New York: Long Island 2010
Daniel Emberley, April 2010
My nephew Tom and his wife Jen just had baby Tyler. Mom and Dad hadn't had a chance to see him yet, and we needed to make our annual run up to see them. Plus, there is all this stuff on Long Island that I'd missed when I skipped their wedding to have heart surgery. There were lots of good reasons for a trip to Long Island.
The island starts at the East River, so technically includes Brooklyn and Queens. Geology aside, though, everyone acts like Long Island begins where the boroughs of New York City end. It's mainly marshes along the coasts, with barrier islands (Fire Island, Jones Beach) on the south, and the Sound and Connecticut to the north. The middle spine of the island is a little higher, but it's basically a long flat dump of dirt and sand left by retreating glaciers. At the east end the spine peters out into the marshes of Riverhead flanked by the North Fork (Orient Point, wineries) and the South (the Hamptons, Montauk), framing elite Shelter Island.
People on Long Island spend a lot of time in SUV's. The Long Island Expressway, aka I-495 or the LIE, runs due east from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to Riverhead. Parkways parallel it north and south. The western third, Nassau County, is one big suburb. The eastern two-thirds, Suffolk County, starts as suburbs, but morphs into summer houses and a few remaining farms.
The Island has a rich and unique culture. Seriously. Long Island gets alot of abuse for being banal and crass. The low-brow is there, but there is a lot more to this world. The original (like, Pilgrims, only not Protestant crazies) English and Quaker farmers were replaced after the Civil War by second-generation millionaires. Here they invented the ideal of what rich Americans are all about: golf, country estates, horses, auto racing, art collecting, gardening, yachts. Even the early airplane industry developed here, as the rich kids' desire for novelty (remember the pilot touching down on Carol Channing's estate in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"?) led to the development of Grumman Aircraft in 1929. WWII ended this world of privilege, and Robert Moses' parkways opened the Island to 1950's suburbanization. Middle class Irish, Jews, and Italians invaded, bringing with them the beer, deli, and pasta that created Levittown, the accent, and the shopping mall culture we assume today. Even this was never stable, however. As in residential suburbs all over America, in the 1970's and 80's information industries like banking and insurance built office parks to take advantage of an educated population hungry for jobs with shorter commutes.
Thursday, April 22
Mom and Dad caught the Megabus down from Boston, and we met them with a rented Grand Marquis at Manhattan's Penn Station. A quick run out the tunnel to the LIE, and half an hour later we were in a freeway world that was like Houston without the access roads.
First stop was the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn. This was the estate of one of Henry Clay Frick's (coke, Carnegie partner) kids. Ogden Codman was the architect, and Marion Coffin did the grounds. The art was middling, the kind of stuff rich Jews bought in the 1960's and donated here when the museums in Manhattan turned them down. The house is substantial, but not on a par with what you see in Newport or at Biltmore. The conversion to a museum was unkind, with much woodwork painted over and mantels covered by drywall. The grounds, though, are exquisite. I think this was my first experience of Marian Coffin. She did a lot of the estates on Long Island. Her specialty was rolling lawns that could be easily converted to golf or croquet or riding, with a garden separated from the house like a jewel to be discovered when one tired of active sports. Here the gardens are accented by sculptures from the collection; a Chaim Gross that brilliantly anchors cross paths.
Back to the LIE before rush hour to the Marriott Islandia (eye-LAN-de-uh), at Exit 58. Expedia called this Hauppauge (HOP-og), but it seemed to be a bit of sprawl that services Islip's (ICE-lip) MacArthur Airport. The hotel is a 1980's glass pyramid, appealing in its dated campiness, with the usual superior Marriott service. We got a room under the slanted roof, where people in the atrium could see us undressing in the reflection. A hoot.
Great view over the lowrise tree cover of the mid-Island. Dinner at the hotel-recommended Mama Angelina's, in a Hauppauge strip mall. Thursday is Chicken Night, any of 20 chicken entrees plus salad, bread sticks, pasta, coffee, and cheesecake for $13.95. Go.
