When Nick Carraway, narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," moves into a fictional community on the East Coast, he is stunned by what he finds next door. It was "a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion."
The days of Gatsby-like opulence reflected by Long Island's famous Gold Coast mansions along the North Shore are long gone, of course. Or, are they?
Numbers are hard to come by, but high-end real estate brokers say they have noted an uptick in the demand for newly built homes in this rarefied tier in recent times. Some, in fact, appear to be close to Gatsby's "colossal affair," complete with grand staircases, fountains, multiplex-sized movie rooms, elevators and enough marble to reconstruct an Italian public bath.
A standard of extravagance was set just a few years ago, for example, by a billionaire who built a sprawling estate in Old Westbury with his own 9-hole golf course. Janet Etessami, owner of a real estate firm in Kings Point, says she recently sold a waterfront home in the community for $11.5 million. It's a teardown.
"They want to rebuild with a mansion that suits their needs," she says.
"It's a niche market," interior designer Denise Wolfe says of the phenomenon. "It's people in sports, the entertainment business, agents. It takes a little longer to sell a home like this, but when they sell, they sell."
Paul Mateyunas, a North Shore historian and real estate agent for Danial Gale Sotheby's International Realty, also has noticed an increase in grand home building.
"A lot are built in the modern classic style with a compound feel," he says. "It's almost an architectural renaissance."
But Mateyunas, the author of "Long Island's Gold Coast, Images of America," says he doubts the nouveau mansions will total anything close in number and lavishness to the wealthy enclave that materialized on Long Island from 1890 to 1930.
About 1,200 mansions financed with money made during the Industrial Age were constructed here during that time, he says. Most were based on a European motif like French châteaus (though one was built to resemble an entire Moorish village).
These were dream palaces containing things like casinos, private screening rooms, squash courts, rifle ranges, indoor pools and bowling alleys. The 82-room home of Capt. Joseph DeLamar in Glen Cove, for instance, contained an entire indoor botanical garden considered the largest private conservatory in the world.
"Long Island was the new hot spot for wealthy families of Manhattan and throughout New York as a place to relax for the weekend in a country retreat," says Mateyunas. "The North Shore became one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world."
The reason for the advent of the new mansions is obvious to people like Shawn Elliott, the owner-broker of Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates: the improving economy.
"This is a trend you are going to see more of," he says. "People are spending again. It's been an amazing year on Wall Street and everyone is tired of the recession."
What exactly defines a new Gold Coast mansion?
Etessami points to things like high ceilings, grand spaces and a high level of craftsmanship.
"It's the details," she says.
Apparently, it's also important that the new mansions not look too fresh, says Oliver Cope, a New York architect who has been building homes of this echelon since the 1990s.
"I'm most happy if people think the things I have done have been there forever," he says. "There's definitely still an appetite for this kind of thing. It's a desire to do something classic and timeless with a balanced attention to gardens outside as well as the home inside."
Whether such homes will continue to multiply is anyone's guess. Although the old Gold Coast set wasn't greatly damaged by the stock market crash of 1929, their mansions were considered out of fashion by the 1950s, says Mateyunas. Maintenance costs, and the death of the estate owners led to many being left empty and unheated. They deteriorated, were abandoned, broken up for development or destroyed. Only about a third remain intact today.
Still, Elliott has something of a carpe diem sales pitch for potential nouveau Gold Coasters.
"You can buy $10 million in bonds or put the money in the bank, but look at any 10-year period and real estate has always outpaced the market," he says. "You can live in a home like this and watch the asset appreciate. I tell people it's time to enjoy the fruits of their hard labor."
BROOKVILLE $10.9 million
ANNUAL TAXES $135,000
WHAT'S FOR SALE This is a 17-room Colonial with six bedrooms, 11 baths and four half-baths set on 5.5 acres. It has an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, a den and family room, a library, music room, seven fireplaces and an office. There is an attic, a finished basement with maid's quarters and storage. The home has 10-foot ceilings and Brazilian cherry hardwood floors with radiant heat. Outdoor features include a tennis court, a pool with pool house, Jacuzzi and a Koi pond. It's a smart home with temperature and security settings that can be controlled via computer from anywhere.
GOLD COAST GLITTER "This looks like a hundred-year-old French chateau, but it's a 21st Century smart house," says listing agent Shawn Elliott.
LISTING AGENT Shawn Elliott, Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates, 516-364-4663
OLD WESTBURY $7.95 million
ANNUAL TAXES It has yet to be assessed, but the estimated taxes are $74,000.
WHAT'S FOR SALE This is a Colonial with seven bedrooms and six full and two half-baths on 4.3 acres. It has an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, a den and family room, an office, attic and five fireplaces and an attached three-car garage. Outside is a swimming pool.
GOLD COAST GLITTER The home has radiant heat marble floors, two domed ceilings and a cherrywood elevator. The basement features a 11-seat home theater along with a sauna, fireplace, gym and a pool table room. "It's almost like a castle," says Denise Wolfe, an interior designer who did staging for the home.
LISTING AGENT Raphael Yerushalmi, Napoleon Development Superior Residential and Commercial Builders, 516-621-0555
KINGS POINT $7.2 million
ANNUAL TAXES $65,000
WHAT'S FOR SALE This is a brick Center Hall Colonial with seven bedrooms and 7 1/2 designer bathrooms on one acre of property. Within its 12 rooms is a formal living room, formal dining room, a huge den, library, a Euro-granite eat-in kitchen, a family room, an elevator, a finished basement and a home theater with leather seats for 15. It has wood floors with radiant heat throughout. Outdoors is a pool with a Jacuzzi and a circular stone driveway with a three-car garage.
GOLD COAST GLITTER The double-door entrance leads to a bridal staircase
with a chandelier. It's a "smart" home with controls for the heating and cooling, lights and an alarm system. "Outdoors is like a resort," says listing agent Janet Etessami. "It has a spa with an outdoor Jacuzzi, which can function separately from the heated pool."
LISTING AGENT Janet Etessami, owner-broker of Janet Etessami Realty, 516-482-4321