Exploring An Empty Mansion: Inside Hempstead House

This is Hempstead House today:

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In comparison, the below picture was taken in 1940, shortly after Hempstead became a home for refugee children from England, who had been sent to the US because of World World II. The caption reads: “Huntsmen three play safari in the jungle that once composed the formal garden. Pith helmets were produced when children, used to English climate, complained of America’s awful heat.”

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At this point, the mansion had been shuttered, and was only opened at the Guggenheim’s request. Life Magazine did a story in their July 22, 1940 issue about the situation (a month shy of 70 years ago). According to the article, Hempstead House was just a temporary stop until the children reached planned destinations. However, it soon took on a new role as an orphanage.

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Compared to today (note the dead grass where the above path once was):

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When they left, the Guggenheims took everything, from statuary to furniture, and the Navy wasn’t much kinder on the place. Luckily, much of the first floor has been restored.

When you first enter, you find an ornate wooden staircase…

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…leading up to a three-story tower, with an arched ceiling and hanging chandelier.

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There once was an organ on the ground floor, and you’d assume the pipes above are all the remains. However, they’re fakes, installed just for show. The sound actually reverberated through openings in the floor.

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Another Life photograph was taken on this staircase…

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“Going to bed 3,000 miles from home, refugee children climb the carved stairs of Hempstead House. Most of those shown here are children of staff of Lady Baillie of Leeds Castle, Maidstone. Mary Besney (second from right) and brother John (directly behind her) are children of a London bobby. All were brought here by Mrs. Charles S. Payson, cousin of Lady Baillie.

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One great little detail that survived in the front doors…

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A pair of dragons wedged into the top corners:

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After entering the front hall…

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…you’re immediately brought into one of the most beautiful rooms of the house: Palm Court, sunken a few steps into the ground.

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This was once both an indoor garden and aviary for the Guggenheims, filled over 150 rare orchids and plants, as well as caged exotic birds.

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The ceiling once let in sunlight. However, it is now artificially lit:

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To my knowledge, no photographs exist of its use as a garden.

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However, this one was taken from the 1940 Life shoot, showing a few of the items that were removed (the fountain, for example, is not original). The caption reads: “One small refugee explores halls of Hempstead House. Here, in the huge Palm Room orchids and other rare and exotic flowers from famed Guggenheim conservatories formerly bloomed.”

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The replacement fountain, which works; the mosaic around it is the only indication that plants once filled most of the room:

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One of the best aspects of Palm Court is that it fully opens up the first floor – you can see all the way to the rear of the house.

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This is the first room after Palm Court:

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An enormous chimney dominates its center:

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Dark-wood ceiling:

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Continuing to the rear of the house, you find a back breezeway of sorts…

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…with enormous windows providing a great view of the backyard. Despite the temperature being at about 90 the day I took these photographs, the open first floor promoted a cool breeze to blow through.

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The view:

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This room is filled with a ton of great decorations, which are more cartoonish than the usual gargoyles and grotesques you find in places like this:

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These two guys are holding up the fireplace mantle:

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Guy 2:

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But best of all are the figures lining the ceiling, all of whom are making really silly faces at you:

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I can guess what some of the animals are supposed to be – others are a mystery:

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A couple more:

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Still more:

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For such an austere residence, it’s surprising they’d put these in:

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I love the monkey on the right:

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Does the one on the right remind anyone else of Miss Piggy?

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Heading back to the northern-most rooms, you find yourself in what was once the billiard room.

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It once featured hand-tooled leather on the walls and a gold-leaf ceiling, though both have vanished.

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The carved oak woodwork here is from a 17th-century Spanish palace:

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Lions grace the mantle:

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Heading through this door…

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We find ourselves in the darkest room of the house: the walnut-paneled library, copied from the palace of King James I.

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Books are protected by interlaced cabinets:

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The ceiling features relief carvings of famous literary figures:

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A massive wooden crest is centered above the fireplace…

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One oddity – on the right of the fireplace is this topless woman…

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…And on the left is a bearded man…but judging by his chest, maybe he was originally intended to be a woman as well?

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Back across the Park Court, we head through a door…

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…taking a moment to appreciate the giant hinges:

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This was most likely the dining room, as what remains of the kitchen is just down the hall.

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Seeing the opulence and beauty of Hempstead House’s first floor, it’s easy to think the rest of the house is in just as great shape. However, just one flight down, and you find what remains of the old ice rooms…

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On the second floor, you might be relieved to find the master bedroom in such great shape…until you learn this is just a movie set:

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And of course, the third floor, which still has hints to its former life as an orphanage:

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Hempstead House has a lot more to explore. Come back tomorrow for the next installment!

-SCOUT

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17 comments

  1. I knew I recognized this in your first post! This is in Sands Point, Port Washington, just a 35-minute ride on the express train of the LIRR from Penn Station. Hempstead House is used as the location for the prom, called the Gambol, of Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington every year (see link: http://portwashington.patch.com/articles/gambol-a-community-tradition-for-schreiber-grads#video-555636). My mom was one of the heads for a few years and I worked construction, so I had some pretty good opportunities to explore the place. It is an amazing property, however Sands Point includes a wealth of old mansions, some of which were imported directly from Europe.

