The Gold Coast of Long Island

The Gold Coast of Long Island

Long Island has 53 Higley 1000 neighborhoods that I have divided into four distinct geographic clusters: the dominant Gold Coast area, the Five Towns area, Garden City, and a cluster of elite suburbs along Suffolk County’s shoreline that I have dubbed St. James-Three Village. Each of these groups have their own posting with maps on this site.

As usual there are some outlier neighborhoods that were difficult to group geographically. In the case of Long Island there are two: Rockville Centre North and Dix Hills.

Long Island’s Gold Coast

With over 75% of the Higley 1000 households on Long Island, I have divided the Gold Coast into two main clusters: Great Neck-Manhasset Neck, and Locust Valley-Oyster Bay. These areas have approximately the same number of Higley 1000 households with 12,217 households in the Great Neck-Manhasset area and 13,239 in the Locust Valley-Oyster Bay Area.

Dennis Sobin’s book on Long Island’s Gold Coast was the basis for my description of the 110 square miles of sumptuous estates from the Gilded Era and the Roaring Twenties in my book, Privilege, Power, and Place: The Geography of the American Upper Class, (Click Here to Order from Amazon.com).

Stretching approximately 20 miles from the border of Queens into Western Suffolk County along Long Island Sound, this stretch of contiguous estates represented the largest concentration of wealth in the United States in its era. “By 1920 there were approximately 600 such estates, most of them over 50 acres in size, and over 150 of them exceeding 100 acres. A typical main house would have over 100 rooms and 30 baths. The estates usually had their own power source and waste disposal systems as well as innumerable outbuildings that served the practical considerations (greenhouses and housing for servants) and all manner of facilities for the entertainment of the families and their guests. Elaborate equestrian facilities were de rigeur, because much of the social life centered around the breeding and racing of horses. Some estates contained 18 hole golf courses and race tracks for horses (and at least in one case, for automobiles). The sumptuous facilities and elaborate entertaining that took place on the Gold Coast was immortalized in works such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The most celebrated entertainers in the world performed regularly within the mansions, and a large segment of the American public followed the breathless accounts of society’s amusements provided by the New York City newspapers and wire services.” (Higley, pp 34-35)

How the Gold Coast’s Estate Owners Avoided Taxes and Ended Up Creating Over Twenty Incorporated “Golf Villages”

Although the estate owners were probably not the first rich people to use municipal incorporation as a tax dodge, they certainly mastered the practice over a wide area of the most valuable real estate in America. “When the first estates were developed, the towns of North Hempstead, Oyster Bay, and Huntington were sparsely populated and little thought was given to political arrangements because the estates provided their own services. The poor, rocky soil and the self-sufficiency of the estates kept the rural “local” population to a minimum. However, with the explosion in population that the New York City area was undergoing at this point in history, it was only a matter of time before Nassau County began to develop rapidly— particularly in the southern half of the county. Between 1920 and 1930 Nassau County’s population grew from 126,000 to 303,000. The bulk of this growth was in the southern non-estate town of Hempstead, which grew from 71,000 to 187,000. Areas adjacent to the Gold Coast in the estate town of North Hempstead grew 136 percent, from 26,000 to 62,000.

The reaction of the estate owners was sure and swift… their strategy was to band together and create what Sobin has called “golf club” villages. The first of these villages was incorporated in 1911 as Saddle Rock on Great Neck. In the 2000 Census, Saddle Rock ranked #898 in the Higley 1000 with 264 homes on the site of the original estate. Saddle Rock’s single 1911 estate was owned by a one R. Eldridge who was the first to come up with the idea of incorporating his mansion and grounds in an attempt to evade costly new local improvement taxes that were being planned by the Town of North Hempstead. Eldridge successfully lobbied the state legislature and the governor of New York to change the state law’s minimum requirement to organize a village from 250 residents to 50. By including his family and his servants, Mr. Eldridge incorporated his estate and set a precedent that was emulated throughout the Gold Coast.

Although incorporation as a vehicle for social and fiscal separation was only used twice in the next twelve years (Sands Point in 1912 and Bayville in 1919), the huge upsurge in the population in the twenties witnessed no less than twenty-one “golf club” village incorporations. Many of these “villages” were little more than three or four estate owners banding together to form a municipality. The servants were expected to vote Republican and against all tax increases. The boundaries of the golf villages were carefully drawn to exclude the service communities that had grown up along the Long Island Railroad. The little unincorporated villages of Great Neck, Glen Head, Locust Valley, and Oyster Bay grew quickly at the stops of the railroad to service the estates with extra labor and provisions. All remain unincorporated enclaves to this day.

What About Southampton and East Hampton?

There are no neighborhoods or villages in the entire Hampton area on the Higley 1000. Remember, the grand summer houses are for the most part second (or even third) homes. Income statistics are collected at first homes. As the Gold Coast had a seasonal need for caterers and flower merchants during the Gilded Age, there are retailers and trades people willing to see to every whim of the summer denizens of the Hamptons. The year round resident’s much lower incomes than the vacation homeowners results in a relatively lower mean household income. The household incomes of these gilded villages does not rise to the level of the Higley 1000. The best Southampton was able to muster for year round residents was $152,861 and the Village of East Hampton came in with a mean household of $114,690. The highest mean income in the area was located in a small community adjacent to Southampton called Water Mill ($172,179).

In Summary…

Long Island’s number of Higley 1000 households represent approximately 16% of New York City’s total households. In spite of it’s storied history and beautiful terrain, the wealthy families of New York City that have suburbanized have chosen Westchester and Fairfield to the north by a 2-1 margin. There are also many more households in New Jersey than Long Island, albeit scattered from over a much larger geographic area. New Jersey’s Higley 1000 neighborhoods stretch from Bergen to Manolopan, oh my.

Posted in Metro Briefs on May 30th, 2008, 3:54 pm by Stephen Higley   

One Response to “The Gold Coast of Long Island”

  1. Donald E. Sexauer
    January 23rd, 2008 | 5:12 pm

    I brought my kids up in Munsey Park, which you don’t mention. I am a native Long Islander from Flushing , Queens.
    My Grandfather had a huge Victorian house with a barn and farm on Northern Blvd (which was a two lane, Elm lined road) part of which became Flushing High School.
    He also had a “farm house” on the Nissaquoge (sp)River where his grandchildren( me,included)swam. And a nursery in Stony Brook. We used to swim in Smithtown beach when the town was 1 block long with a general store and a barber shop and a drug store with an ice cream counter.
    It was paradise.
    I enjoyed your article very much. I was out to Manhasset to visit my 86 year old aunt and could not get over how the demographics had changed, both on the train from Penn Station and the platform in Manhasset.
    I wouldn’t have believed it was the same town.

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