Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nowadays it is commonplace to see a building erected almost overnight with cost-savings being the driving factor. However with the Inisfada (St. Ignatius Retreat House) in Manhasset Long Island the notion of cost-savings was the only factor not given thought when erecting this beautifully crafted architecture.

I was fortunate to have the knowledgeable and gracious Father Damien show me around Inisfada and give me a detailed history. Father Damien, by the way, is writing a book about Inisfada and the people who built it and lived there. From the way he brought the story alive during my visit I have no doubt that it will be a best seller. With that said here is an abbreviated version of what I saw and learned.


The story begins with Anthony Brady, an Irish born Episcopalian boy from France who came to America to make his fortunate. Known as the ‘mole’ of Wall Street he had amassed a large fortunate amongst his enterprises which included being the Chairman of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit and the President of New York Edison Company. By time he had passed away he left an estate valued at $70 million.

His eldest son Nicholas with his education and training became the director of 24 of the corporations his father had amassed. And although Nicholas shared his father’s knowledge of business he had a different outlook on life when it came to priorities. More specifically he married Genevieve Garvan, converted to Catholicism, and was very much a spiritual man.

it is Nicholas and Genevieve that built Insifada, Gaelic for Long Island) to suit their lifestyles

With that said, it was considered one of the most elaborate mansions in the entire United States. It demanded such notoriety perhaps for a few distinct reasons.

First, the Brady’s were know for entertaining many high level people, including Pope Pius XII and therefore their home needed to match the power of the people who visited it. It may have also become so elaborate to set it apart from the nearly 300 other mansions in Long Island. And perhaps it also needed to be the talk of the town to let others know that it was the home of an Irishman that was set above and beyond all the others. After all, during this time period there were only about four Irish men who had made their fortune in the NYC/ Long Island area. The Irish back then were considered amongst the lowest of people and would take jobs that all other groups of people including the black people would turn down. So perhaps this mansion was a symbol that the Irish were just as good as anyone who had stepped foot on this great land. Lastly it could have been because they had no children and therefore the home became their child where they poured all their time, energy and love. In fact, because they had no children, and because of their great love for their religion, when they died they willed the mansion in 1937 to the Jesuits. Although Mrs. Brady’s hopes had been that it would become a school for boys its fate would be that it would become a retreat estate.


Inisfada began with a 300 acre tract of land that slowly over the next four years began to support an exquisite estate. By time the initial development of the estate had been complete in 1920 the Brady’s had spent in excess of two million dollars. This Tudor-Elizabethan mansion was designed by second generation architect John T. Windrim.

When one first goes through the great gates and up the driveway a sense of one’s own insignificance overwhelms you as you first gain site of this enormous structure.

One of the first features that captured my attention was the chimneys. There are 37 chimneys in all, each with their own unique pattern and design.

The next feature that grabbed my attention was the

man and women caved granite figures on either side of the porte-cochere. Father Damien says these figures represent the equally balanced masculine/feminine theme in the house. The other theme that is present is the thought of light and darkness. And throughout the exterior and in select places on the interior are symbols that remind you of a Gaelic theme.

More specifically, there are the zodiac signs carved into the granite and there are various animals that are noted for the Gaelic heritage.

Also of importance in the Bavarian influence of carved figures of nursery

rhyme characters such as Little Red Riding Hood.

There are also numerous medallions including the medallion of St. Genevieve the patron Saint of Paris.

When we were ready to enter the mansion we approached the impressive cooper doors.

On the inside one can view a mix of oak wood ceilings, stone and marble. On either side of the

foyer are what used to be two coat rooms but now serve as large offices. Straight ahead, is a long perpendicular hallway. The floors are original marble and the ceiling is textured to reflect a molded pattern similar to the print that would be found on Persian carpets. There are a few exquisite paintings but most of the paintings as well as the linens and other items were sold at auction when the mansion was given to the Jesuits. The proceeds which amounted to just under half a million dollars went to various charities.

A direct line from the cooper front doors is what used to be called the Great Hall. The Brady’s entertained various notables in this room including the Pope. Father Damien mentioned that

the raised section in the back is where the band would play and it is also where the organ is located. During its’ time the organ was a self-playing instrument that would bellow out its’ beautiful notes throughout the mansion. It was in this room that Father Damien mentioned that Mrs. Brady secured many of the parts of her mansion from various sections of other mansions throughout the world. For example the ceiling in this room came from Buckingham Palace. In this Great Hall one can witness not only high beamed ceilings and original Jacobean wood floors with wooden pegs but also Oreo windows and French doors that look out into the gardens. These gardens all had a theme ranging from Italian to Japanese and were designed by Olmstead Associates. Olmstead, is the man responsible for the layout of Central Park.

There are also various other rooms including the women’s room,

the billiard room and the library. What is interesting about these rooms is that great pain was taken to hide anything that detracted from its’ beauty such as light switches. Such mechanical devices were clearly hidden into the wooden panels.

Also on the first floor that is worth noting is the solarium. The story that interested me the most

was the fact that Mrs. Brady was such a perfectionist when it came to her mansion that three times she had the workers relay the floor as she found it to be not completely level.

