THE SHOW "Gold Coast Mansions" on "Treasures of New York"
WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 9:15 on WLIW/21; Feb. 21 at 10:30 p.m. on WNET/13
REASON TO WATCH Who needs "Downton Abbey" for manor castle thrills? We've got 'em right here!
WHAT IT'S ABOUT During that same century-back time frame, Long Island was home to hundreds of its own grand "country cottages" for 1900s elite, otherwise known as the North Shore mansions of this half-hour premiere. Its luscious high-definition photography, enticing vintage visuals and fact-packed narration together create a terrific tour that's part travelogue, part history/sociology lesson and part architectural primer.
Among the dozen estates touched upon, two gems rate lengthy visits. Huntington's 1909 Oheka Castle now gleams after a $40 million restoration, morphing a long-abandoned "mess" into a luxury hotel evoking the "Gold Coast experience" of "Great Gatsby" days. And Oyster Bay's Planting Fields, "one of the last surviving great estates," continues to wow as a state park with sprawling arboretum, greenhouse flora and Tudor-style mansion.
Producer Ally Gimbel's narration, plus interviewed experts, also stress the irony that would afflict all this excess from America's new postindustrial tycoons. They were not only erecting playground retreats but also aping the Downton-style "ancestral homes" of the English gentry. Yet the most elaborate estates were occupied for just one generation, or two: Before the Depression, post-World War II suburban growth and taxes conspired to hasten their demise as family holdings. ("Downton Abbey," indeed.)
MY SAY Wait, this show starts ending at the 26-minute mark? More time, please, at Old Westbury Gardens, Caumsett, Eagle's Nest and others barely explored. More about the homes' inhabitants, social soirees, antique/art assets, post-heir operation (Oheka for city sanitation workers' recreation!), and location use for TV/movies. Don't just introduce a speak-easy hidden behind a wood-paneled wall, then cut away.
BOTTOM LINE Too bad the rich couldn't sustain these estates. Too cool we can enjoy them now.