Gold Coast Mansions
The north shore of Long Island, New York, USA, in a 16-mile stretch from Great Neck to Huntington, was a favorite retreat for the rich and the famous. Many were wealthy industrialists of the Gilded Age who pioneered great industries. These captains of industry spent fortunes on their lavish lifestyles. Many worked in and around New York City and created large estates on the north shore of Queens County, now Nassau County, today commonly referred to as the "Gold Coast."
Industrial revolution and expansion of the Gold Coast
During the Second Industrial Revolution, great fortunes were made in steel, transportation and other industries.
America was a land of unparalleled natural resources, rapid growth, open space and the biggest cities had begun to form. Transportation had exploded across the landscape and those who could keep up with or facilitate the growth were the beneficiaries of great wealth.
Many new millionaires were created. Beginning in the early 1890s, there was a great increase in fine home building on what became known as the Gold Coast of Long Island.
Lavish homes and estates
Wealthy industrialists and bankers such as the Vanderbilts, Astors, Whitneys, Morgans, Pratts, Hearsts, and Guggenheims spent fortunes on lavish lifestyles including opulent mansions, castles and chateaus. These are commonly referred to as Gold Coast Mansions, the topic of many books and articles (see references below) since the building spree began. One of these was the second largest residence in the U.S., Otto Kahn's Oheka Castle. Over 500 mansions were built for the wealthy families of the industrial revolution along Long Island's north shore during the beginning of the 20th century, most concentrated in 70 square miles (180 km2). Only about 200 survive.
The greatest architects, landscapers, decorators and firms including Stanford White, John Russell Pope, Guy Lowell, and Carrère and Hastings were employed. Architectural styles included English Tudor, French Chateau, Georgian, Gothic, Mediterranean, Norman, Roman, Spanish, and combinations of all of these. Rooms, outdoor structures, and entire buildings were dismantled in Europe to be reassembled on the North Shore. Besides the great houses there were formal gardens, gazebos, greenhouses, stables, guest houses, gate houses, swimming pools, reflecting pools, ponds, children’s playhouses, pleasure palaces, golf courses, and tennis courts. Activities such as horse riding, hunting, fishing, fox hunting, polo, yachting, golf, swimming, tennis, skeet shooting and winter sports, were accommodated by the estates or the exclusive clubs nearby: the Beaver Dam Club, the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club (1871), Meadow Brook Club (1881), Manhasset Bay Yacht Club (1892), Piping Rock Club (1912), and Creek Club (1923). Privacy was maintained with the huge land holdings, hedges and trees, fences, gates and gate houses, private roads, and lack of maps showing the location of the houses.
Some mansions burned down, others that were abandoned were vandalized or overtaken by vegetation. Many were torn down to make room for developments, as the Great Depression, poor financial decisions, increasing requirements for upkeep, and increasing income taxes depleted family fortunes. Houses built to last 500 or more years were gone in 50.
Thirteen of the notable mansions that are now gone are included in the table below with some of their features.
|Beacon Towers||1917–1918||60||18||Hunt & Hunt||demolished 1945||40°51'53"N 73°43'40"W (gate house)|
|Burrwood||1898–1899||40+||1,000||Carrère and Hastings||demolished 1995||40°53'1"N 73°28'12"W|
|Farnsworth||c. 1914||50||Guy Lowell||demolished 1966||40°51'50"N 73°33'58"W (stable and garage)|
|Ferguson Castle||1908||40||Allen W. Jackson||demolished 1970||40°53'39"N 73°25'6"W (gate house)|
|Garvan||1891||60||101||demolished mid-1970s||40°47'59"N 73°36'43"W|
|Harbor Hill||1900–1902||688||Stanford White||demolished Spring 1947||40°47'57"N 73°38'18"W (approx)|
|Laurelton Hall||1902–1906||65||600||Louis Comfort Tiffany||burned down 1957||40°52'22"N 73°29'1"W|
|Matinecock Point||1913||41||257||Christopher Grant La Farge||demolished 1980/1981||40°53'59"N 73°37'53"W|
|Meudon||c. 1900||80||300||Charles P.H. Gilbert||demolished 1955||40°53'51"N 73°36'15"W|
|Pembroke||1914–1916?||82||62||Charles P.H. Gilbert||demolished 1968||40°52'21"N 73°39'11"W|
|Rosemary Farm||1907||159||William Eyre||burned down 1991 or 1992||40°54'25"N 73°28'38"W|
|Roslyn House||1891||James Brown Lord||demolished 1974||40°47'55"N 73°36'43"W|
|Westbrook Farms/Knollwood||1906–1920||60||262||Hiss & Weekes||demolished 1959||40°49'33"N 73°32'11"W|
Many are now gone, yet many remain. Some are privately owned and others are public (colleges, monasteries, museums). Some are restored, while others are in distress. There are ruins of mansions and other structures that are of interest to many. Many of these mansions still exist, but many that once occupied large sections of land have made room for smaller and additional homes.
- Caumsett, formerly the Marshall Field III Estate
- Coindre Hall
- Delamater-Bevin Mansion
- Estate (house)
- Harbor Hill
- Harry E. Donnell House
- Hempstead House
- Indian Neck Hall
- Laurelton Hall
- Nassau County Museum of Art, formerly The Clayton Estate
- Oheka Castle
- Old Westbury Gardens
- Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
- Vanderbilt Museum
- Webb Institute, formerly The Braes
- AIA Architectural Guide to Nassau and Suffolk Counties. American Institute of Architects. Long Island Chapter, 1992.
- Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist's Country Estate. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006.
- Hewitt, Mark Alan. The Architect and the American Country House, 1890-1940. Yale Univ. Press. 1990.
- MacKay, Robert B. Long Island Country Houses and Their Architects 1860-1940. W.W. Norton, 1997.
- Mateyunas, Paul J. North Shore Long Island: Country Houses 1890-1950. Acanthus Press, 2007.
- Mensing, Kenneth G. and Rita Langdon. Hillwood: The Long Island estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Long Island University, 2008.
- Randall, Monica. The Mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast. Monica Randall . Rizzoli, 1979.
- Randall, Monica. Winfield: Living in the Shadow of Woolworths. Thomas Dunne, 2003.
- Sclare, Lisa and Donald. Beaux-Arts Estates: A Guide to the Architecture of Long Island. Viking Press, 1980.
- Spinzia, Raymond E. and Judith A. Long Island's Prominent North Shore Families: Their Estates and Their Country Homes vol. 1-2. VirtualBookworm.com, 2006.
- Wilson, Richard Guy. Harbor Hill: Portrait of a House. W.W. Norton, 2008.