By Lolly Spindler
Baz Luhrmann’s movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby was a big box office draw, bringing in almost $145 million. The sets were dazzling and the homes were spectacular, which is why we decided to investigate what inspired Baz Luhrmann’s set designer wife, Catherine Martin, who took home two Oscars for the film.
New Money: Jay Gatsby’s Castle
Mr. Gatsby’s monstrous abode was inspired by Oheka Castle, La Selva, and Beacon Towers, so let’s take a look at all three.
Oheka Castle was built from 1917 to 1919 on 443 acres of land in Cold Spring Harbor on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. OHEKA is an acronym for Otto Hermann Kahn, the German investment banker, collector and philanthropist who built the estate. The mansion was built on the highest point on Long Island for $11 million, $110 million in today’s currency. Oheka is the second-largest private residence ever built in America, ringing in at 109,000 square feet and 127 rooms.
via Google Earth
La Selva was another 20th century estate located on Long Island’s North Shore in Upper Brookville. Owned by investor and electric light executive Henry Sanderson, the Italian Renaissance-style mansion was built in 1915. The grand estate was designed by Hunt & Hunt, the same architects who designed the homes of the Vanderbilt family as well as the base of the Statue of Liberty. Additionally, the gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who designed Central Park in New York City. This home boasts 40 rooms, including seven bedrooms, seven full and four half baths, and sits on 24.32 acres.
Beacon Towers was yet another Gilded Age mansion, this one located on Sands Point on the North Shore of Long Island. Built from 1917 to 1918 for Alva Belmont, the ex-wife of William K. Vanderbilt, this home was also designed by Hunt & Hunt and was the last Long Island home designed by the firm. The architectural style has been dubbed Gothic fantasy, and the castle-like home features 140 rooms. In 1927 Beacon Towers was sold to William Randolph Hearst who renovated the estate, including the roof, dormers, windows and the entryway. Scholars believe this home inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagining of Jay Gatsby’s mansion while writing The Great Gatsby.
Similarly, the movie’s production designer Catherine Martin suggested that Beacon Towers influenced the depiction of Gatsby’s home in the 2013 film. She told Architectural Digest, “Looking at images of Beacon Towers, there’s something that gives it the feel of the Disneyland Castle, and Baz [Luhrmann] referenced that—the idea that Gatsby was building a fantasy.”
Unfortunately, Beacon Towers was demolished in 1945. Since Luhrmann and Martin couldn’t use their original source of inspiration for the shoot, they filmed at the now-closed St. Patrick’s Seminary in Sydney, Australia. They applied faux ivy to the first two floors of the Gothic Revival building and constructed a temporary fountain in the courtyard, adding other elements of the mansion digitally.
Lastly, during an extensive location scout, Luhrmann and Martin stumbled upon the inspiration for Gatsby’s plot-crucial pool at Eagle’s Nest, William K. Vanderbilt’s Spanish Revival-style mansion built in 1910. In fact, Luhrmann had his assistant and music supervisor spontaneously act out the final scene of the film on the spot when they came across the location.
Old Money: Tom & Daisy’s Mansion
Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s red brick Georgian estate in the film was inspired by the Westbury House of Old Westbury Gardens as well as the estate at Land’s End.
The Westbury House, part of Old Westbury Gardens, is an estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York. The mansion was built in 1906 by English designer George A. Crawley for John Shaffer Phipps, a lawyer, businessman, and heir to the Phipps family fortune. The Charles II-style mansion is nestled amidst 200 acres of landscaped grounds, formal gardens, woodlands, lakes and ponds.
It is rumored that Land’s End also served as inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s estate. Land’s End, built in 1902, was a white house overlooking the Long Island Sound, also on the North Shore of Long Island in Sands Point. The 25-room Colonial mansion played host to many a party in the 1920’s and 1930’s and was owned by Pulitzer Prize winner Herbert Bayard Swope, journalist and publisher of The New York World. Sadly, the home was demolished in 2011 because the owners couldn’t keep up with the necessary costs to maintain the estate.
The historic estates that served as inspiration for the homes in The Great Gatsby truly give us a glimpse into the glitz and glamour of The Gilded Age. That many of these homes are still standing speaks to the ingenuity and timelessness of their architectural integrity and opulence.
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