Within easy reach of Manhattan, the Gold Coast of Long Island comprises a handful of stately, old-money towns on the North Shore. Back in the day, socialites with names like Guggenheim, Phipps, Woolworth, Vanderbilt, and Frick partied during the weekends at their opulent country estates. It’s this exact, packed-with-American-blue-bloods area that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write “The Great Gatsby.”
While “Garver” is not exactly a household name, John A. Garver was rich enough to build himself a handsome country home in tony Oyster Bay Cove in 1910. The stately result was featured in not only numerous architectural journals, but also The House Beautiful in 1914. In addition to being a lawyer, Garver was also a businessman who owned a company called Wrexleigh. Also a philanthropist, he endowed a chair of jurisprudence in his own name at Yale, his alma mater. (His legal partner and Yale classmate, John Sterling, also donated money which eventually became Sterling Memorial Library, the Ivy League university’s main library.)
Garver’s I-have-arrived mansion was designed by country-house architects Stephenson & Wheeler, with landscaping by the renowned Olmsted Brothers. Like his company, Garver named the estate Wrexleigh. One of the vintage magazines of the day made the point that this is a “new house in an old garden.” And indeed, there was another house here, which Garver knocked down, though he kept the magnificent rose gardens and specimen trees. As “The American Country House of To-Day” breathlessly described the estate in 1915:
This Long Island home makes an unmistakable appeal—an appeal which is a precious heritage of the past, possessing, over and above everything else, the rare quality of frankness. It has been designed and built very much after the fashion practiced by the church in erecting its abbeys, colleges and cathedrals in medieval times. Its picturesque outline recalls also the direct planning and structural integrity of the minor manor houses and pleasing little hostelries of the hillsides and valleys of rural England … The architects have endeavored to preserve intact the natural beauties with which the property is so richly endowed. Here are splendid oak trees and two remarkably fine maples, and a pine that has weathered many a winter.
Virtually intact today, the Tudor Revival mansion, brick carriage house, stables and greenhouse, along with more than 12 acres of land, is available for $4.75 million via Julia Blaker and Kim Luneburg at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. Before anyone scoff about how cheap that seems, consider the $156,000 in property taxes per year, an extra $13,000 a month on top of the mortgage. Just sayin’.
Additionally, the condition of the building isn’t known and it’s likely a significant sum will be required to bring it back to its full and updated residential glory; the house last sold in 1992 for $775,000 and it’s been a dormitory for Harmony Heights school for girls since then. That’s why listing photos show a number of tables in the dining room, a commercial kitchen, and a boring smattering of institutional-looking furniture.
The house, which spans a stonking 14,000 square feet, boasts 16 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms, and two powder rooms. There are 11’9″ ceilings on the first floor, along with beautifully carved and preserved woodwork, floors, beams, and paneling. The butler’s pantry looks original, and there’s also a stunning library with French doors leading to a covered patio. In addition to the greenhouse and carriage house, there’s a stable with four stalls for your long-faced friends. There’s also a walk-out basement and generator.
Anyone brave enough (and rich enough!) to take on this restoration and re-conversion to a single-family home will no doubt be rewarded with the kind of house Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby would surely like to visit.