists to paint their portraits as was the case during the “gilded age” of the Gold Coast?

Portrait of Lady Helen Vincent by John Singer Sargent, American 1856-1925

It is devastating to see that the arts and historic preservation are sacrificed here. In 2009 some 10,000 arts organizations nationwide disappeared. I wonder what the number is now. Music and art classes are disappearing from schools, too. The arts are essential to our society. It is so sad that America is losing a vital part of its culture and history because of narrow views. If it is because of money – the arts and historic monuments bring tourists which help the economy. I checked the last figures – in 2010 France was no.1 with 76.80 million international tourist arrivals – the US was no. 2 with 59.70 million international tourist arrivals – but keeping in mind that France is not even as large as the state of Texas shown below in red.

I did find the “Save America’s Treasures” program which states that it “makes critical investments in the preservation of our nation’s most significant and endangered cultural treasures, which illustrate, interpret, and embody the great events, ideas, and individuals that contribute to America’s history and culture.” Rep. Kevin Brady (Republican from Texas) a GOP deputy whip introduced a bill that would cut millions across the board on Historic Preservation funding and eliminate the Save America’s Treasures program. I just found information on this program and it says : ” The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America’s Treasures office has closed. The U.S. Congress did not renew funding.”

“Au Revoir” (Goodbye) by George Barbier, French 1882-1932


OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is beyond my comprehension that the Republicans DO NOT Support The Arts! It is dispicable, too....! It makes no sense to me on any level...!
And that we have no sense of "history" in this country makes no sense, either. That these Hisorical homes you wrote about were not saved by someone or some government agency---It is incredible.
Here in Los Angeles there was a very strong committee of people who tried in vain to save The Ambassador Hotel---a Historical site if there ever was one---To No Avail. And that is just one of many....It is all so very depressing---the statistics on 'the arts' here in this country is shameful beyond words!

Pondside said...

There's a reason why North Americans flock to Europe and Asia - places that live with their history - that have soul in the everyday. Over here we're too quick to demolish and rebuild - and then head to Disneyland or Vegas to see the fake antiquities. So odd!
I visited Long Island many years ago - 19, I think - to attend a cousin's wedding. I'd never before seen (nor have I since) such an opulent wedding.

Fennie said...

Vagabonde, this is such a hard hitting post that I wonder you don't send it as an article to the New York Times or a similar paper. I am sure you could start a debate. Yes, what you say is so true and it is one of the reasons that I love France because they do understand 'leur patrimoine' and try to preserve it as best they can (as well as endeavouring to create new 'patrimoine' from time to time - eg 'la grande arche de la Défense.'

Britain, sad to say, sits uneasily between French and US models but we are tending to slip backwards in this era of austerity.

So all power to your elbow. There must be many in New York who would fight for Long Island and its elegant houses.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

You've visited a lovely part of New York and I've enjoyed all of the mansions and photos. My husband summered at the end of Long Island on Shelter Island as a boy.

It is a shame about some of these not being saved and you've brought up some very interesting points. France is indeed doing a much better job.

However, we watched a documentary about Buckingham Palace recently it's amazing how many times it's been torn apart and re-done through the ages by the new monarch. I would have loved to have seen some of the older versions preserved rather than torn apart for a re-do for the current resident.

Jojo said...

I'm posting this on Facebook and Tweeting to keep the conversation going. Powerful post.

Rosaria Williams said...

What a sad state of affairs! What has happened to our psyche?

Mr. Charleston said...

Thanks for stopping by my place Vagabond. Baja Georgia is that area of Northeast Florida that is more Georgia than Florida. Look forward to a long friendship. Ya'll come back now.

DJan said...

Your posts are always exceptional and this one is especially so. I fear for my country, VB. We have no sense of perspective about the true value of things. Thank you for putting this out there. I hope this is just a bad patch in American history, but I am not optimistic.

Jeanie said...

Your posts are always fascinating but you really nailed a key issue on this one. I have long supported historic preservation and am seeing it a little more here (most recently with the renovation of a former powerplant into a new office building, maintaining its original design. Auto pioneer R.E. Olds is from our town and the ultimate irony is that in the 1970s they destroyed his glorious mansion to build a cross town expressway which has ultimately resulted in the demise of the downtown area. Breaks my heart to see these places destroyed for ugly McMansions.