Friday, April 23
We started the day in Port Washington, at Sands Point Preserve. Now a county park, the estate was designed by Richard H. Hunt for a Jay Gould heir, who sold it to a Guggenheim. That way they didn't have to change the gilded G's on the gates and grounds <wink>. Norman-baronial-castle in style, with terrific medieval-style stone carvings. We mistook the stables for the great house, Castle Gould, only to see the latter peeking out of the trees. A separate estate, Falaise, is next door. Entry to both houses is by guided tour only, opening later in the season. We missed the Wedgwood, but hiked the nature trails past a duck-filled pond, through pine forest and down cliffs to beaches along Oyster Bay. It reminded me of the Indiana Dunes, where they took us geography students to learn about beach-forest succession growth.
Picked up Mom and Dad, and rendezvoused with Tom, Jen, and Tyler at Olive Garden. Michael insists Tyler has an Emberley forehead and nose. Despite that, he is an amazing cute baby, and quiet, well-behaved, and a joy to be around. Their second kid is going to be a nightmare, if only to make up.
Tom and Jen gave us a tour of their new house in Massapequa (mass-uh-PEE-kwa, or matzoh-pizza as Jen's sisters informed us). A 1950's Cape, tons more space than you'd think from outside, with the requisite former-bar-in-wood-paneled-basement-rec-room. It's in good shape, and will give them years of projects to make it their own. The neighborhood looked substantial, settled, and comfortable, with a well established tree canopy.
We left the family to bond and went back up to Oyster Bay to see Theodore Roosevelt's home, Sagamore Hill. This is a Queen-Anne-ish pile, with Richardsonian cottage overtones. It being "National Park Week", and us following a tour bus of seniors from Deer Park (that's another suburb, not the water company), we missed getting inside. But, the grounds again compensated. A walk through fields and woods down to a boardwalk over the marsh and onto the beach on Cold Spring Harbor. Coming back, a 1930's Georgian built by Teddy Jr. has been converted into a National Park Service museum about Teddy Sr., and we refreshed our memories on the U.S. Navy secretary, Rough Rider, NY governor, big game hunter, founder of the American Museum of Natural History, rancher, vice-president, president, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
We picked up supplies on the way back across the Island, and Tom and Jen hosted a barbecue to meet Jen's family. The Griffins are so cool. Jen and her sisters are elementary school teachers, and have stories to go for days.
Our only regret was not having met them all sooner.
Saturday, April 24
The E ticket on the Island is Old Westbury Gardens. Insurance magnate John Phipps brought in an English architect, George Crawley, to design a country house similar to those his English-born wife was used to. Horace Trumbauer did additions, but the big house and grounds have a distinct U.K. flair. The garden rooms include roses, box, a Temple of Love, and an unusual four-sided sundial. It's hard not to like a place that offers a Pinetum. The interiors were lavish, but not really our taste, despite a well executed Adam bedroom. Michael and Dad took photos for Chinese tour groups while Mom and I wrapped up the gardens.
Tom and Jen met up with us at a deli near the Merchant Marine Academy, where Tom used to work. They took the folks for the afternoon, and Michael and I headed back to Oyster Bay for Coe Hall and the Planting Fields Arboretum. The grounds here are fantastic, by the Olmstead brothers and Guy Lowell. The house is a Tudor wonderland designed by Grosvenor Atterbury and Walker & Gillette. Art dealer Joseph Duveen supplied the heirlooms. Sadly, Coe Hall was holding its annual Arbor Day Family Festival. It's so much easier to see sites when no one else is there. Getting in was a mess, parking was way back in the fields, and misbehaving parents were out in force everywhere. On the plus side, we paid a lump sum to get in, there were performers and activities all over the house and fields, and a lot more was open to us than might have been on a regular day. Tucked into the pseudo-Henry VIII interiors are a buffalo-muraled dining room, and a recently restored set of Art Deco-Chinoiserie murals in the wife's bedroom suite. There is an Italian Garden, main greenhouse, and special greenhouse for camellias. All of this as if it was an English village in the forest, the arboretum having grown in and around the buildings. Pretty cool.
