Grandeur is a given on Long Island's Gold Coast, where, beginning around the turn of last century, the wealthy began hiring the most high-toned architects -- including Stanford White, Lewis Comfort Tiffany, and Hunt & Hunt -- to help them express their good taste and affluence in hundreds of lavish mansions.
But over the years, much of the original European-inspired design of the great estates has been diminished. Some mansions have been torn down, their property carved into subdivisions, or repurposed as conference centers. Renovations have reshaped floor plans and landscapes to reflect modern American sensibilities.
Still, every now and then a few pop up on the market with their souls largely intact -- a boon to history, but a challenge to the real estate agent. Here are three offerings: two Gilded Age mansions, and one built more recently on a remnant of the Harriman estate but designed in an earlier aesthetic tradition.
ASKING PRICE: $4,990,000
LISTING HISTORY: First listed early last year.
ANNUAL TAXES: $55,742
LOT SIZE: 14.41 acres
WHY IT'S SO SPECIAL: High Grass, as this estate is known, was the family home of the late Henry U. Harris, president of Harris, Upham & Co. And when you are the chief executive of a major Wall Street brokerage, your enthusiasms can be writ large. Hence the outdoor G-scale railway that winds through a tiny 19th century Western town nestled among rhododendrons and native woods near the edge of the grounds.
Harris, who died last year at 82, was a member of the Long Island Garden Railway Society. After retiring from Wall Street in the early 1990s, he built his railway setup in the space once occupied by a tennis court, says his son, Peter W. Harris, of Dover, Mass. "But he loved trains all his life,” he says. "It was a passion.”
Lines of track curve and cross through a mini-landscape of topiary trees, boulders, waterfalls and streams (dry at the moment). They skirt red rock canyons, lonely homesteads and a bustling downtown, with a dry goods store, a church and a depot with little people inside, ending up at a set of small doors on the side of a yellow, Victorian-style station house -- built for regular-sized people. Harris sat here at the controls behind large bay windows. ("He would have six or seven trains moving at once,” says his son.) A sign outside reads "Harrisville, Elev. Not Much.”
To return to his 1962 brick Colonial mansion, Harris, who suffered from polio, would have traveled a woodsy path past a one-room "Painted Lady” Victorian tea house (circa 1870), its inside walls decorated with whimsical trompe l'oeil "furniture” and its gardens planted with day lilies, phlox, astilbe and other ornamentals. Nearby, water lilies float in a small pond rimmed with white birch, iris and grasses. (The gardens are the work of Connie Cross, the Cutchogue garden designer.)
Specimen trees -- copper beech, crab apple -- grow throughout the rest of the property, and perennial flowers and roses ramble among gardens surrounded by painted picket fences. A blue-green swimming pool beside the house is bordered by ornamental bushes and trees. "My mother [Mary Harris] was very influenced by English gardens,” Peter Harris says.
Inside the six-bedroom, six-bath (and two half-bath) brick house, all is casual grace and traditional, English-inflected decor -- but with a preserved-in-amber feel of the 1960s and '70s, when the Harrises were raising their three sons. There is floral chintz, trompe l'oeil window treatments, wood paneling and parquet floors. Immaculate pastel bathrooms with color coordinated tubs and toilets are a retro dream. "The inside will probably need updating,” says Kathryn Maxwell, the real estate agent handling the property.
But, says Peter Harris, the property where he and his brothers played football and baseball is the biggest draw. "The grounds are spectacular, they really evoke old Long Island.”
LISTING AGENT: Kathryn Maxwell, Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, Locust Valley; 516-759-4800
ASKING PRICE: $3,675,000
LISTING HISTORY: On and off the market for several years; most recently relisted in April
ANNUAL TAXES: $59,794
LOT SIZE: 5.26 acres
WHY IT'S SO SPECIAL: Sharp-eyed cinephiles may think they recognize this Georgian mansion from the 2005 remake of "Pride and Prejudice.” The film wasn't shot in Muttontown, but the estate was built in 1917 to resemble Groombridge Place in England, which stood in for Longbourn manor, the home of Jane Austen's fictional Bennets.
