Winfield Hall

70 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, Nassau County, New York

Completed in 1917, for Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919) and his wife Jennie Creighton (1853–1924). The 57-room Beaux-Arts mansion is one of the most spectacular of the Gilded Age Estates on Long Island's Gold Coast. However, the Woolworth's grand-daughter referred to it as the "house of horrors". It has a reputation for strange goings-on and Woolworth's extraordinary eccentricities are palpable throughout its interior decor. Winfield is the last marble mansion still standing on the North Shore and at 65,000-square feet it is one of the largest historic houses in the States, ranking alongside the likes of Hearst Castle and The Breakers. Still privately owned, it has remained empty for sometime and it was last in the news when a mysterious fire broke out in 2015 causing millions of dollars of damage to the interior.... 

This house is best associated with...

Frank Winfield Woolworth

F.W., or Frank W. Woolworth, Founder of Woolworth Department Stores

1852-1919

Jennie Creighton

Mrs Jennie (Creighton) Woolworth

1853-1924

Frank Woolworth created a household name and a $65 million fortune through his five-and-ten-cent stores, enabling him to pay $13 million in cash to erect the Woolworth Building in Manhattan which on completion (1913) was the world's tallest building. Though his business is now continued as 'Foot Locker,' his name came to the fore again when his 18,000-square foot Manhattan townhouse went on the market in 2011 for a record $90 million. Built in the same year as his townhouse, Winfield Hall was his dream home and the most opulent expression of both his wealth, and extraordinary character.

In 1914, Woolworth purchased the 16.5 acre Humphreys Estate on Long Island. Two years later, an unexplained fire destroyed the original mansion. Raising suspicious eyebrows, it just so happened that Woolworth already had plans for a new 57-room mansion to be built on the site. He wasted no time in hiring the architect of the original house, Charles P.H. Gilbert (1861-1952), to start work on his new home that was completed within a staggering six months - the builders literally worked day and night.

Woolworth had traced his ancestry back to Cambridgeshire in England and embracing his British roots he gave his very English middle name to his new home - "Winfield Hall". The design of the mansion is a mix of elements, though significant parts of the exterior and the interior are directly influenced by Le Petit Trianon at Versailles. It was built entirely of imported marble and limestone, and construction costs ran to an eye-popping $9 million.

Frank Woolworth, aka "Emperor Napoleon" 

As Woolworth increased in age, so did his interest in the occult, time travel, and his own self-belief that he was in fact the living reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte. This obsession with Napoleon is apparent from the moment the estate is entered from Crescent Beach Road - via a marble replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Monica Randall wrote:
A long circular drive takes you past glades of ancient trees, a massive carriage house and a wide panorama of Roman statuary. A life-size statue of King Neptune stands in a pool amid pink-colored stone horses and dolphins, where Tiffany gold and blue mosaic tiles set off an arched grotto that was lit with amber-hued lights. Winfield stood to the north where at one time dozens of life-size Greek and Roman gods on marble pedestals guarded the long drive.
To sum up the magnificence of the mansion's interior in a few paragraphs verges on the impossible. But, in an attempt to describe its opulence, the overwhelming theme of the decor is majestically Napoleonic, mixed with Italian Renaissance.

The Emperor's Palace, aka "The House of Horrors"

In the entrance hall - under a carved ceiling of 14k gold leaf trimmed in blue - the floor, walls, fireplace, and staircase are all made of varying hues of marble. The staircase was crafted entirely of pink marble and cost $2 million alone. This otherwise elegant room has one other stand out feature: the bizarre coat-of-arms designed by Woolworth himself that are carved into the stone above the fireplace. They depict him sporting an empirical plumed helmet while beneath is his wife, her face entirely covered by an iron mask, showing only the pearl necklace he bought her after he made his first million. On the shield beneath them are the faces of their three daughters... make of that what you will.

The reception rooms include the gold Music Room in the west wing that features an Aeolian pipe organ; the Dining Room finished in the English Georgian style; the gold Ballroom that is set off with an enormous crystal chandelier; the Gothic Library filled with volume-upon-volume on Egyptian mythology, history, and occult rituals; and, the Billiard Room panelled in rich mahogany with yet another gold leaf ceiling.

Throughout the house, "mystical" motifs thrust out from every corner that can be curious and even vaguely unsettling to the unfamiliar eye. They vary from Napoleon's own empirical symbol (the bee), to those of the Egyptian occult (scarabs, serpents, cartouches etc.) that were fashionably popularized by the deposed Emperor following his victorious campaign of 1798. But, without doubt, the most striking of all the motifs are the winged effigies of Woolworth's own moustachioed face that leers down from certain ceilings. All this imagery prompted his grand-daughter to recall Winfield as the "house of horrors"!

Each of the bedrooms were styled after dominant historical periods, eg., the Ming Dynasty, Elizabethan, Louis XIV, Marie-Antoinette, Edwardian rooms etc. Perhaps most intriguing is the Empress Josephine room, lived in - not by Mrs Woolworth - but by Woolworth's mistress. This room was connected by a probably-not-so-secret passage to Woolworth's own bed chambers and was in stark contrast to his wife's spartan bedroom with its single bed and solitary rocking chair! Another bedroom worthy of mention is the Marie-Antoinette room that always remains locked. Its said that crying is often heard within, rumored to be the ghost of Woolworth's daughter, Edna, who committed suicide in 1917.

Lastly, to add to its mystique, Winfield hides secret rooms eg., the one accessed through a trapdoor in the ceiling of the ballroom. There are also tunnels and hidden passages reminiscent of Napoleon's brother's chateau in New Jersey, Point Breeze. Despite the elaborate Egyptian tomb in which Woolworth would seem to be buried, some believe he is in fact entombed in a sarcophagus in one of the secret rooms under Winfield.

The Emperor at Home

Woolworth's own bedroom suite was an identical copy of Napoleon's at Château de Malmaison. The bath was made of pink marble and even the bed he slept in had once belonged to the Emperor - a magnificent roll-top affair with a canopy of 14k gold leaf. 

Woolworth scoured the world for relics that had belonged to his hero/former self. The 75-servants he employed here got quite used to the sight of him either walking around in one of the many uniforms (complete with bicorne hat) he'd collected that had been worn by the great General himself; or, seeing him in deep concentration for long periods at a time slouched in the Emperor's gold and red velvet throne!

The Outbuildings at Winfield further reflected Woolworth's eccentricities and excesses: there was a marble tea house, an 18-car garage (occupying 16,000 square feet that has since been made habitable) and two greenhouses. There is a private beach for bathing, a 9-hole golf course, and the extensive formal gardens are spread over various terraces modelled after those at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. These gardens feature a large collection of statues laid out in various different formats, such as that of Neptune flanked by a pair of pink marble horses in one of the ponds.

As a footnote to everything described, its worth repeating - and almost inconceivable to imagine - that the house as well as the gardens were completed in a mere six months... maybe there was something to Woolworth's fascination with time travel after all!

Better the Devil you Know...

Woolworth died in his Napoleonic bedroom at Winfield Hall in 1919. He pumped a lot of time and money into unlocking the secrets of time travel, but whether that paid off - as far as I am aware - is yet to be seen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his widow did not choose to live out the rest of her days here, but she wasn't so desperate to be rid of it that she couldn't push a hard bargain. In 1921, Walter Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation, offered the Woolworth heirs $800,000 for the estate, but they refused to sell it for a dime less than $850,000.

Woolworth may have been delighted by his own moustachioed effigies, but despite the most silver-tongued real estate agents placed on the job, it was not working for any prospective buyers. In 1925, Winfield was finally put up for auction. Even then, only 50 people came and bids started at a mere $100,000. It was sold for $395,000, to an agent who to the surprise of all had been bidding on behalf of Charles McCann, the husband of Woolworth's eldest daughter, Helena, then resident at nearby Sunken Orchard.

Modelling, Charm, Secretarial Skills... and Seances

The widowed Mrs Woolworth, her youngest daughter, Jessie May Woolworth (1886-1971) and Jessie's husband, James Paul Donahue (1887-1931) used the house sporadically until 1929, when the McCanns sold it to Julia Louise Parham (1882-1980), the wife of Richard Samuel Reynolds, Sr. (1881-1955), the inventor of Reynolds Wrap aluminium foil.

In 1963, the by-then widowed Mrs Reynolds sold her home to the entrepreneurial Grace Downs (1907-1984) who opened the house as a school for girls wishing to learn modelling, charm, and secretarial skills, with perhaps less emphasis on the last subject! As thirty girls moved in (prompting its new nickname, "the glamour manor"), Woolworth's treasures that had to date remained in tact were now moved into one of the greenhouses.

The girls naturally began to explore the secret rooms and passages and perhaps affected by their unusual surroundings they began to hold seances. At the same time, rumors of strange goings-on at the house began to be reported such as unexplained whispering in empty rooms, music bursting forth from the pipe organ, and tragically the deaths of several students "under bizarre circumstances". In 1975, this prompted the school to close and what remained of Woolworth's antiques and Napoleonic artefacts were sold.

Monica Randall and "Andre Von Brunner," aka Richard Markoll

Woolworth's remaining treasure were sold off at auction here on November 29, 1975. It was then that Martin T. Carey and Richard Markoll met and decided to team up, buying Winfield as an investment. Carey was "the silent partner" and already owned property at Lloyd's Harbor as well as Seaview Terrace in Newport. Aside from the price tag, the taxes alone on Winfield amounted to $62,000 a year. In her book on Winfield, Monica Randall refers to Markoll - the man she became romantically involved with - as "Andre Von Brunner". They lived here from 1975, but in 1979 Markoll apparently disappeared and Randall left the day before the estate was seized, owing $137,227 in back taxes.

Martin T. Carey and Winfield Today

It's unclear exactly what happened after 1978, but Carey then became the sole owner and in the following year (1979) Winfield was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In her book, Randall writes that: "Things seemed to take a turn when a large corporation stepped in at the last moment to lease the property, saving the house from possible demolition". From the 1980s up until 1995, Carey leased the house to the Pall Corporation, demolishing the marble swimming pool and tennis court in favor of a parking lot.

After 1995, it was leased for a further two or three years for use as a learning center for seeing-eye dogs. By 2006, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky described it as, "having been abandoned for several years" while researching her book Haunted Long Island. But, on a visit there she was surprised to run into Mr Carey (then in his eighties) in his work clothes who was, "painstakingly restoring the building with only five men". Winfield had been on-and-off the market for several years, most recently in 2010, for $19.5 million. The Careys took it off the market that year when it was leased to HBO for the filming of the award-winning, star-studded TV mini-series Mildred Pierce.

Winfield and Seaview Terrace are without doubt two of the most richly decorated mansions to survive from the Gilded Age and the Careys have frequently been criticized for not maintaining them properly. In 2015, 99-years after its last fire, another mysterious fire broke out here which destroyed some 30% of the interior, causing millions of dollars of irreplaceable damage. Mr Carey died on June 16, 2020, "at his home in Glen Cove, N.Y." Winfield is still apparently owned by the Carey family but its state of repair and future remain unclear. If you anything more, please leave a comment. 

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