Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gatsby House - Beautiful and Damned?

Overlooking Long Island Sound in New York stands an imposing white mansion called Land’s End. Built in 1902, in the Colonial Revival style popular at the turn of the 20th century, the 25-room house was one of many built in the area by wealthy families keen to escape the demands of city life. (In the early 1900s, New York’s urban sprawl had not yet engulfed the Long Island area, making it an attractive destination for those wishing to flee the hustle and bustle of the city.)

Over a century later, it is obvious that the passage of time has not been kind to these once-magnificent buildings. Most have disappeared, while the few that remain have fallen into a state of chronic disrepair. Land’s End is no exception – now virtually abandoned, the dilapidated house is a weak reflection of its former brilliance, its faded grandeur only vaguely hinting at the halcyon period of its glory days during the 1920s.

It came as no surprise, then, when it was announced that the present
owner plans to demolish the crumbling house, and in its place build five new mini-mansions, expected to be worth about $10 million each. Land’s End, one of the last remaining vestiges of a by-gone era, looks set to become yet another victim of the unrelenting march of ‘progress’…

This in itself is hardly newsworthy. After all, it is a story that has played out many times before. Yet, the impending demise of Land’s End has been making headlines all over the United States. Why? Well, it seems this particular house has some quite unexpected literary connections …

According to local legend, Land’s End was the inspiration for one of the greatest novels in American literature - F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It is widely believed that the author was so enamoured with the house that he used it as a model for Daisy Buchanan’s mansion in his seminal 1925 novel. The fact that Fitzgerald was a regular guest at the property when it was owned by his friend Herbert Bayard Swope adds credibility to this urban legend.

Unsurprisingly, the current owner has attracted much criticism for his plan to raze such an important cultural landmark. Both conservationists and literary buffs alike are outraged at the prospect. In response, the beleaguered owner argues that he is left with no choice. In an attempt to avoid demolishing Land’s End, he tried to sell the property - but potential buyers baulked at the $30 million price tag. It seems that the house is something of a money-pit, costing the owner an astonishing $4,500 per day for maintenance and security – an unsustainable amount even for the wealthiest of property developers.

So, how is this story to end? Is the beautiful house doomed, like the characters in Gatsby, to a tragic and ignominious demise … or will a deep-pocketed benefactor materialise to bestow on the house an eleventh hour reprieve from its date with the demolition ball?

Let’s hope for the latter …

Update: On April 16, 2011, Lands End was indeed demolished - a great loss for literary history. See a report on the demolition from CBS:

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It's sad to hear about this type of demolition, especially considering the attachment to The Great Gatsby (which I love).