Owned by Nassau County and maintained by the nonprofit Friends of the Sands Point Preserve, the former Guggenheim estate comprises some of the most opulent Gold Coast structures to have ever been built. Here are some hidden gems that make up their histories.
Castle Gould, a 100,000-square-foot limestone building inspired by Kilkenny Castle in Ireland that financier Howard Gould and his wife, actress Katherine Clemmons, had visited on their honeymoon, was supposed to be the main residence after Gould bought the property in 1900. After it was completed in 1904, however, Katherine refused to move in -- finding that it was too large and impersonal, said Friends of the Sands Point Preserve executive director Jean-Marie Posner. It later became a stable and servants' quarters.
As marriage crumbles, second mansion goes up
Gould went on to build Hempstead House, a 40-room, 50,000-square-foot Tudor-style mansion, but the couple's marriage fell apart before the castle-like structure was completed in 1912, and they never moved in there, either. Gould said his wife was guilty of "improper behavior" with William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who had subsidized Clemmons' shows in the past, while Clemmons countered that Gould was cruel and had abandoned her. Hempstead House became a residence for the first time after Gould sold the Sands Point property to copper magnate Daniel Guggenheim in 1917 for $600,000, the equivalent of about $11 million today.
The Friends restored the Hempstead House rear gardens to their original design thanks to photographs dug up in the Nassau County archives and guided by original metal edging. The gardens, which took more than three years to build at a cost of more than $150,000, are dedicated to the Posner family.
A hidden staircase that goes up to the butler's pantry runs through the center of Hempstead House, which had about 100 servants keeping it running during its heyday in the 1920s.
The butler's pantry, which leads to the sunroom on the second floor, where meals were served, is among the many areas that were painted in avocado green and covered in linoleum when the Navy took over the building as a training center from 1946 to 1971.
While there are no prevailing theories about any particular ghosts haunting Hempstead House, Posner said people have detected a "presence of the past" in places such as the winter living room.
Cries at night
Others say they have heard the whimpers of seven child refugees from World War II England who were temporarily lodged in these guest rooms at Hempstead House before they were assigned to foster families. The story goes that the children enjoyed their stay at the home, and they had their run of the place, as shown in a July 22, 1940, Life magazine feature, but missed their families 3,000 miles away.
A horse racing heritage
An aerial tour over Sands Point Preserve shows faint signs of a horse race track that existed off Mill Neck Road near Falaise, a house built for Harry F. Guggenheim, who inherited 90 acres of the property from his parents. Harry, a U.S. Navy pilot in both world wars and U.S. ambassador to Cuba from 1929 to 1933, was the owner of 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star and helped to establish the New York Racing Association. He also co-founded Newsday with his third wife, Alicia Patterson.
Lights, cameras, action
The Preserve is a favorite location for mansion-shooting on Long Island, with HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" using Hempstead House in each of its seasons. The 1920s-era show even paid to restore this room for filming. Other recent TV shows and films to shoot at the Preserve include "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Royal Pains" and "Law and Order."
The 'Godfather' scene
Perhaps the most famous scene of all to be shot at any of the Preserve properties was in “The Godfather.” Falaise was used for the horse’s head scene, in which producer Jack Woltz finds the head of his steed at the foot of his bed one morning after refusing to give Don Corleone’s godson, Johnny Fontane, a movie role. Filming inside Falaise, which is currently a museum, hasn’t been allowed since. “That was the one exception,” Posner said.