Monday, March 23, 2009

Gardens in the Five Towns

At the first sign of daffodils, many Long Islanders head straight to the beautiful gardens of estates that once housed the rich and powerful. Old Westbury Gardens, Planting Fields and Bayard Cutting Arboreteum were made available to the public when the costs of maintaining them became prohibitive for their owners or their heirs. Although most of the Five Towns estates were sold and subdivided when the postwar exodus to the suburbs made housing a priority, the Five Towns at the turn-of-the-century was home to many who shared the society pages with Astors and Rockefellers.

George Woodward Wickersham (1858-1936), Attorney General under William Howard Taft, was a prominent New York corporate lawyer. Marshfield, his summer home, is described in a 1928 article in the New York Times as being:

"...filled with many varieties of roses. The entire garden is
surrounded by on [sic] ivy cov
ered brick wall. In the midstof the flowers are a picturesque fountain and several bird baths."

Marshfield, located in what is now Lawrence was designed by the architecture firm of Foster, Gade and Graham. A small, Shingle Style house, it nevertheless sat on extensive grounds which included a pond. Landscape architect Mary Rutherfurd Jay (1872-1953) worked with Mildred Wickersham and in 1914 created a Japanese garden, adding man-made islands to the existing one, and planting evergreens, rhododendrons, bamboo, and azaleas. The Wickershams were among several families who annually opened their gardens for fundraising activities.

William Fox (1879-1952) the founder of the Fox Film Corporation, built his estate, Fox Hall, in Woodmere in the 1920s. The Rose Garden was one of several gardens on the property, which included a boat house and a 125-seat movie theatre. Fox, who made his fortune in a true American immigrant rags to riches story, was one of the pioneers of the film industry. He lost his fortune after the 1929 stock market crash and, after a series of law suits and questionable business dealings, he declared bankrupcy in 1936.

Isaac D. Levy, president of Oppenheim, Collins and Co., made his fortune in New York's garment industry. Roselle Manor, his Cedarhurst summer home, was built in the early 1900s in the style of an English Renaissance manor house. Designed by the architects Buchman and Fox, it was landscaped by the firm of Lord and Burnham, who designed the conservatory for the property.

In the early part of the 20th century, Joseph Auerbach, the attorney for the Hewlett Bay Company, owned vast tracts of land in the Five Towns. His own home, Seawane, was to become the clubhouse for the Sewane Club, a country club on over 35 acres in Hewlett Harbor, which has been in existence since 1927.

Five Oaks was the estate of William H. Erhart (d.1940), Chairman of the Board of the Pfizer Company. Another of the homes which was open to the public for charity benefits, a 1928 article in the New York Times describes the property:

"The estate has an enchanting rose garden with a novel
and effective background of rambler roses combined with apple trees.
Hundreds of heliotropes are in full bloom in the formal garden."

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