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Police investigate missing gates of historic Pembroke estate in Glen Cove

Tony DiStefano Sr., of Port Washington, stands in

Tony DiStefano Sr., of Port Washington, stands in the area where large gates once stood on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 in Roslyn. DiStefano claims that the gates from the historic Pembroke estate, in Glen Cove, were stolen from his Roslyn property. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island's Gold Coast mansions are disappearing, and so are their last remains.

Wrought iron gates that are believed to have guarded the historic Pembroke estate in Glen Cove have vanished from a Roslyn property, where they were kept for several years, leaning against tree stumps, inside another set of gates.

Tony DiStefano, 60, of Port Washington, said the 15-foot-tall, 2,500-pound gates were likely stolen the night of Nov. 20 from the 5-acre yard that is north of the Roslyn Viaduct and overlooks Hempstead Harbor. He noticed them missing the next morning.

The gates were a gift from a neighbor to his father, Tony DiStefano Sr., 89, who settled in Manhasset after he emigrated from south of Rome in 1952.

"My father just liked looking at them," said the younger DiStefano, who is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the gates' return, as well as an arrest and conviction. Nassau County police are investigating the disappearance.

The gates, which a historian said were worth upward of $10,000, were rusted and linked by chains, on the plot where the DiStefanos keep shrubs for their landscaping business.

The elder DiStefano said he cherished the architectural rarity, marked by metal scrolls, and he was "very sad and couldn't believe it," when he learned they were missing. His son said he thinks thieves cut the lock on the main gate and used machinery to lift the gates, which may have been visible to motorists from the viaduct.

The elder DiStefano said in an interview on the property last week that when he first saw the gates, he thought, "I'd never find another one like that."

The Pembroke estate was built between 1916 and 1918 for Joseph Raphael DeLamar, an entrepreneur in the mining industry. Designed in the French Neoclassical style, the mansion was later owned by Marcus Loew, the film magnate, and son Arthur M. Loew. It was demolished in 1968.

The mansion is described in the book "Long Island Country Houses and Their Architects, 1860-1940" as "in every way extravagant, hinting at a glimmering life that flourished behind its brilliant facade."

Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University, said "there has over the years certainly been a serious erosion of these properties as they get demolished. To subdivide the property and tear down the mansion is a way of maximizing the profit and property."

Alexandra Wolfe, director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, said "the quasi-rural character of Long Island is increasingly being lost." She called it a "shame" that the 2013 demolition of the 93-year-old St. Ignatius Retreat House -- "Inisfada" -- made way for upscale housing.

Losing the gates is a blow to Long Island, since they are not only "a part of Long Island's history," but also because they were surviving relics of the estate, says North Hempstead Town Historian Howard Kroplick. "All the mansions are vanishing, and now pieces of the remnants are vanishing, too," he said.

A mansion's gates are among the items kept after historic structures are destroyed, Dolkart said. "There is a large market for architectural salvage," he said.

DiStefano's neighbor, Ian Zwerdling, said he purchased the gates in 2001 from developers working on the housing complex now on the grounds of the Pembroke estate. He feared the gates would be discarded or used as scrap metal and thought DiStefano would offer them a safe home.

"It kind of felt like finding dinosaur bones," said Zwerdling, a Roslyn real estate developer and Kroplick's business partner. "They had to be saved."

DiStefano said his father had no plans to move or renovate the gates.

Dolkart said the fear is "that it's going to be lost forever and that somebody will junk it or melt it down. . . . It was in the hands of somebody who appreciated it. And now that may not be the case."

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