Adieu, Sweet Life of ’20s LuxuryIn its heyday, it was the epitome of an era that haunts us still as a fleeting moment of America on the cusp of something it never quite duplicated or achieved — money with style, sin that seemed innocent, human-scale pleasures, a jazz-inflected version of the American dream minus today’s cynicism and rust.
“Shakespeare-spouting poets and, when it came to that, Shakespeare-spouting pugilists might be seen there, milling and churning among senators, polo players, professional gamblers, Supreme Court justices, and horsy debutantes; the house was like a decompression chamber between social extremes,” one of Herbert Bayard Swope’s biographers wrote of the scene at Swope’s Sands Point mansion on the North Shore of Long Island.
There was croquet on the 13 acres of lawn, illumined by car headlights and parties at all hours for what Swope’s wife, Margaret, described as “an absolutely seething bordello of interesting people.” They included Bernard Baruch, George Gershwin, Robert Moses, the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin, Vanderbilts, Whitneys and Harrimans. It’s the world F. Scott Fitzgerald captured in “The Great Gatsby,”which still seems fresh and urgent almost — remarkably — a century later.
So it’s no surprise that the world’s Fitzgerald-ologists and experts on Long Island’s faded luxe life are being besieged with queries about a 25-room, 20,000-square-foot Colonial Revival mansion called Lands End that is said, in part, to have inspired “Gatsby,” and is now facing demolition so the property can be subdivided for five more modest houses, at $10 million or so each.
In truth, many homes in both Sands Point and Kings Point — the first Fitzgerald’s old-money East Egg, the second his nouveau riche West Egg — inspired “Gatsby” during the period from 1922 to 1924, when Fitzgerald lived in what his wife, Zelda, described as “our nifty little Babbitt-home at Great Neck.” Fitzgerald spent the time drinking himself blind, spending money he didn’t have, and oh, yes, writing much of what is still the prime contender for the Great American Novel.
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