You may have already seen The Great Gatsby. Baz Luhrmann may have already drawn you in with his over-the-top scenes of 1920s glitz, or with the drawn-out drama of the Gilded Age, or with Leo’s chiseled, cherubic face. But I digress.
But if anything drew me to see The Great Gatsby, it was the depiction of the massive estates on Long Island in the Roaring Twenties. As an Upstate kid who grew up with the usual Tudor and Victorian suburban homes (four bed, three bath, no pool in the back) these hulking mansions were few and far between. So to see these pinnacles of architecture — even in picture — has always fascinated me. And now, I’m going to share these pictures with you.
For example, check out the Hempstead House above. This was the home of one Howard Gould back in the teens, when it was known as “Castlegould.” (You may recognize the last name Gould: Howard was the son of railroad fat cat Jay Gould. Remember him from history class?)
There was good reason for Gould to call this place “Castlegould”: It’s literally a castle. Do you see that tower? That is a sexy tower. And that archway in the garage? Unf.
Above is a picture of Castlegould now. It was sold to industrialist Daniel Guggenheim in 1917, after Gould decided not to stay in it. Guggenheim then renamed the castle “Hempstead House.” The property now belongs to and is maintained by Nassau County, and is often used as a tourist trap and for movie shoots.
Here’s another estate that I love. Greentree in Manhasset was the estate of Payne Whitney, an English socialite and businessman, from around 1903 to 1927. The home was surrounded by trees (clearly), as well as other magnificent flora. (Allergies must have been commonplace around there.) At the time of Whitney’s death in 1927, the estate was the most expensive ever recorded at the time: $180,000,000, in 1920s dollars! (I don’t even want to adjust for inflation.)
(Above is the magnificent pool of Greentree, constructed as part of an indoor court called Playhouse.)
Greentree still exists today, though it is rarely used. In 2007, the estate held the Manhasset negotiations, which were talks between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, a rebel liberation movement. (I don’t get it, either.)
But you may be wondering: What about Jay Gatsby’s home? Does that exist in some form? Well, of course not. Gatsby’s a fictional character. And if you’re wondering about the mansions in the movies, you’re out of luck. The 1974 film shot its mansion scenes in Rhode Island and England. And the 2013 film shot in Sydney. Both of those places are certainly not Long Island.
However, scholars have taken care to uncover what Long Island estate may have served the most influence toward F. Scott’s description of Gatsby’s lavish home. So ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you:
Oheka Castle. No, not Eureka’s Castle. Oheka Castle. This beautiful baby — located in Huntington — belonged to Otto Kahn, a wealthy financier, from the late 1910s to his death in 1934, and was the home of any man or woman’s dreams. See that giant pool in the middle? Those conical, turret like roofs? Those courtyards? That rooftop patio? And you thought your two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan was ritzy. Keep dreaming.
In 1984, a Long Island developer named Gary Melius undertook the duty of restoring Oheka, which had seen a number of arson attempts and was in danger of serious dilapidation. Since then, the estate has thrived as a resort and events venue. It even does weddings, too! Notable names who have tied the knot at Oheka include Joey Fatone, Anthony Weiner, and — really — Kevin Jonas.
Most of these images came from OldLongIsland.com. If you’re at all interested in the old Gold Coast, or just want to learn something after watching yet another Baz Luhrmann sparklefest, check it out.