The Chimneys

160 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, Long Island, New York

Built in 1929, for the widowed Mrs Bettie Fleischmann Holmes (1873-1941). Her 42-room Tudor-Revival mansion was designed by Edgar Irving Williams. Not to be confused with Howard Crosby Brokaw's estate of the same name at Muttontown, Bettie named her home for its elaborate chimneys that aside from being made of imported brick were all designed individually, recalling the Tudor period when masons gave their individual 'signature' to whatever part of a building they were working on. Inside, it is famous for its unique southwestern/eskimo art-deco features, but perhaps of more current interest is that the children's wing was once home to the grandfather of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos whose sensational $9-billion fraud rocked Silicon Valley to its core. The house stills stands today as the Sands Point Community Synagogue....

This house is best associated with...

Bettie (Fleischmann) Holmes

Mrs "Bettie" Babette (Fleischmann) Holmes, of Cincinnati & New York


Christian Rasmus Holmes II

Capt. Christian R. Holmes II., D.S.C., of Queen's Surf & Coconut Island, Hawaii


Bettie was the daughter of Charles Fleischmann, a Jewish distiller who emigrated from Austria-Hungary to Cincinnati in 1866 but was so disappointed by the poor quality of the bread he found there that he began manufacturing yeast. The commercial methods that Fleischmann applied to the production of yeast revolutionized baking and the way that we mass produce and consume bread at home today, and he used the leftover by-product to make alcohol that he distilled into gin. Continued by Bettie's brothers, Julius and Max, the Fleischmann Yeast Company became the world's largest producer of yeast and the worlds's second largest producer of vinegar. In the meantime, Bettie married Dr. Christian R. Holmes and was said to have given over $20-million to charity during her lifetime, building hospitals in Cincinnati and sponsoring a wide range of charities and movements.

Both of Bettie's brothers lived at Sands Point (they both lived at The Lindens) so after her husband died in 1920, followed by her mother in 1924, it was only natural that she should move from Cincinnati and build herself a home here too. Her cousin, Raoul Fleischmann (founder, financial backer and publisher of The New Yorker), also had a summer home at Sands Point, but became better associated with The Willows in Plandome Manor.

The Gin Palace

On the outside and in the grounds, the house was intended to be as close to a faithful adaptation of an English Tudor country house as possible, but inside it basked in American extravagance and luxury - and then some. The basement, far from being the dark recess of the house, positively shook with life. There was an indoor swimming pool designed as an "Alaskan Room" with elaborate and authentic eskimo totem poles; steam baths with art-deco mirrored changing rooms; murals with exotic tropical jungle scenes; a shooting gallery; bowling alley; squash court; and, even its very own Prohibition-defying speakeasy with a totem-pole bar. Bettie and the rest of the gin-making Fleischmanns were among the most outspoken opponents of Prohibition in the country and as Chairman of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, Bettie actively campaigned against the 18th Amendment and was instrumental in bringing about its eventual repeal. 

Raising Standards

Under its Tudor facade, the house was built over a fire-resistant steel and concrete frame and featured the most modern inventions such as air conditioning, central heating, a vacuum system, aeolian organ, and built-in fire hoses. But, 65% of all the materials used in its construction were brought over from England, salvaged from old manors: wrought iron gates and grilles; all of the lead work, most notably the mullions; the terra cotta roof tiles; carved walnut panelling; all of the marble mantels and fireplaces in each of the major rooms; entire floors; oak beams, including a massive one over the main entrance; and, the mast from a clipper ship built in 1772 that was repurposed to support a spiral staircase.

In all, construction costs were said to have run to anywhere between one and three million dollars depending on whose account you read. Notable among its 42-rooms is the lofty, beamed Great Hall between the Library and the Drawing Room that was draped in vast tapestries; a flower room; and, a glazed gallery on the courtyard side of the house with hand-painted stained glass windows featuring various yachting scenes - another favorite pastime of the Fleischmann family. The dark wood furnishings were principally from 16th and 17th century France and England, but most of the wood carvings were done by English craftsmen on American hardwoods. The Chimneys was also home to Bettie's famed collection of ancient Chinese bronzes, green and white jades, and porcelain; some excellent pieces of Persian and Mesopotamian pottery; Egyptian bronzes; Gothic, Renaissance and Aubusson tapestries; Spanish hand-tufted rugs; oriental rugs; sculptures, etc.

The grounds were originally comprised of 67-acres with numerous outbuildings, greenhouses, a garage, stables, two tennis courts, a sprawling guest house and cottages for the estate manager (who worked closely with Bettie whose meticulous eye kept a careful watch over everything), head gardener, chauffeur and other members of staff. The estate required a permanent workforce of between 40 and 60 who were each paid a very generous $5 a day which equated to annual costs of between $73,000 to $109,500 just on staff alone. The flowers grown here were often exhibited at the International Flower Show and English hollies and vast Lebanon cedars shade the lawns on the garden facade that slope down to a reflecting pool and tea house. The pool was later converted into a swimming pool, modelled after one that Bettie has seen and admired on Coney Island, and a basement was added to the tea house for dressing rooms.

Sons, Sailors and Synagogues

Bettie supported a host of cultural institutions that promoted music and the arts and The Chimneys was the scene of frequent fundraisers. She entertained lavishly up until her death in 1941 when she bequeathed the house to her second son, Christian R. Holmes II, who had joined her here towards the end of her life when she added a children's wing for his children. Christian II had served as a Captain in World War I under Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and was one of the first Americans to win the Distinguished Service Cross, but at the cost of his mental health. He drank in excess, frittered his fortune on wild extravagances, and was married and divorced three times (notably to the movie star Katherine MacDonald from whom he was publicly and very acrimoniously divorced) before he took his own life in 1944 while being treated for, "a neurological disturbance". 

After Christian II died in 1944, his two brothers (including Carl who had recently been to court with his exotic second wife, Lemma Izzet el-Abed, over a trust fund) turned the estate over to the War Shipping Administration as a rest center for merchant seamen under the joint operation of the WSA and the United Seaman's Service. It remained in that capacity until 1954 when the house with 24.5-acres went on the market - many of the original outbuildings along Tudor Lane had been sold off and remain private residences.

That year, Long Island's Jewish congregation put down $10,000 with an option to buy the house from the Holmes Foundation Inc., for $215,000. After encountering stiff resistance from those less than pleased to see the house converted into a synagogue - and with the support of W. Averell Harriman who argued for religious freedom and worship - the New York Court of Appeals ruled in their favor and three weeks later in 1957 a service was held at what was now - and remains to be - the Sands Point Community Synagogue. The only major change to the repurposed building since then was brought about by architect Stanley Katz who add a new wing that incorporated materials and colors to blend with the original structure, but otherwise it remains in good condition and available for events.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 03/11/2022 and last updated on 09/11/2022.


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