Historical Landmark Tour of Great Neck

Sophia Liu

Transcript of the video:

Hi! I’m Sophia and today we will be visiting four historical landmarks in Great Neck. 

Our first stop is Village Green. Village Green was created in the 1920s by two women, Louise Eldridge and Beatrix Jones Farrand. Village Green was built on the property of William Gould Brokaw, a wealthy industrialist. Brokaw had inherited over $4 million from his family, and purchased a 125-acre estate in the late 1800s. 

However, Brokaw was involved in a number of affairs throughout his life, and he was sued by several women for millions of dollars. Eventually, Brokaw had to sell his property, and Louise and Beatrix took responsibility for developing the Village Green. In 1927, shortly after women gained the right to vote, Louise succeeded her husband as mayor of the village and is said to have been the first woman mayor in New York State. Louise began the Village Green project and contacted Beatrix to design it. Beatrix was one of the first women to become a professional landscape designer and the only woman of the eleven founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects.Louise Eldrige made significant contributions to Great Neck, establishing the historic Great Neck House and creating the Great Neck Park District in 1916. The bandstand, designed by Beatrix Farrand, still remains, as well as the basic design of the rose garden.

Our second stop is the Grace and Thomaston Buildings. These buildings were constructed by the W. R. Grace Company, a chemical business founded by William Russell Grace, who was the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City. The Grace Building was constructed in 1914, while the Thomaston Building, named for a town in Maine where Grace’s wife grew up, was built in 1926. The Grace Building is a ​3 1/2-story brick building shaped like a chevron and is a Tudor-style building. It features a large octagonal tower and wrought iron balconies. Today, the building houses offices and stores like hair salons and beauty parlors.

The Thomaston Building originally served as the headquarters for the W. R. Grace Company’s real estate operations until 1971, when the company moved to Manhattan. In the 1970s, the building featured a small shopping mall and served as the Village Hall for Great Neck Plaza. The building is done in the Georgian Revival-style and features oculus windows, a cross-gabled roof, and iron-tinted brickwork. In the 1980s, the building was bought by Patrick Silberstein, who oversaw restoration and fitted the building with a greener energy system. 

Our third stop will be the Wychwood Apartments, which were constructed in 1929 by the notable architectural firm Schwartz and Gross. Walter Davis, a lawyer and Colorado mine operator, planned the construction and managed the building until the 1950s. The Wychwood Apartments are done in the Italian Renaissance Revival-style and is a seven-story building with brick corner quoins, decorative brickwork, and golden terra cotta belt courses. In 1986, the Wychwood Apartments were converted to a cooperative. 

Our final stop is a mural called “A Handful of Keys.” “A Handful of Keys,” was painted by William Cochran and depicts six Great Neck children with musical instruments about to have their music lessons. One of these children is Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes, who is an alumni of Great Neck North High School. Jean Celender, former mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza hoped that the mural would “beautify the village, promote tourism…and strengthen our [multi]cultural identity.” She commissioned Cochran to create the mural, which cost over $75,000 and was raised through donations. In 2005, the New York Times called the mural a “devilishly well-planned illusion” in the French style of trompe l’oeil, which makes a flat painting look like a real three-dimensional scene. Cochran had collected dozens of antique keys from around the world, and he included images of some of them in his mural to symbolize discovery and opportunity. The mural was painted in his Maryland studio over six months and was later installed in Great Neck.