“In my younger and more vulnerable years” I sat on the beach in front of my house and read my homework assignment for English class. It was The Great Gatsby. As I read Fitzgerald’s beautiful descriptions of the landscape it felt like home. After a glance up at the “great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound” followed by some research at the historical society, I discovered it was home. My home. Not only did I have a personal connection now with this magnificent novel, but I fell in love with it. I studied it through college. I wrote my thesis on it. I even wrote a version of it for the stage. I know and love the music of the era. I know and collect the clothes. And I lived where it was written.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald rented a house in Great Neck in the 20′s. At the end of Great Neck, jutting out into the Sound is Kings Point, what would become West Egg, where he set the location for Gatsby’s house. However, he wrote about two houses in East Egg, what is known as Sands Point, that were separated by a crescent shaped stretch of beach. One was Gatsby’s and the other was Daisy’s. My house was in the center of that crescent beach.
He describes Gatsby’s house as “a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.”
This is the house :
The house, known as Beacon Towers, is gone now. Razed in the 1940s. However, its tall garden walls, gate house, clock tower and garages still stand.
Many people believe that Land’s End, the Stanford White colonial at the other end of the crescent beach, was the setting for Daisy’s house. But that is because they don’t know about Belcaro, the house that stood on a bluff in front of it. It, too, was razed long ago. Land’s End was certainly one of “glittering white palaces of East Egg” that Fitzgerald writes about. He spent time in that house as a guest and from there he had a perfect view of Belcaro and Beacon Towers.
He describes Daisy’s house as “a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon.”
I have the original real estate brochure from the sale of Belcaro and those lines could be used to describe the photos inside it. Here is Belcaro:
The gardens are almost exactly the way Fitzgerald tells us they are. The French doors that let in the evening breeze the night Nick Carraway arrived at the Buchanan’s house are there. The house you see behind it is Land’s End.
Belcaro directly faced the crescent beach and Beacon Towers. This is how the two homes were situated:
Beacon Towers is gone, Belcaro is gone, Land’s End is gone. My house is gone, too. It was razed in the ’90′s to become a cement and stone monstrosity. But I love the memories of those days spent in Sands Point. I feel lucky that I was able to see some of these houses, or what remained of them, that dotted the coast from my house to Glen Cove, Lattingtown, Mill Neck, Oyster Bay and on to Lloyd Harbor. I remember in high school, when we were allowed to leave campus, my friends and I would eat our lunches in the remains of a “play house” on a ledge overlooking the indoor tennis court. The glass ceiling was shattered, the weeds had taken over, but you if you listened very quietly, you could hear the faint sound of music and laughter.
I suppose you thought I would be writing about the book. Not today. This post is part geography and part history in honor of the beautiful past of Long Island’s Gold Coast. I will write about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his stunning novel. There is so much to write, it will take many, many posts. I have a lot to say about Gatsby, but not now.
As for the new movie version that is opening this week, I have my reservations but ” I’m inclined to reserve all judgments” because “not everyone in this world has had the same advantages as I’ve had” growing up on the beach that separated Gatsby from Daisy.