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Fading Glory of Long Island's Gold Coast Caught in Pictures

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Photos: James Robertson/Pbase

At the turn of the last century, Long Island's Gold Coast was the most fashionable escape for America's wealthiest citizens. The Vanderbilts, Astors, Pratts, and Morgans all lavished huge sums on the construction of impressive estates with dozens of rooms, opulent materials, and acres of formal gardens. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby found its inspiration in the swanky soirees of one such estate, Land's End—which, as you may remember, is headed for the trash heap. Today, the Gold Coast has lost some of its aristocratic sheen; many of the estates have been reduced to rubble, their sprawling acreage converted into bedroom communities for commuters. For those that remain, the fashionable flappers may have moved on and the furniture may be gone, but the essential beauty of the greatest estates remains. Photographer James Robertson, a Long Island native, has amassed an amazing collection of photographs from these remaining estates, including the former home of steel heir John S. Phipps (above).

The Phipps estate, known as Westbury House, now sits at the center of the eponymous Westbury Gardens, a 160-acre preserve created after John Phipps's death in 1958. The 23-room mansion was designed by George A. Crawley and completed in 1906. The estate has been a popular film location for Hollywood since Phipps passed away. In 1959, several scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest were filmed here. Other movie credits include the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate, as well as Cruel Intentions and American Gangster, but Hollywood isn't the only interested party. The estate hosts weddings, which isn't surprising considering the garden gazebo is calle the "Temple of Love."

? Winfield Hall, the summer home of five-and-dime mastermind F.W. Woolworth, is one of the few Jazz Age mansions still in private hands. It is owned by Martin Carey, brother to former New York Governor Hugh Carey, who has been trying off-and-on to sell the nine-bedroom manor and the 16.5 acres it now occupies. The most recent asking price was $19.5M, but in 2010, HBO secured the property for the filming of the miniseries Mildrid Pierce starring Kate Winslet. The interior detailing of this mansion is spectacular, but given the lack of furnishings, it doesn't look like anyone has enjoyed it in some time.

? Occupying a rare waterfront location, the Hempstead House on Sands Point was built for railroad heir Howard Gould in 1912, but Gould sold to Daniel Guggenheim before moving in. Hard to say why, considering this was one of the finest houses on the Gold Coast at the time. It featured a Palm Court with 150 species of exotic plant, an aviary stocked with rare birds, and an organ beneath the floor of the three-story entryway. Today, its owned by Nassau County after passing through the hands of the U.S. Navy, which must have been responsible for the exit lighting and fire escapes that now mar the property. Concessions to safety aside, the house still possesses an undeniable grandeur.

? Now in service as the Webb Institute, one of the world's leading schools of maritime architecture, this estate was formerly the oil-rich Pratt family's country estate known as The Braes. The quoined brick manor house is better known to movie buffs as the home of Bruce Wayne in 1995's Batman Forever. Today, the halls are lined with ship models, but for true inspiration, students need only take a look out the window to broad views of Long Island Sound.

? Sefton Manor, erected at the behest of cosmetics exec Lillian Sefton Dodge in 1923, occupies 86 bucolic acres in Mill Neck. Purchased by the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf in 1947 for just $216K, it served as a school for the deaf until more modern structures were built on the property. The main house now serves as a special events space and has been the setting for several motion pictures, including Trading Places, as well as commercials from the likes of Coca-Cola, 7-Eleven, Lotto, and Mercedes Benz.
· Long Island [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Gatsby House to Become True "Valley of the Ashes" Development [Curbed National]
· Old Westbury Gardens [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Winfield Hall [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Sands Point Preserve [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Hempstead House [Sands Point Preserve]
· Webb Institute [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Mill Neck Manor [James Robertson - Pbase]
· Our History [Mill Neck Family of Organizations]