We drove through the scenic village of Cold Spring Harbor, a one-time whaling village that now houses upscale shopping similar to Concord, MA. Just had time to get to Huntington, for the Hecksher Museum. The Hecksher is small but with an acceptable collection, especially of American art from 1920-1960. It sits on the edge of an active park. After two days of grounds divorced from the surrounding community, it was nice to see the old money and landscape made an integral part of a town.
Back to Tom and Jen's for a last chance to see baby Tyler at home, then we all drove out to Hauppauge to introduce them to Mama Angelina's. Even on a non-chicken night it was inexpensive and delicious.
Sunday, April 25
Checked out of the hotel, took the LIE east to where the forks break, then to the streets of Flanders to see the Big Duck. Originally built to sell eggs, it's now a gift shop/tourist center. It is a big white wooden duck, with an entry door at the breast under the bill, and a lone window in the back of the neck. Architect Robert Venturi, in "Learning from Las Vegas", used the Duck to represent buildings that are symbols of what goes on inside (like a bank that looks like an icon of a bank). Too early in the season to be open, it was something that Dad and I had always wanted to see, and now we have. Worth the detour if you're out that way.
The North Fork is pretty, towns scattered between farms, vineyards and beaches. We drove right to the end at Orient Point. We had a 2PM Cross Sound Ferry reservation, but the nice operators let us on early. The crossing is great, a beautiful alternative to driving all the way back to Queens and then out again through Connecticut. It was drizzly, but fun. If you go, there are multiple enclosed cabins - unless you love dogs, avoid the one marked "pet friendly".
The ferry lands in New London, Connecticut. It was an easy drive up the ramp to the mainland and on to The Portuguese Fisherman. We'd asked GPS for a seafood restaurant, and this place once had been, but now serves breakfast all day to students from the Coast Guard Academy. We were disappointed at first, but the food was fantastic, with giant biscuits, corned beef hash, seafood omelets, and French toast made with Portuguese sweet bread. We drove up I-395 to the Mass Pike and Waltham. We helped the folks unpack; then we joined most of the New England Emberleys for dinner at the Chateau, my home town's red sauce Italian palace.
Monday, April 26
The folks had sold their summer place in New Hampshire while we were on Long Island. We joined them on a drive in to Cambridge, they to their credit union to arrange finances, us to the MIT Press Bookstore. A Bertucci's in Waltham for lunch, then we left the folks and drove out the Mass Pike to see our friends Julie Walko and Patty White. They recently bought a Cape in a soon-to-be-funky neighborhood of Springfield. They're going to do great things with this house. We left them around 4PM, crossed the Hudson on the Tappanzee Bridge, and camped out in a Holiday Inn Express across the Jersey line. Next day found us tootling down 16th Street, and home.
Long Island is worth at least a week; we only gave it three days. We found the gardens better than the houses, but a lot of the houses weren't open yet for the summer. If you're going to try to do the Hamptons stuff, wait until Memorial Day. To our surprise, despite the plethora of shopping malls and ye olde quainte villages, we didn't find any tchotchkes worth buying. The best part of the trip was getting together with family and friends.
Kings Point, American Merchant Marine Museum, William Barstow Estate, 1900
Kings Point, Hillwood Museum
Locust Valley, John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden
Wantagh, Jones Beach State Park
South Huntington, Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site
Centerport, Vanderbilt Mansion & Marine Museum, Warren & Wetmore
Great River, Bayard Cutting Arboretum (English woodwork, Tiffany glass), Olmstead
Southampton, Parrish Art Museum, WM Chase, Fairfield Porter
Bridgehampton, Dan Flavin Institute
East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum
East Hampton, Pollock Krasner House
Long House Reserve, Jack Lenore Larsen