A Gentleman’s Home (and Tavern)

In the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in August 1933 a builder advertised a high-class residence. The ad reads and is laid out 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

British conceptions dominated the post-WW I invention of suburban estate living, 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 or others with deep pockets who found “basement English. Tavern room” unclear, a “built-in bar and lounge” would have been reassuring.

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

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

The drawing in the Daily Eagle ad shows Tudor Revival strapwork and peaked roofing, much like the (1923) hotel in Niagara Falls I discussed yesterday.

There are many residences of this type in Toronto, built around the same time. Toronto was even more propitious for the concept given its strong British identity in the early 1900s. These homes probably were fitted with tavern rooms, too.

Needless to say, this isn’t the type of tavern Archie Bunker and friends frequented. The Long Island recessed home’s tavern room and its Manhattan commercial equivalent were stylized versions of the real thing, something imagined by American designers as symbolizing comfort, tradition, and dignified downtime.

If you were of English ancestry lolling in your Rockville Center home tavern, or having a Martini with a client in the midtown equivalent, the experience was probably heightened. But the average American aspiring to buy these beautiful residences was probably not English, or had mixed ancestry, as typical of United States social patterns.

Still, the imagery was potent and aroused the response expected. The whys and wherefores are embedded in the origins of the American project and its subsequent development. The long prestige of things British had accelerated as memories of the Revolution faded, and given too the cooperation of 1917-1918 and then the League of Nations.

British cultural prestige crested here in the last 30 years as North America gained its own confidence and our own, homegrown aesthetics found favour worldwide and not least in Britain.

The emblems of Britannia are being forgotten here or at least have blurred – the very concept of Britain, or “England”, has. The onset of the European Union and globalization has weakened the notions of British culture and British civilization imbued in every schoolchild in Canada until recently and inherited culturally in the United States.

Times change.

What of Rockville Center, L.I.? Not surprisingly, a 2014 article in the New York Times described it as an “urbanized suburb”, or “mini-Manhattan”. A handsome, 1931 Tudor residence pictured may well have been built by the Levitts. The buildings are still there.

As to taverns and tavern drinks, the India Pale Ale bequeathed by Britons to America did return after a near disappearance, but the composition is altered. And they drink our kind in Blighty, now. In a 1977 Red Rose Tea commercial, a Briton muttered with mixed admiration and irritation, “Only in Canada, eh?”.

Not IPA, today. Back at ya.

The last word goes to the 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.

 

 

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