But that's only the pop culture factoid for Charlton Hall, which was architecturally significant even before the first footings went in: It was the work of Horace Trumbauer, who designed dozens of homes for robber barons and other elites, as well as a host of civic structures. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was a Trumbauer, as was Harvard's Widener Library, theNew Yorkhat's only the pop culture factoid for Charlton Hall, which was architecturally significant even before the first footings went in: It was the work of Horace Trumbauer, who designed dozens of homes for robber barons and other elites, as well as a host of civic structures. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was a Trumbauer, as was Harvard's Widener Library, the New York Post building in downtown Manhattan, and the Duke mansion, now New York University's School of Fine Arts.
Muttontown's 20-room Charlton Hall is the last of the privately owned Trumbauer homes on L.I., says Paul Mateyunas, the real estate agent handling its sale and an expert on Gold Coast mansions. The kitchen and a few bathrooms have been fully updated, but otherwise much of its architectural details and grand proportions are as they were when it was built for businessman David Dows. "This house has been well respected by its owners,” Mateyunas says.
The first floor of the roughly 14,000-square-foot structure contains only four rooms. There is a huge reception hall with a black and white Belgian marble floor that sweeps to a wall of French doors and floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the house. (A Levitt house could occupy the space, Mateyunas observes.) Thirteen-foot-high ceilings are rimmed in Greek-motif moldings; gilded chair rail rings the room. A fireplace surround is imported marble and a wide, mahogany-railed staircase with short risers -- suitable for dramatic descent in evening gown -- hugs a wall.
Adjoining living and dining rooms are large and light-filled, featuring parquet floors, ornate mantelpieces and dramatic chinoiserie around windows.
Five bedrooms on the second floor -- including a master suite with 11-foot ceilings -- have fireplaces and updated bathrooms. But it is the third floor, carved into nine bedrooms for servants, that recalls the original life of the house. A wall holds a set of mother of pearl "Call” buttons for summoning maids, a linen room with the original wood finish on its glass-fronted cabinets still bearing yellowed labels to organize its contents. Transom windows offer airflow in the darkened space.
LISTING AGENT: Paul Mateyu-nas, Daniel Gayle Sotheby's International Realty, Locust Valley, 516-759-4800.
ASKING PRICE: $6,250,000
LISTING HISTORY: First listed in May 2007 for $6.9 million
ANNUAL TAXES: $54,034
LOT SIZE: Three acres
WHY IT'S SO SPECIAL: When Hazeldean Manor was built in 1906, women in New York State were 11 years away from getting the vote, but Harriet Laidlaw was plunging into the fray. Laidlaw and husband, James -- Hazeldean's owners -- would become leaders in the women's suffrage movement. She was involved in the Manhattan, Nassau County and national women's suffrage associations; he was in the New York and National Men's League for Women's Suffrage.
Their mansion was the scene of tea-party fundraisers out on the mansion's rolling lawn, says Joan Kent, Hempstead Town historian. And in 1910, the documents incorporating Sands Point as a village were signed there; James Laidlaw, a businessman, was the first mayor.
Harriet Laidlaw was a teacher in New York City public schools who studied at Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago, taking advanced degrees from Albany Normal College and Illinois Wesleyan College. She was one of the most highly regarded suffrage leaders in the country, but also immersed herself in other social and civic causes till her death in 1949.
Hazeldean, named after an Irish ballad, stayed in the family until 1995, when its current owners, Warren and Mary Ann Sackman, bought it. The Mediterranean-style stucco house, with clay-tile roof, had fallen into disrepair, Warren Sackman says: "It was very dark; the older woodwork on the first floor was black, covered with layers of lacquers. It took three months to strip that off.”
For all its thick woodwork, floor-to-ceiling windows, huge leaded glass pocket doors, crystal chandeliers, and stately fireplaces, the place has the flow and feel of a home where a family lives. Sackman, who has four children, says he had worked at maintaining its historic integrity while adding some modern comforts.
The couple spent about $800,000, he says, adding a three-car garage and new family spaces: a large family room was built off the kitchen, a stone patio was expanded across the back of the house, a pool went in. A butler's pantry and a kitchen were blended into one large room to update, but still incorporate, flourishes original to the house. A working (but idle) iron Richardson & Boynton Stove anchors one end of the room; a radiator with a warming oven sits against another wall.
The most arresting room is at one end of the first floor -- a former screened porch. The wood paneled space is lined with more than 100 taxidermic animals felled on worldwide excursions, says Warren Sackman. The collection doesn't come with the house.
LISTING AGENT: Kathleen Levinson, Prudential Douglas Elliman, Port Washington, 516-883-5200