Society Adventures: A Visit to the Gatsby-Era Gold Coast - Atlas Obscura
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Society Adventures: A Visit to the Gatsby-Era Gold Coast

article-imageCastle Gould (photograph by Charles Eubanks)

The Gold Coast of Long Island at the beginning of the 20th century was opulence in the extreme. The gargantuan mansions were the setting for the Great Gatsby, as well as plenty of real-life decadence as the New York elite constructed their dream homes with no expense spared. It was one of these estates, that of the illustrious Guggenheims, that the Obscura Society visited earlier this month for a day of exploration.

The Guggenheim Estate is now the Sands Point Preserve, although you still enter through towering metal doors decorated with “G”s. We toured through the three stately homes where the family once lived, including Castle Gould. Before the Guggenheims, Howard Gould, son of the railroad robber baron Jay Gould, built the medieval mansion modeled after Kilkenny Castle in Ireland with an 80-foot-tall clock tower in an attempt to please his wife Katherine Clemmons. She wasn’t pleased, so the castle was left to the servants and the horses and a stone Tudor mansion called Hempstead House was built nearby overlooking the Long Island Sound. Whether or not Clemmons liked this may not have mattered, as the couple was soon divorced, with Gould accusing her of infidelity with none other than William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill.

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(photograph by Allison Meier)

Gould then sold the whole estate to Daniel Guggenheim in 1917, and the place was decked out with rare orchids in the interior court, medieval tapestries, paintings by the Old Masters, an oak pipe organ, and even an aviary. Later, Guggeneheim gave part of the estate to his son Harry Guggenheim, who built his own manor called Falaise. Taking its name for the French for “cliff,” it has its own secluded area of a bluff over the water. Charles Lindbergh was a frequent guest, and he once left his station wagon in the stone garage where it still sits today.

During World War II, Hempstead House was used as an orphanage for children from Europe, and today it’s mostly a film location and wedding rental. Hempstead House and Falaise aren’t usually open for tours, but we were lucky enough to step inside. In fact, everything in Falaise was left in place by Harry Guggenheim in the anticipation of tours, from his basement cluttered with horse racing trophies to the rest of the rooms decorated with pieces of medieval architecture he culled from trips to Europe. We even got to go up in the clock tower of Castle Gould, empty save for the pigeons that flutter around the vast ceiling. 

After visiting the gorgeous houses, we had a beach picnic down on the sand. Here are some photographs from the day on the extravagant Gold Coast:

article-imageTouring Hempstead House (photograph by Allison Meier)

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Dragon on the gate of Hempstead House (photograph by Allison Meier)

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The interior courtyard (photograph by Allison Meier)

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(photograph by Michelle Enemark)

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Part of one of the colossal fireplaces (photograph by Kathryn Yu)

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Lions on a fireplace (photograph by Allison Meier)
 

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Looking up from the grand staircase (photograph by Kathryn Yu)

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Even the ceilings are decorated (photograph by Kathryn Yu)

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The clock tower of Castle Gould (photograph by Michelle Enemark)

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Inside the clock tower with the pigeons (photograph by Allison Meier)

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Pigeons in the clock tower (photograph by Kathryn Yu)

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Visiting Falaise (photograph by Michelle Enemark)

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Charles Lindbergh’s station wagon (photograph by Allison Meier)

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View from the pool at Falaise (photograph by Michelle Enemark)

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On the Falaise terrace (photograph by Charles Eubanks)

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Viewing the Long Island Sound (photograph by Michelle Enemark) 

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The beach at the Sands Point Preserve (photograph by Allison Meier)

Thanks to all who attended, and especially to Sands Point Preserve for hosting our visit and inviting us into the usually off-limits places. Thanks also to Charles Eubanks, Kathryn Yu, and Michelle Enemark for their awesome photographs. 

THE GOLD COAST: SANDS POINT PRESERVE, Port Washington, New York


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