The Wrecking Ball Comes for Daisy Buchanan

THE CONFUSION REGARDING the Lands End legend came about through a mix-up of Swope’s houses. When Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby in a rented split-level in Great Neck, he would finish his days on the porch of the Mange, the home of sportswriter and humorist Ring Lardner. A few houses down East Shore Road, on the backside of Great Neck that lips the mouth of Manhasset Bay, Swope owned a house more modest than his later Sands Point mansion, though certainly no less debauched.

“It was party all the time,” Mr. Lewis, Swope’s biographer, told The Observer. “People were out there every weekend. Supposedly there were two sets of servants—one to work all day and one to work all night. The card games were the big numbers, and the guests were everyone who was anyone.”

Scott and Zelda, of course, partook.

“More than once, on Monday mornings, when the staff were going out to clean up things, they would find Scott Fitzgerald asleep on the lawn,” Herbert Bayard Swope Jr. told Croquet World in 2005. (He died in 2008.) “They’d wake him up and send him home.”

Fitzgerald scholars agree that the author modeled West Egg on Great Neck. But there’s no evidence he ever visited Lands End. Steven Goldleaf, a professor at Pace University who made a documentary about the writer’s relationship to Long Island, called this “a kind of obvious mistake for people to make.”

“Sure, Swope invited Fitzgerald to all these fabulous parties which were inspiration for the book,” Mr. Goldleaf told The Observer. “But not at that house.”

Sands Point historian Irmgard Carras has spent the past month swatting off writers and residents who asked why these people are tearing down Daisy Buchanan’s house.

“They tried to make that ‘the Great Gatsby House,’ but it’s not visible from Great Neck,” she said. “You go over to Great Neck and try to see it, and you cannot. You cannot see Lands End.”

One can, however, catch a glimpse of the house from Kings Point, the northernmost tip of the Great Neck egg. This fact makes Ruth Prigozy—professor of English at Hofstra and executive director of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society—a believer in the myth of Lands End.

“The two of them”—Fitzgerald and Lardner—“used to sit on the porch and drink and look across the water, and when you look across the water, you can’t see Lands End,” Ms. Prigozy told The Observer. “But they used to go to parties at Kings Point, and you can see Lands End from there. I think that he would see Lands End, and that he was there a couple of times. I think he was tremendously impressed by it.”

There’s also Monica Randall, author of Mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast, and her fervent claims that the deniers simply haven’t talked to the right people. Her research, decades ago, gave her access to the butlers and caretakers who staffed Lands End in its heyday. She claims that before they died, these witnesses possessed the real story.

“There were hundreds of people still alive, and they were still pretty sharp,” Ms. Randall told The Observer. “Those are the people I pestered relentlessly. I would follow them around with a notebook and camera. This had to be captured—well, Fitzgerald already captured it, but people think it’s fiction! To this day, people think that book was fiction. They were all real people. I have a list somewhere …”

She trailed off, shuffled papers for a second and then admitted she didn’t know where her list had gone.

 

THE BULLDOZER ARRIVED at the driveway of 15 Hoffstots Lane on the morning of Saturday, April 16. It rolled down to the water’s edge, and after it raised its massive metal appendage over the house and toward Long Island Sound, the demolition of Lands End began. The claw barreled into the brittle walls, wedged forcefully through the windows, and ravaged the structure until the fatigued frame collapsed like a Jenga tower. The stairs disassembled and unfolded as the rooms were crushed, floor upon floor amassed as a pile of rubble.

“Of course, it’s sad,” Mr. Fetner, who presided over the spectacle, said. “It was a great house and a great part of the time. But nobody’s interested in living in a home like that. We’ll build magnificent homes again, just for today’s society.”

And when the five homes of Seagate at Sands Point go up, the millionaire owners won’t see the Jay Gatsbys and the Herbert Bayard Swopes and the Virginia Kraft Paysons. But they will still be there. The plot where Lands End once stood tall now only has history, its old facts and old fictions, an existence borne back ceaselessly into the past.

“If and when I go,” said Ms. Payson, “I will come back and haunt every one of those houses.”

nfreeman [at] observer.com | @nfreeman1234