Beautifully stated. I know it's an expensive venture. It's one that needs to be done. I only wish more people understood why. But then, that's part of the American conundrum. We're new and "don't get it." I wish we did. It's the thing I love most about Europe.

Jeanne said...

such a fascinating post and gives so much thought for reflection. Love your antique postcards too. By the way, your commment verification is extremely difficult to see and to put in. I turned mine off.

Susie Swanson said...

Wow this is a powerful post, should be submitted to a paper.. Love it..Susie

This is Belgium said...

I enjoyed reading this very much. Would like to give decision makers the benefit of doubt whether they are republicans or democrats. These are hard times for everyone everywhere... 3 million unemployed in Ftance, 5 million in Spain and do not have an idea about how many in the US. Difficult to justify certain decisions, select priorities....

FilipBlog said...

Nice article and amazing houses.


Diane said...

Interesting post and also very disturbing. History is so important to all countries. I have never been to America and this makes me wonder if I would really like to go there. Diane

Elaine said...

It is really sad to see these beautiful old houses torn down. Modern architecture can't begin to compare with the wonderful designs of the past. Visiting old houses is always one of my favorite things to do when we are traveling.

Ann said...


Marja said...

I totally agree with you They should save these beautiful buildings and art is a very important part of learning. I think creative people are the future as the east has taken over all the industrialised work.
Furthermore art is good for the soul. A disgrace too that milionaires are low taxed. In the Netherlands they are taxed 70% and the lowest incomes 30% when I still lived there. I think owing more than a million or so shouln't be allowed in the first place when there is hunger in the world but that's just me.
Have a great week

Ginnie said...

I HATE that this is happening in America, Vagabonde, and totally agree with you about how senseless this lack of foresight is. We just visited a wee town, Bronkhorst, here in the Netherlands and Astrid explained to me that it's a Rijksmonument. That means NOTHING can be changed anywhere in the town from its original state without going through a counsel. It's wonderful to be able to SEE what things used to look like...because no one has changed them!

Jojo said...

After posting your blog post on Facebook, I got a call last night from my girlfriend who lives in New York. She and her boyfriend drove out to Long Island to see more of these homes before they are gone. I hope others share your post to help draw more attention to what is happening.

Pat said...

The first time I visited my sister in New York I met her friend's brother who had been at college with Scott Fitzgerald. He has always been a favourite writer of mine so I was avid for any little tit bits. He was quite shy and all I cold get out of him was that Scott was 'overly sentimental'
Only today I was writing elsewhere about doomed marriages with regard to Whitney Houston and Scott and Zelda were a prime example.
Unusually for him - my husband is keen to see the new Gatsby. I'd love to have see the places you visited. Thank you for sharing

Anonymous said...

C'est très intéressant, ce que tu nous racontes là. Aussi bien pour les Américains que pour des gens comme moi qui n'y sont jamais allés. Le commentaire est passionnant et les photos bien choisies.

Reader Wil said...

Ces maisons sont si belles! Quel dommage que le gouvernement ne veut pas les restaurer! Je suis heureuse que les châteaux en France sont ouverts pour tout le monde. Moi, j'ai vue les châteaux de Chenonceau, de Chaumont, de Ville Savin, de Chambord et de Cheverny. Tous sont très beaux et bien conservés.Ça c'est très important pour notre culture. Aux Pays-Bas nous avons aussi des grandes maisons et des châteaux qui sont bien conservés.

bayou said...

Such a great post, Vagabonde. But the further I read it the more I had tears in my eyes. There are so many demonstrations against whatsoever but nobody has made a petition or more to make a big campaign against the demolition of those majestic buildings and all the past history they should carry on for the next generations. I am gobsmacked that people turn a blind eye on it.
I loved the Gatsby movie btw.
Merci de temoigner ceci sur ton blog.

Sheila said...

Your post gave me goosebumps.
At a time when our future looks so bleak, these historic buildings hold so much for us to look back on and revere. There is very little here in Canada to admire in the same way, with older buildings being demolished to make way for tacky mansions for the nouveau riche. Instead their money could be utilized to restore and preserve our heritage. It should not be a matter of taste but of heritage, respect for the past and an example for the future.

Unknown said...

