The once-grand white house watches over Long Island Sound from the tip of Sands Point, its days numbered.
Lands End, the 25-room Colonial Revival mansion that local lore says was F. Scott Fitzgerald's inspiration for Daisy Buchanan's home in "The Great Gatsby" faces demolition this month.
In the 1920s and '30s, Winston Churchill, the Marx Brothers and Ethel Barrymore attended parties there. Fitzgerald was perched on the back deck, drinking in the view. Rooms featured marble, parquet and wide wood-planked floors, Palladian windows and hand-painted wallpaper.
Now, the front door is off its hinges, wood floors have been torn up for salvage, windows are missing and the two-story Doric columns are unsteady.
Sands Point Village in January approved plans to raze the house and divide the site into lots for five custom homes starting at $10 million each.
Lands End is the latest Gold Coast estate to fall. With each demolition, the North Shore loses more of its gilded past, when sea breezes and social events attracted the rich and famous. Historians say hundreds of the mansions have been lost in the past 50 years as owners faced increasing taxes and high maintenance costs.
"The cost to renovate these things is just so overwhelming that people aren't interested in it," said Clifford Fetner, president of Jaco Builders in Hauppauge and Lands End project construction manager. "The value of the property is the land."
Morgan, Tiffany gone
Among the estates already lost are the former homes of financier J.P. Morgan on East Island and glassmaker Louis C. Tiffany in Laurel Hollow.
From about 1890 to 1950, business titans, politicians and old-money families built as many as 1,400 opulent homes on the North Shore. The Gold Coast stretched from Great Neck to Eatons Neck and down to Old Westbury, said Paul Mateyunas, a historian and real estate agent at Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty.
"The No. 1 priority is drawing attention to these mansions, saving what we can," said Oyster Bay author and historian Monica Randall.
Sands Point Village Trustee Katharine Ullman, who lives near Lands End, at first opposed the subdivision, saying it would increase traffic, disturb a creek and tear down a navigation landmark for sailors. But now, "I understand the problem," she said. "It was costly to make the repairs to make it livable."
Taxes, insurance and maintenance of the 24,000-square-foot house and 13-acre grounds total as much as $4,500 a day, said David Brodsky of 4B's Realty, which is redeveloping the site. His father, health care entrepreneur Bert Brodsky, bought Lands End for $17.5 million in 2004 from Virginia Kraft Payson, a breeder and owner of thoroughbred horses who was the wife of the late Charles Shipman Payson, a former Mets owner.
"In its heyday, it had 20 in help," David Brodsky said. "It was a true Gold Coast estate."
The state Offices of Parks and Historic Preservation acknowledged that the costs of rehabilitation were prohibitive, but required the family to provide historical documentation and photos about the property.
"You can't save everything," Ullman said, adding that some historic homes "are being restored. Maybe that's the best we can do."
Some of the grand houses became part of parks or were used by religious groups, schools, hotels or nonprofits, said William Conklin, 49, who grew up on the Peacock Point estate in Locust Valley, where his father was caretaker.
But about 500 historic North Shore homes were knocked down in the 1950s and '60s, Randall said. More have fallen in the past 30 years.
"It's becoming more and more of an epidemic," said Alexandra Wolfe, director of preservation services at the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities.
Once for sale at $30 million
The senior Brodsky has said he bought Lands End with plans to live there, but his family objected. He put it up for sale in 2006 for $30 million.
The subdivision plan wasn't the Gold Coast's first. After serving for decades as a home to steel magnate Henry Phipps' family, the Knole estate in Old Westbury was divided and developed several years ago.
La Selva, a 40-room Italian Renaissance villa in Upper Brookville, also was targeted for subdivision. Sylvia Kumar, wife of imprisoned former Computer Associates chief Sanjay Kumar, bought the 24-acre estate in 2001. It has been for sale for more than three years, now at $9.9 million. Kumar filed subdivision plans last year, but withdrew them, village Building Department clerk Linda Giani said.
"There are many of these in all degrees of condition and all degrees of pricing," said Barbara Candee, vice president of Daniel Gale Sotheby's. "The stories are wonderful and it's very sad if these are taken down."
CORRECTION (March 18, 2011): Virginia Kraft Payson, who sold the Lands’ End mansion in Sands Point in 2004, is currently a breeder and owner of thoroughbred horses. She was incorrectly described as the late wife of Charles Shipman Payson in a story on March 6.