Nearly half of the immense, 93-year-old St. Ignatius Retreat House was demolished by Friday afternoon, as a development company moves toward building upscale single-family homes on the 33-acre property in North Hills.
"It's a very sad day on the North Shore," Gold Coast historian Paul Mateyunas said as he peered at the ripped-out walls and rubble at the back of the house from a neighboring property. "It's a shame."
Dismantling of the 72,000-square-foot Tudor Elizabethan mansion began this week. The Manhasset Bay Group Inc., which bought the property in July for $36.5 million from the New York province of the Roman Catholic order of Jesuit priests, obtained a permit Monday for demolition.
Mateyunas said there was no chance of saving the majestic 87-room mansion -- originally the home of philanthropists Nicholas and Genevieve Brady, completed in 1920 and later used as a seminary and retreat house by the Jesuits.
By Friday afternoon, a large living room where the future Pope Pius XII once received guests during a trip to the United States was largely gone. So was the Bradys' master bedroom, said Mateyunas, an agent for Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, who has researched the grand homes of Long Island's fabled "Great Gatsby"-era Gold Coast.
Some preservationists had considered pursuing a court injunction to stop the demolition, Mateyunas said, but the effort would be too late because so many of the building's key elements have been torn apart or knocked down.
Lawyers for the Manhasset Bay Group did not return calls Friday. The developer has declined to comment on the sale, the demolition or their plans for the property. Local officials have said the group is planning to build the upscale development.
Arlene Travis, a North Hills resident whose property offers a bird's-eye view of the mansion, was sickened by the demolition.
"We're just a little bit too late to save it," she said. The developers were not "willing to participate in a conversation" about potential alternative uses for the house, including as a hotel or condominiums, she said.
North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said, "It's always sad" when a noted building is torn down. "But that's part of progress," he said.
The mayor added that the proposal to turn the building into a historic hotel would have met with opposition from residents who would not want the added traffic. He said a housing development on the property would mean more tax revenue for local governments.
Developers had spent about three weeks removing asbestos from the building, Natiss said. He believes it would not have been safe for any activities.
"It was a health hazard," the mayor said.
The Bradys named their home "Inisfada" -- Gaelic for "Long Island." Genevieve Brady donated it in 1937 to the Jesuits, who used it as a seminary and then, for a half-century, as a retreat house. It closed in June.
The Jesuits said they sold the building because it was too expensive to keep operating. The sale was one of the largest real estate deals on the Island in years.Last month, tables, bookcases, chairs and other items from the house were auctioned off, earning $50,000 for Jesuit-run Fordham University. The university used the money to help offset the cost of removing and transferring to its Bronx campus the mansion's magnificent St. Genevieve Chapel, which the Bradys had received permission from the Vatican to place in their home.
Preservationists had tried to save the mansion through court actions and appeals to the new owners to convert it to another use. With the asbestos removal in September, they expressed fears that the wrecking ball was not far off.