The staircases are wonderfully ornate with Native American imagery on them and figures reminiscent of what one would see from ancient museum quality artifacts.

The second floor contains various bedrooms and also Saint Genevieve’s Chapel. Here the Brady’s would have daily mass.

It is adorned with stained glass reflecting various archangels and Saints.

It has the Stations of the Cross so expertly carved that one can feel the emotion that the carved faces emit. Between each station one

can also find each one of the apostles. There is also behind a glass case, relics of various Saints. The altar is marble and gold.

The third floor is where the prominent guests would house their servants and where the Brady’s own servants lived.

When the tour had ended I went out front to face this marvelous structure again and stood by the original wishing well to this great estate. But it made me wonder, if you owned this beaufitul estate what more could you really wish for?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Place, The People, The Spirits

The Place

World renowned architect Clarence Luce designed this tan stucco Huntington Harbor estate for George McKesson Brown sometime between 1910 and 1911. Inspired by two castles in the South of France it was lovingly referred to as the McKesson-Brown Estate, after its’ owner.

Originally this 54 acre estate included all the land from the water at Huntington Harbor to Southdown Road. It had a cottage for servants and stables for horses, an ice house and a boat house.

The side of the house still has intact the brick carriage entrance.

The 80,000 square foot estate boasted 40 rooms, 7 fireplaces – no two alike, a wine cellar, and an indoor swimming pool. It is also said to be one of the first estates to have a crude central air system. The patio originally had imported tile on the floor but that has been replaced with plank flooring. It was also lavishly decorated but none of the originally furniture is present.

Mr. McKesson-Brown lost the estate during the Depression. It was bought by the Brothers of Sacred Heart and turned into a private all boy’s school. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart renamed the estate Coindre Hall.

The boys slept on the second floor . Also on the second floor was an infirmary and a chapel. Additionally on the second floor was an outside brick bridge that allowed the brave to venture from one part of the estate to the other via an outdoor route. The first floor was their dining area and their library.

This all boys school was in existence from 1939 until 1971. For a short time, beginning in 1981, the Eagle Hill School, Inc. of Greenwich CT leased the property. Suffolk County Parks has now acquired the property and it is open for tours to the public as well as for former events such as proms and weddings. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The People

The history of the people is correct to the best of my knowledge. If anyone has anything they can add please do.

The owner was George McKesson Brown. His father George Bruce-Brown, a wealthy real estate magnate and printing manufacturer, had been married twice. His first wife, Virginia Greenway McKesson was the heir to the McKesson Chemical Company in Connecticut. She died the same year George was born. His father then married Ruth Loney, the heir to the J.P. Lorillard company, the tobacco company that puts out cigarettes such as Newport and Kent. She is also the mother of William Bruce-Brown and David Bruce-Brown, George’s half-brothers. David is the man most noted as the youngest Grand Prix Auto winner in the world. It is also said that David, who died racing a Fiat during time trials for the Vanderbilt Cup, developed his love for racing when George bought a Benz racing car and hired a driver to race it in the Vanderbilt Cup in Long Island.

As for George’s personal life – not much is known. It is said that he did marry but the name of the woman is unknown. What is known is that the woman would not bear children and when they lost their entire fortune in the stock market crash she is said to have killed herself. It is said that during this time period he often sadly referred to the estate as the “No Dough Estate”.

It is also known that George took care of his brother’s child, Virginia Looney, after her parents died in the sinking of the Lusitania. Virginia is said to have been aboard with her parents when a German submarine torpedo hit. Her father helped passengers get into the lifeboats and put his daughter Virginia into the last one – leaving both him and his wife on the sinking ship. Virginia’s lifeboat capsized and everyone was thrown into the water. Despite the suction of the sinking ship she was able to swim to another lifeboat and survived.

The Spirits

Mrs. McKesson Brown is said to have been grief stricken by her inability to have children and by the loss of her family fortune.

In a state of depression she is said to have hanged herself on the top of this circular stairway. People have said they see her still sitting on the sofa overlooking the grounds.

Virginia Loney is said to still walk the halls of this estate. Virginia, by some reports, is said to have visited her Uncle many times and it is here that learned how to swim. If it had not been for this estate and her swimming lessons she would never have survived the sinking of the Lusitania.


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Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts. Painting and sculpture are but images, are merely shadows cast by outward things on stone or canvas, having in themselves no separate existence. Architecture, existing in itself, and not in seeming a something it is not, surpasses them as substance shadow.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For all those who view a castle, mansion, or historical building and question how much it cost to build, this site is not for you. For this blogspot is dedicated to all those who view a castle, mansion or historical building and question why it was built.

Architecture is one of the most beautiful forms of enduring art history. From the material that is used to erect the structure to the design that is chosen to give it life and personality, these grand works held a special meaning to those who once in habituated them and a haunting message to those who are graced by their majesty today. Catching a glimpse of select architecture transports one into the past where the viewer is able to experience the history and emotion that surrounds the structure.

This blogspot is an open forum for those to share the art of architecture and reveal their essence. Please feel free to post comments or email me with photographs and information about castles, mansions or historical buildings for which you would like to see included in this ongoing journal.