    If you take Thayer Lane off Middle Neck Road (the same road you took, Scout, to get to the Hempsetad House) and follow it down to the water you’ll get to Guggenheim Mansion, in which the Guggenheims lived after leaving Hempstead House. It is also another truly incredible property, and can be used in films. Some of the old mansions in Sands Point are today occupied by executives (the owner of Arizona Ice Tea, for one) and baseball players (almost all of the ’86 Mets lived in Port) and, sadly much of the great seashore in a very diverse town is occupied by the extremely wealthy, making access to the ocean on a peninsula really only accessible to those with seaside houses. From a Native Port Washingtonian, nice post, I hope to see more in the area and if you need any tips feel free to contact me.

    Cheers,
    Hunter

  2. Actually the dead grass is not where the path on the 1940 photo was, but to the left of it. Compare the position of the tower.
    Brilliant stuff tho.

  3. It reminds me a little of the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. Really lovely.

  4. I am enjoying this series!!

  5. Reminds me of the Newport mansions. Excellent pictures. This blog is really mind-blowing. I love it! Escapism at it’s best.

  6. EXQUISITE – Scout you always make my day when I see these type of photos, and my heart just breaks that we’re letting treasures like this just waste away. Don’t have a clue as to how to prevent it, but OMG – the beauty of this place, the architecture and detail. It’s so incredibly beautiful. One of these days, I’m come to NYC and I’m gonna beg you to take me on one of your jaunts.

  7. Whoa. This place is AMAZING! I always wondered what it was like inside. When I was here about 2 years ago they were still working on restoring it. Thank you for taking me inside.
    I really enjoy reading your blog. You have the best job!

  8. Guy 2 looks like a woman to me…

  9. This series is just so fantastic! I am so happy I “stumbled upon” your site and love getting these updates. I feel almost like I’m on a mini vacation.

  10. This was a fantastic series of pictures-someone sent me the link to this website as I live on Long Island. I have been to this site several times over the years, but not since the beautiful renovations on the first floor were done-I can remember peering through clouded windows trying to see the inside! There is a Medieval festival held on the grounds every year in the summer, which is particularly picturesque-last time I went they had a joust on the back lawn overlooking the L.I.Sound! The view of the Sound is gorgeous, and you can walk along the pristine beach and imagine what it must have been like to live there in its prime. Castle Gould houses a museum,as I recall mostly devoted to old carriages and such, which often runs children’s exhibits (one year it was animatronic dinosaurs) and nearby on the other side of the Sands Point Preserve is the other Guggenheim house called “Falaise” that is fully restored and can be toured with a guide and was once used to film part of The Godfather as I recall from the tour. That house also used to have one of Charles Lindbergh’s cars left in the drive-whether it’s still there or not I’m not sure.

    Thanks for showing off the interior of Hempstead House-I never noticed all the beautiful details on the stonework, and I look forward to taking a trip over there soon! There were once many beautiful grand houses like this on Long Island and so few of them still standing-I’m glad that they are trying to save this one and that you are documenting them.

  11. I’ve been away for nearly a week, without good internet access, so what a treat to come back home to these spectacular photos. Oh, Scout, I do believe you may have outdone yourself!

    I can’t believe that the main floor is in such terrific condition–those floors just gleam!–while the rest of the house is so trashed. This building really is crying out for full restoration. I hope it gets lots more photo shoots that will raise money for such work.

    I agree with @madcynic above, by the way–the disturbed grass in your photo doesn’t correspond to the path in the old photo, which leads to the rightmost entrance, instead of the center. The alignment of the tower definitely tips you off. Is the path reduced to rubbly grass at the right as well?

  12. Great location! Is this place open to the public? I’d love to have a photoshoot here.

  13. Just stumbled on this site. Great photos. I am the chairman of the not-for-profit that manages this property for Nassau County. Hempstead House is open to the public on a limited basis, and can be booked for photo shoots, filming, parties and other events. We welcome inquires and visitors. 516-571-7902. By the way, the”underground”organ has been fully restored by volunteers. Thanks for all the compliments about how the place looks. We are working very hard!
    Friends of the Sands Point Preserve

  14. I worked on a feature film production shot at Hempstead House back in the summer of 2000. It was a version of “Hamlet” directed by and starring Campbell Scott. Amazing place, but I’d forgotten its name — nice to see it here looking just as I remember it.

  15. Hempstead House was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” today, and I saw it could be a great location for a production of one of my screenplays — when I find financing. What movies have been shot there?

    Great photos! I like the empty rooms. I can picture my characters moving through them better and think of the possibilities.

  16. Great pictures! Here in this castle was recorded a musical video clip of the Swedish Rock band Europe, for the hit song called “superstitious”!! Very cool!!

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