In the spring of 2011 word broke that the massive mansion which had inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus The Great Gatsby, was being demolished.
Since public interest in the novel has piqued again in 2013 with the recent release of the latest Great Gatsby movie, I thought I would revisit the fictional “West Egg” and try to find out the story behind the house that inspired the classic American novel.
Turns out, there was not just one house that Gatsby’s mansion was modeled after, but several historic homes - some that no longer exist.
According to Wikipedia, author F. Scott Fitzgerald visited New York’s Long Island north shore often during the early 1920′s and attended a number of lavish parties at mansions there. There are several theories among literary historians as to which mansion inspired Gatsby’s fictional home.
One possibility is Land’s End, a notable Gold Coast Mansion where F. Scott Fitzgerald may have attended a party.
Built in 1902 by a newspaper editor, Land’s End was yet another example of a monument of the Gilded Age. Many legendary parties were held there after the first World War, and it is documented that several famous individuals came to call including Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein.
Land’s End was the unfortunate estate that was demolished in April of 2011. Apparently, the owner could not afford to keep it up and it fell into disrepair.
The owner decided that it was more cost-effective to have the home torn-down and to subdivide/sell the property into smaller lot parcels. Despite the outcry from local historians and literature lovers around the world, Land’s End was no more by late April 2011.
[if you are upset by images of historic mansions being ripped apart, look away from the screen now]
Another possible inspiration for a setting in Fitzgerald’s novel was also demolished, albeit many decades ago. Beacon Towers stood on the coast at Sands Point from 1917 until 1945 when it was torn down by none other than William Randolph Hearst to make way for a newer development.
Beacon Towers in 1922:
The Great Gatsby mansion was also said to be inspired by Oheka Castle on the Gold Coast of Long Island. Oheka Castle was built between 1814 and 1919. It was (and remains) the second largest private residence in the United States, measuring in at a whopping 109,000 square feet.
The reality of fiction is that it is usually based on real life, but only loosely. I say that as both a fiction writer and an avid reader. Fictional settings are mostly a mish-mash compilation of locations that the author experienced in real life and I suspect this is the case with The Great Gatsby.
F. Scott Fitzgerald never admitted that one particular mansion was the inspiration for either Gatsby’s lavish home, or Daisy’s old-money estate across the water.
We’ll never know for sure, but it’s sure is fun to look at these ostentatious old homes that still retain echoes of the storied Jazz Age.
Sources and further reading: