I’ve wanted to do a piece about Great Neck for years.
All I really know about Great Neck is that the now defunct Millie’s Place was a great place to have brunch and that F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived in town.
I needed a guide and I did my best to talk my allergist, the wonderful Dr. Yiqun Hui, into showing me the local areas of interest but alas she’s way too busy.
So I was forced into taking a trip myself to get a feel for the place.
Of course everyone knows that the great American novel “The Great Gatsby” was set in Great Neck. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Great Neck for two years in the 1920s and was so astonished with its beauty and glamour that he wrote what most now consider being the greatest American novel of the 20th century.
The history of Great Neck is unique.
In the 17th century, it was inhabited by the Mattinecock Native Americans and settled by the Dutch and English.
By the end of the 19th century it became a railway head and was transformed from a farm village into a commuter town since it was only 30 minutes from Manhattan.
Show business personalities and literary types were welcomed into Great Neck, including Sid Caesar and the Marx Brothers.
It was known as a place that welcomed all religions.
Former residents included Francis Ford Coppola, Sarah Hughes and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Whitey Ford, Louise Nevelson, Paul Newman, Eugene O’Neil, George Segal and Talia Shire.
Ring Lardner would hang out with F. Scott Fitzgerald in the summers and enjoy the views of the bay.
As Nick said in “The Great Gatsby,” “they had a great view of the water — a partial view of the neighbor’s lawn and the consoling proximity of millionaires.’’
In the novel, West Egg (Great Neck) was considered new money and East Egg (Manhasset) was considered old money.
But riding through Great Neck on this sun-filled Sunday gives a different impression indeed.
There is nothing new money about the place. All the streets have old shaded oak and sycamore trees that provide a glorious and safe feeling.
The homes are mostly Tudor or American Craftsman style and give off a feeling of very old money.
It is no surprise the Great Neck has changed since Fitzgerald described the town.
It’s been nearly 100 years since the Roaring Twenties.
In the 1980s, following the Islamic Revolution, many of the wealthiest Iranians decided to settle in Great Neck and more recently there’s been an influx of highly educated Asians, which has enhanced the already superior school system.
During my stroll through town I stopped into Caffe Bene on Middle Neck Road to get a coffee rush.
I asked the barista what he thought of Great Neck and he said it was the best place in the world to live.
He told me his name was Joshua and sat down to chat.
His mom was a governess at one of the estates in town and he was raised since age 3 as a member of their family.
Josh told me that yes there is vast wealth in Great Neck but he feels that he’s been a most fortunate benefactor of constant generosity, decency and kindness.
After finishing my coffee I strolled down to the park near the train station and relaxed in the sun.
A mix of generations was there including some older folks in lawn chairs, some families with their kids and a few young lovers hanging out under the cupola.
Really an idyllic setting reminiscent of the painting by George Seurats called “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” but without the French.
As every school boy knows, in “The Great Gatsby’’ the central image was the vision of the green light seen on Daisy’s dock in Manhasset.
Gatsby would look out longingly across the bay from his lonely estate on West Egg and reach out to it.
The green light on the faraway dock is said to represent unobtainable love, beauty, money, materialism or happiness.
It is the attaining of the American Dream.
And from the look of all the wealth and beauty and grandeur of the homes of Great Neck it looks to me that the residents have obtained that green light.
I just hope that all the lucky and proud residents of Great Neck realize that they are living the American Dream each and every day.
A brief look at the beauty of Great Neck, the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece “The Great Gatsby.”