WHY GO? Live out your Downton Abbey fantasies, if only for a weekend, on the Gold Coast of Long Island NY. Explore the castles of Long Island’s Gilded Age, some of which are open to the public. And then stay in one.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is set here. The Vanderbilt’s, Roosevelt’s, Woolworths, and the like built their own mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast to rival those of the Hudson Valley and Newport RI. And, of course, those Rhode Island mansions are famous. Yet very few people have heard about similar mansions on Long Island’s North Shore.
What and Where is the Gold Coast of Long Island NY
The term Gold Coast was coined in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to describe the North Shore of Long Island, when Captains of Industry built waterfront and hilltop castles in towns that included Glen Cove, Oyster Bay, Cold Spring Harbor, and other hamlets that jutted out into Long Island Sound.
The Hamptons had nuttin’ on Long Island High Society at the turn of last century. On this Getaway, visit some of these castles on Long Island NY for a taste of the extravagant life of yesterdays tycooons.
Those with more time might want to check out the nearby “Castles” open to the public. Those include Coe Hall at the 400-acre Planting Fields Arboretum, Sands Point Preserve, and the community-minded Nassau County Museum of Art.
And if you’d like to explore more – check out this getaway on Long Island’s North Fork.
Gilded Age Castles on Gold Coast of Long Island NY
VISIT: Vanderbilt Museum and Mansion
Spend some time at William Vanderbilt’s summer home and a wonderfully rendered, compact Vanderbilt Museum – his gift to the residents of New York – which continues to innovate and thrive.
Once upon a time Olympic star Sonja Henie, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor frequented Vanderbilt’s “Summer Shack.”
One of the premier Gold Coast mansions of Long Island, The Vanderbilt home features architectural elements from all over the world: thousand year old columns from Carthage, doors from Spanish castles, a Belgian wood carved staircase, and a 1492 Portuguese relief over one fireplace, among thousands of other artifacts.
The home alone is captivating, but the museum, too, is an amazement. In 1912, Vanderbilt opened the Marine Museum. Other halls were added over the years, culminating in a State-of-The-Art Planetarium.
Vanderbilt’s objective; “to bring the world to all who were unable to see the world.” The Hall of Fish is incredibly engaging. And the 3,000-year-old mummy is a particular favorite of school groups.
Suffice it to say, this Museum of Natural History rivals the larger one in Manhattan, several dozen miles away. It is difficult to sum up the riches of this place adequately. Just go, and you will sing its praises to your own friends. Check website for hours and admission fees.
VISIT: Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens offer bit of the Cotswold’s on Long Island. These 200 acres of landscaped formal gardens, ponds, woodlands and lakes are a favorite of horticulturists – and Hollywood film set scouts.
The home, a Charles II style brick mansion, was designed by a Crawley (William, not Matthew), for the Phipps Family in 1904. And yes, you can take a tour of the home itself.
But of course, the real draw is the landscape, which can also been seen in flicks like American Gangster (Denzel Washington) and Gossip Girl. Spend an hour or two strolling the pond and pool studded grounds.
Home and gardens open to the public at various times throughout the year. Check website for hours and admission fees.
Where to Eat on Long Island NY
EAT: Mill Pond House, Centerport
With captivating water views, the Mill Pond House could have gotten by on location alone. But the food here is
During Prohibition, rumrunners unloaded illegal hooch through a back entrance. Now, signature cocktails flow freely, and menu items like Linguini With Clam Sauce and Veal Parm, won’t break the bank.
Pick from an extensive sushi menu, too, as you watch the sun set over the foliage-ringed pond. Perhaps, in the distance, you’ll see the green light from Daisy’s dock.
EAT: Finnegan’s Restaurant and Tap Room, Huntington
Care to take the opulence down a notch? In the mood for burgers and wings washed down with a nice pint? Head to the oldest continuous operating bar in Huntington, Finnegan’s – not much to look at but with loads of character.
You got your Chicken Pot Pie, Fish and Chips and any other tavern grub your heart desires. It’s how the other 99.99% lived on Long Island since 1912.
Stay At This Castle of Long Island NY’s Gilded Age
STAY: OHEKA Castle Long Island
After you’ve toured the mega-mansions, stay in one. Imperial treatment begins at the gatehouse of OHEKA Castle, a luxury hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (It’s also a member of the Historic Hotels of America).
Provide your name to a security guard, and after you’ve been cleared, massive wrought iron gates swing open onto a long, arrow-straight, tree lined driveway.
You’ll feel like a VIP as make your way to the cobblestone courtyard where you’ll park then walk through a fortress-like door, register, and leave your car keys with the front desk.
Made famous as the opening shot of the movie Citizen Kane, OHEKA remains a popular backdrop for motion pictures, TV shows and commercials, so staff may have to move your wheels.
Otto Kahn’s Place
In 1919, financier Otto Hermann Kahn, railroad and banking tycoon (and with his top hat and white mustache, purportedly the model for the Monopoly Man) built his own castle on Long Island NY.
It was the second largest private home in the US (the largest was Vanderbilt’s “Biltmore” in Asheville, NC), a representation of the French Chateaux Fontainebleau, on the North Shore of Long Island NY near Sands Point.
With a hundred full-time staff, greenhouses and stables, Kahn’s 126-room 109,000 sq. ft. “Castle on the Hill,” was the Downton Abby of its day and a haven for Kahn, a German Jew who fled the anti-Semitism that plagued him first in Germany and then in Morristown, New Jersey.
After Kahn died in 1934, the magnificent estate fell into the hands of the New York City Sanitation Workers Association and then became a military boarding school.
By the time the military school went bankrupt, OHEKA was a mess; there were basketball hoops in the ballroom and the spectacular gardens and reflecting pools had been bulldozed. From 1978-1983, OHKEA was abandoned, trashed and vandalized; it had literally gone to seed.
From Mess to Magnificent
Photos from those years show birds nesting in decayed and burnt-out rooms. Enter, Long Island Real Estate Developer, Gary Melius, who saw promise where most would not. He purchased OHEKA in 1983 and has made “restoring it to look the way that Kahn built it” his “life’s work”.
Like Kahn, Melius loves to entertain, so he moved in, sunk a bunch of bucks into restoration, and then opened OHEKA once again to guests.
OHEKA is an elite wedding venue – for those with at least a $100,000 and multiples of that to spend. But even if you are not part of a wedding party, or can’t stay over, you can take a one hour tour of OHEKA for $30.
Feel some tycoon vibes in the former billiard room, and gawk at the walls of the Chaplin Room – festooned with posters and memorabilia of Kahn’s good friend and frequent OHEKA guest, Charlie.
But for the optimal Gilded Age experience, book a room or a suite.
No two rooms are alike. Each richly textured suite is fit for a Lord and Lady of the Manor, with crown moldings trimming 12ft ceilings, claw-foot tubs in large, marble-floor, deeply hued bathrooms, complimentary two bottles of water, flat screen TV, and period antiques.
No need to leave for dinner. Reserve a seat at in-house OHK Bar and Restaurant.
Room and suite rates from $495-$1,295 per night.