It looks and sounds like you had a very good trip to Long Island. It is sad how much our history we do lose.

Al said...

I spent my high school years living on the North Shore of Long Island, so I've got fond memories of it. And the Republicans have gone so far to the right that they scare me now.

Perpetua said...

A fantastic, passionately argued post, Vagabonde and so interesting and informative for a Briton like me. Sadly here in Britain we have lost a lot of big country houses over the years, often first turned into schools or other institutions and then demolished when the upkeep of the building became too great and the land more valuable.

Funding for the arts is being cut here too under the current austerity measures and the future for the arts looks hard and bleak.

Dee Ready said...

Dear Vagabonde,
My heart weeps for my country and its soul.


Anonymous said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde ! :o)

J'aime découvrir Long Island à travers les articles de ton blog !!!!

Ce doit être une région qui mérite d'être visitée !!!! Tu me donnes des envies de voyages !!!

Merci beaucoup de nous donner toutes ces infos intéressantes !!!

Je t'embrasse bien fort et je te remercie pour ton passage et ton petit mot sur mon blog ! :o)


Roger Gauthier said...

Omigod. What I write here is true not only for the US, but also to Canada up to a certain point. Even to Québec where we're supposed to be more conscious about History, and yet we see horrors of that kind everyday.

This is the kind of horrors Europe saw centuries ago, without talking of huge destructions brought by both sides during WWII. Blanket bombings had a kind of levelling effect…

But this being said, Europe, specially France but also Spain, Italy, Great Britain and many others, would not be the same without its sense of History. In France as you well know, there are huge efforts towards protection and restoration at every level.

The net result is a country where every road curve brings astonishment:monuments of all sorts, chapels, churches, abbeys, you name it. Every town is protected. Roofs are beautiful because they must respect very precise and often uniform norms, which brings striking effects.

Countries with a History. In America we have none. At least no real one. And it's not gonna change any time soon.

A very sad state of affairs.


Friko said...

What a fantastic post; you are very brave to speak out. It seems the USA is run by cultural dolts who are too stupid (or greedy) to see that they destroying a most important part of the country.

Keep at it, my dear, but make sure you cannot be traced. The Republicans would sent you back to France in a trice.

sweffling said...

As always a fabulously researched and compiled post. I am so sorry about the lost heritage and so surprised, I had always thought that you Americans were careful about your past with many charities doing sterling work to conserve and preserve. I echo the suggestion that you consider publishing this post more widely.

Arti said...

I thought of Gatsby as soon as I saw your title and Long Island photo at the start. It's a loss for sure, all these historical mansions that signify an age, somewhere in time. But I think the bottom line is money. How and who can dish out so much just to upkeep these properties. In a way, I don't blame the owners for selling, but I do blame those who turn them into tacky development. I mean, there could be more stringent architectural and design guidelines for the houses going up there. Anyway, The Great Gatsby remains a classic, a masterpiece. We all lament when something which once was glamourous and notable would go down like that.

CrazyCris said...

Those numbers are sad... seriously, less than a dollar per capita per year to the arts?! And I'm sure science funding is going the same way... all for a bloated military budget. ugh.

I can understand owners selling these mansions, the old manor houses and chateaux etc. in Europe have changed hands so many times (when new money tries to look like old money) I'm sure even the historians have lost track! But at least the new owners had taste and a sense of historical responsibility (sometimes). I shudder to imagine the European landscape without so many of its cultural treasures and historic landmarks. What a sad place it would be!

Viola said...

Hi there, and thanks for your comment! Now I've scrolled up and down, down and up, in your blog.. and found pictures even from my country! =) So fun to see! You're a real vagabond.. :)

Long Islands looks beautiful.. sad about the houses thogh..

I must come back here and read more in your blog, one day..

Until then, have a lovely weekend! :)

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful post, as always, Vagabonde. So much I didn't know about Long Island. To tell the truth though, I'd love to have seen it before ANY mansions were built. That painting by Moran is lovely.

Evan said...

Hi, I really liked your article. I'm actually doing a college research paper on Land's End. I need some sources, preferably primary sources, about Fitzgerald's interactions with the mansion and how exactly he was inspired to write the Great Gatsby. I was wondering if you still had any of the sources you used to write this article and if you still have access to them do you think you could email them to me at Thanks so much!

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