Once upon a time, Long Island’s North Shore was scattered with lavish estates where the nation’s wealthiest citizens decamped. From America’s Gilded Age through its Roaring Twenties, giants like Vanderbilt, Astor, Morgan and Phipps constructed homes with dozens of rooms and acres of formal gardens that were the scenes for swanky soirees and fashionable flappers. While the great majority of those mansions—by some counts there were more than 1,000—have been torn down, others remain. Elliman Magazine‘s fall 2017 issue reveals which of those survivors have opened their doors and gates, allowing visitors a chance to breathe deep the rarefied air and revisit a time that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby. Why not don your camel hair coat and plan a visit?
THEN: OHEKA CASTLE
The estate of Otto Hermann Kahn has been reborn many times since being completed in 1919. It was originally built at a price tag of $11 million (the equivalent of $158 million today). At 109,000 square feet, it was and remains the second-largest private home in America. After Kahn’s death in 1936, the estate was sold, and at various times it served as a retirement home for sanitation workers, a radio operator’s school for the Merchant Marines, and a home for the Eastern Military Academy. It fell into disuse and disrepair but was restored and rebuilt in the 1980s. Today 85% of the estate and gardens have been reinstated, and it is open for weddings, events, dining, tours, and even hotel stays.
THEN: COE HALL
The home of insurance magnate William Robertson Coe and Standard Oil heiress Mai Rogers Coe, Coe Hall is one of the rare Gold Coast estates with all its original acres (409) and historic buildings intact. It boasts some of the best botanical displays in the Northeast. In the spring and summer there are concerts and fairs, and in cooler months the green- houses are a wonderful way to wander among camellias and orchids and other seasonal displays of exotic greenery.
THEN: WESTBURY HOUSE
NOW: OLD WESTBURY GARDENS
The 160-acre preserve has as its centerpiece the original 23-room home of the Phipps family, which today is open for tours. But the real highlight is the gardens. Walk a course that wends by naturalist ponds, through the rose gar- dens, down a lilac walk, into a walled garden, and more. See the thatched cottage house that Peggy Phipps received on her tenth birthday.The gardens can be enjoyed in any season, but the fall, when the leaves begin to turn and the dahlias bloom, is a particularly lovely time to visit.
THEN: Eagle’s Nest, The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate
William K. Vanderbilt II—Willie K. to his pals—collected quite a number of marine and cultural artifacts as he traveled the globe. He exhibited them in his own marine museum, the Hall of Fished, which he opened in 1922. Upon his death in 1944, he bequeathed his mansion, estate and museum to Suffolk County on Long Island “for the use, education and enjoyment” of the public. In 1970 a planetarium was constructed on the grounds. Today it’s a regular on the school field-trip circuit, as well as a popular wedding and event venue.