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Tour some of the existing mansions, OHEKA Castle, Old Westbury Gardens, Hempstead House, Castle Gould, and Eagle’s Nest, to take a peak into the lives of the families who lived there and the story they inspired.
OHEKA Castle Front Drive
OHEKA Castle is a classic example of the remaining original Gold Coast Mansions built during the 1920s on Long Island’s north shore. The term “Gold Coast” is a nickname given to the area because of the many wealthy families who built elaborate mansions there, starting in the late 19th century.
In The Great Gatsby, the fictionalized towns of “West Egg” and “East Egg” are based on real areas of the North Shore, where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived from 1922-1924.
OHEKA stands for Otto Hermann Kahn, the wealthy investment banker and philanthropist who built the castle as a summer home. The grounds were designed by the Olmsted Brothers, sons of the architect of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Khan Family Home Movies
The Kahn family consisted of Otto, his wife Addie, and their four children: Maud, Margaret, Gilbert, and Roger. We get a glimpse into their lives through their family home movies.
While not specifically based on OHEKA, Fitzgerald’s description of Gatsby’s mansion was inspired by the many extravagant homes on the Gold Coast.
A Vast Estate
OHEKA is the second largest private home in the United States. It was originally over 109,000 square feet, including a golf course, indoor pool, stable, tennis courts, and 127 rooms. Today it is a historic hotel and location for events.
OHEKA Castle Library
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote many short stories, three novellas, and five novels, including his most famous, The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald drew inspiration from many of his own experiences for the book, including his time at Princeton University where he met many young, wealthy socialites and his experiences in New York after the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
OHEKA originally contained 39 working fireplaces, part of the reason the estate had 126 full-time servants. Gatsby had an army of servants too, “On Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day… repairing the ravages of the night before.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like his narrator, Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald was born in Minnesota and moved to the East Coast for school. His father’s business was not doing well at the time, leaving him as an outsider in the wealthy East Coast crowd.
This portrait of Otto Kahn was painted by Henry Stanley Todd (1872-1941).
Otto Kahn was concerned about his mansion falling victim to fire, so he took many fire-proofing precautions, including using “faux bois” or fake wood plaster technique on the walls of the library.
Otto Kahn believed that every castle should have a secret passageway. This bookshelf originally opened to reveal a passage leading to his secretary’s room.
OHEKA Castle Ballroom
A party in the OHEKA Grand ballroom would not have been complete without Jazz. Fitzgerald coined the term “the Jazz Age” as a description for the 1920s in America because of the cultural importance of the music.
Jazz was invented by African Americans in New Orleans and moved north, becoming popular with young people in speakeasies and clubs in major cities like New York and Chicago. The rising availability of radios also helped to spread the popularity of Jazz music.
Fitzgerald describes the elaborate parties, held in rooms like this one, on the Gold Coast.
Otto’s son, Roger, was a successful jazz musician and big band conductor.
The 18th Amendment, passed on January 16th, 1919, made alcohol illegal in the United States. Many people continued to consume alcohol, however, in illegal speakeasies or at parties, supplied by “bootleggers” who smuggled liquor across the border like Gatsby himself.
Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens, formerly known as Westbury House, is the former estate of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, and their four children.
Designed as an English country manor, the estate is complete with formal and informal gardens. In 1959, following the passing of John Phipps, the house was converted to a museum and public gardens.
Old Westbury Gardens covers 200 acres. It contains an English rose garden, a lotus pond, various sculptures, over 100 acres of preserved open land, and a thatched cottage, given to John’s daughter, Peggie, as a playhouse for her 10th birthday.
Though in reality, Old Westbury Gardens does not sit directly on the water, it heavily resembles the description of Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
The Real Daisy Buchanan
Fitzgerald met the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, Ginevra King, while on break from college at his parents’ home in the Midwest. She was a Chicago socialite from a very old money family.
