A Gentleman’s Home – and Tavern

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August, 1933, ran a builder’s advertisement for a high-class residence in Long Island. The ad reads like a free verse poem:

A Gentleman’s Home

Rockville Center, L.I.
At the Golf Course.
We have just created a new type home.
A Gentleman’s Home.
English Architecture, Colonial plan.
Stone, brick, cement and timber.
Tree shaded front terrace.
Center foyer entrance hall.
One step down living room.
Exposures east, south and west.
Massive stone fireplace.
Heavy beamed ceiling.
Rough textured, tinted walls.
Built-in, recessed boot shelves

A British design ethos flavoured upscale, post-WW I suburban development, down to the adjacent golf course – still Scottish in American minds then.

Basement English. Tavern room.
Embedded stained timber walls.
Built-in bar and lounge.
Modern, efficient laundry room…

For arrivistes and others with deep pockets who found “basement English” and “Tavern room” unclear, the “built-in bar and lounge” would have reassured.

The aesthetic is known as “country club”. It marries architectural, landscape, and decorative motifs of vaguely British origin with all modern conveniences, down in this case to the Shlage locks and “scientific kitchen”.

The builder was Levitt & Sons. Ring a bell? Levittown. The famous, affordable-suburb template, studied since the 1950s by sociologists and cultural historians, was just one arrow in the Levitts’ quiver. They specialized in country estate development as well, for a more monied demographic.

The depiction in the Daily Eagle ad shows Tudor Revival strapwork and peaked roofing, similar to the 1923 hotel in Niagara Falls, NY I discussed yesterday.

There are many residences of this type in Toronto, most built around the same time. Toronto was propitious for the concept given its strong British identification in the early 1900s. Some of these homes probably featured tavern rooms, too.

Needless to say, this is not the tavern Archie Bunker and cohorts frequented. Long Island’s recessed home tavern and the Manhattan commercial equivalents were stylized versions of an English original, imagined by American designers as conveying comfort and tradition with an Arcadian flavour.

If you were of British ancestry lolling in a Rockville Center home tavern, or having a Martini with a client in the Midtown equivalent, the experience was perhaps heightened. The average American aspiring to buy these beautiful residences was probably not of this background, or was of mixed heritage, as typical of the American social pattern.

Still, the imagery was potent and clearly aroused the response anticipated. The long prestige of things British had burgeoned as memories of the American Revolution faded. Allied cooperation during the 1917-1918 war probably only helped.

British cultural prestige crested here in the last 30 years as North America has gained, or regained, its own confidence.

The emblems of Britannia are being forgotten or at least have been blurred. The European Union and globalization have weakened British culture and notions of British civilization imbued in every schoolchild in Canada until recently, and transmitted culturally and intellectually to earlier generations of Americans. Times change.

What of Rockville Center, L.I. today? A 2014 article in the New York Times described it as an “urbanized suburb”, and a “mini-Manhattan”.  Shown in the piece is a handsome, 1931 Tudor residence that might have been built by the Levitts. Their buildings are still there; their FDR-era vision of an English Arcadia transplanted for stockbroker Americnsa, amply fulfilled. The patina of age since the 30s just makes it better…

As to taverns and tavern drinks, the India Pale Ale bequeathed by Britain to America did return after a near-disappearance, but the composition has altered. They even drink our kind in Blighty now, redolent of dank gardens, grapefruit, and guava.

A last word goes to the 1930s lyricist of Long Island:

Tennis, beaches, riding academy.
Motor parkway and lake.
Thirty-two minutes to Manhattan.
The complete price.
Ten Thousand Five Hundred.
May be inspected any time.
Yours until sold.