A drive down Fox Boulevard in Merrick takes you past Spanish mission homes that may be a reminder of a bygone era — when movie stars lived in the hamlet’s “mini Hollywood” while working in New York City.
The cluster of homes in the neighborhood south of Sunrise Highway is known as Merrick Gables. The homes were built in the 1920s by a New York developer and the founder of Fox Film Corp., the forerunner of 20th Century Fox. About 260 of the 400 original Merrick Gables houses still exist, according to Preservation Long Island.
To save the remaining Gables homes, Hempstead Town officials gave landmark status to 10 homes, including one on Fox Boulevard last month. Two more will be considered for the designation in September.
“These are structures you’d see in classic 1950s movies where stars would live. They don’t build them like that anymore and residents want to preserve that wonderful, lasting legacy,” said Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin. “When you have a history like this, you want to keep the character of it, and residents are committed to preserving it.”
The white stucco homes with red terra-cotta tile roofs are an example of Spanish Colonial revival architecture, said Paul van Wie, chairman of the town’s Landmark Preservation Committee.
The homes also are known for their vaulted, cathedral ceilings, octagon turrets, arched walls and steel-framed stained-glass windows, officials said.
“The Merrick Gables is really a unique neighborhood in Hempstead, and, as a historian, it really documents and represents the suburbanization of the South Shore during the 1920s,” van Wie said. “It was the first big wave of suburbs on Long Island. Architecturally it is so important and really exemplifies the new fashion of architecture. There was a fascination with Spanish Colonial architecture while the country was still discovering California and Florida.”
Though similar homes can be found in Long Beach, Merrick’s large collection of houses with this architecture is found in one place, and it’s close to New York City, van Wie said.
The homes were built mainly in 1925 during the post-World War I building boom, according to the Merrick Library. They sold at the time for up to $10,000 and helped spur surrounding development in Merrick, including the beach and tennis courts. Development stopped by 1931, after the stock market crash led to the Great Depression, historians said.
The preservation of the homes has been led by many of the residents who live in them, town officials said.
“The Merrick Gables are well-known by the local community, admired for their charm and historical significance,” said Hempstead Councilman Chris Carini. “As the local landscape continues to change and modernize, it is important that we preserve hidden treasures such as the Merrick Gables for the enjoyment and education of future generations.”
Thomas Zitay, 77, who has lived in a newly landmarked home for 38 years, said he relishes the home’s historic origins, and the ceilings that accommodate 15-foot Christmas trees. He vowed to never move.
“This is part of history in our county and they’re not going to have it anymore if they tear them down,” Zitay said. “There’ll be nothing left. The living history will never be repeated, and it was built when everything was different. To build a house like this today would be a fortune, and it’s a privilege to live in it.”
- The Hempstead Landmark Preservation Committee has given landmark status to 10 homes and will consider two others next month.
- The homes were built in the 1920s in the Mission style by a New York developer and the founder of the Fox Film Corp.
- The preservation committee recognized the historic architecture of the Spanish Colonial revival style.