Old Westbury Gardens Entrance Hall
In the years following World War I, the economy in the United States grew rapidly, causing many people to have more disposable income and free time for leisure activities like listening to music, going to the movies, and participating in sporting events, than ever before.
It also brought changes to social norms like the role of women. Women gained the right to vote in 1920 and more women were working outside the home.
Margarita Grace Phipps had her own private library and study through this doorway. She was deeply involved with the design of the Walled Garden and Rose Garden on the property.
A Painted Ceiling
The painting on the ceiling, by A. Duncan Carse, is an example of quadrature or illusionist decoration. This means that it is painted in a forced perspective to give the illusion of more 3-dimensional space, when it is really flat.
This chimneypiece by Francis Derwent Wood was inspired by the work of Italian artist Michelangelo. One of his drawings is recreated in the center. Wood did a lot of work for Westbury House, including the wooden screen to the left.
Hempstead House and Castle Gould
Hempstead House and Castle Gould were built by Howard Gould for his wife, Katherine. He built Castle Gould first, modeled after the real Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. When the house was finished, however, she didn’t think it suited her taste, so the couple never lived there.
Instead, Howard built another house on the estate, Hempstead House, however Katherine never lived there because the marriage ended before the mansion was completed. Both mansions are part of the Sands Point Preserve today.
Castle Gould was used as a stable, carriage house, and servants’ quarters. Now it is a visitor’s center and space for private events and performances at the preserve.
When Howard Gould moved away, he sold the land, including Castle Gould and Hempstead House, to Florence and Daniel Guggenheim, successful in the mining industry. Daniel’s brother Solomon and niece Peggy were renowned art collectors and founders of several famous museums.
The exterior of Castle Gould is made of granite that comes from upstate New York. If you look closely, you can see fossil imprints in the stone from the Devonian period.
Long Island Sound
The Long Island Sound features prominently in the text of the Great Gatsby.
Hempstead House Library
Many wealthy Gold Coast families spent considerable time in Europe during the 1920s. While F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby based on his own experiences of life with the rich and famous in New York City and its nearby Gold Coast, he was actually living in France at the time.
He joined many other famous American expatriates or “expats” living and working in Europe in the 1920s, including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.
Coat of Arms
The coat of arms above the fireplace represents England, Ireland and Wales. There are two mottos here in French: On the bottom it says, “God and my Right”, and on the embellishment is “He who thinks evil, does evil”.
Friendship with Charles Lindberg
Daniel Guggenheim, and his son Captain Harry F. Guggenheim, were good friends with Charles Lindberg, the famous aviator who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. It is believed the men met in this very room.
Through this doorway is the Palm Court, which used to be an indoor garden and aviary filled with over 150 plants, including many types of rare orchids.
The ceiling of the library is decorated with carvings of the faces of literary figures, including William Shakespeare.
Much like the library in Hempstead House, the library in Gatsby’s mansion was also modeled after those in European estates.
William K. Vanderbilt II, great grandson of multimillionaire Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was famous for his vast railroad and shipping empire, started building Eagle’s Nest in 1910. It was designed by the same architects that designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
The style of the mansion reflects William’s interest in Mediterranean architecture, particularly in Spain.
The Green Light
The end of the novel reflects on the theme of the unattainable American Dream as symbolized by the green light at the end of the pier in front of Daisy’s house.
William was an avid sailor and took many sailing trips around the world, bringing back samples of fish, birds, and other wildlife to build his personal collection. Today, his estate is a museum full of pieces that he collected.
Samuel Yellin Metal Work
Handmade decorative Ironwork around the mansion by Samuel Yellin adds to the detailed and ornate feeling of Eagle’s Nest. Some of the designs feature hidden faces, horse heads, eels, and other biological creatures. This weathervane was removed for restoration.
Downfall of the Mansions Era
The 1929 stock market crash and following Great Depression and World War Two brought a stop to the wealth and luxury of the roaring twenties. Of the over 1,200 Gold Coast mansions that once existed, less than a third remain.