A Taste of Gatsby
The first weekend of May 2013 my wife, Pam, and I attended a New York City Ballet performance on Saturday. Sunday we visited the Vanderbilt Museum of Centerport, Long Island.
This is the former “Eagles Nest” estate of William (“Willie”) Kissam Vanderbilt II.
Museum visitors are first drawn to a grand Corinthian colonnade and view of this boathouse on Northport Harbor.
Vanderbilt and Gatsby
Willie K chose Centerport in 1910 for an anchorage on the well protected Northport Harbor, deep enough to his yacht the size of a destroyer class ship named for his mother, Alva.
The estate grounds are high above the harbor, the mansion and gardens designed to enhance the view.
There are superficial parallels between Willie K’s life and “The Great Gatsby.” The first suburban commuter, Willie K was an auto enthusiast. A theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” is travel back and forth from New York City to the great estates on Long Island’s North Shore. In Gatsby, while the vehicles are grand, the travel is pointless or worse. In comparison, Willie K as a pioneering automobile racer, achieved a land speed record and founded a major race, “The Vanderbilt Cup.” Gatsby, above and beyond his fictional status, is a tenuous, transient figure. Vanderbilt established this estate, grounds and museums we still enjoy today.
A short walk from the colonnade is a rose garden surrounding a pool and fountain. These Corinthian columns sized to a human scale flank a dedication bench on the northern side overlooking the boathouse through a hillside forest.
Spirit of the Mediterranean
This figure of a flourishing infant is atop the rose garden fountain. Pam and I first noticed this character of the Eagles Nest estate here, with his abundant grape cluster, and came to know him as an expression of Willie’s outlook.
To the northeast / east is a dramatic view of Northport harbor and the Long Island Sound.
The mansion and surrounding grounds were imagined by Willie and implemented by the architects Warren, Wetmore and Pearce, over a twenty five year building campaign, from his feeling for the Mediterranean.
We were gifted with weather that evoked the full expression of the Mediterranean spirit.