History

 

Some could argue that New York City Mayor William R. Grace is the keystone behind the creation of the lovely Kennilworth community. Grace, a short, blue-eyed fellow, was Mayor for two terms between 1880-88, and was incidentally the first Irish-born politician to hold that office. He was also a very rich man, having made a fortune in both South American trade and shipping.

The story goes that late in his second term, the mayor was being driven in his horse-drawn carriage while riding under the new elevated trains in lower Manhattan.  The sound from the steam locomotive overhead frightened the mayor’s horses, causing the carriage to tip into the concrete support pillars. Mayor Grace was injured and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. While there he visited the different wards -- he was a very good politician too -- and came across a small boy, Isaac Grover Wolf, who had lost part of a leg, just below the knee, in a trolley accident. The chance meeting resonated with the mayor, who had a crippled brother. Mayor Grace was further impressed by the child’s bravery and also with the industriousness of the boy's father, Abraham Wolf, a tailor on the Lower East Side. From this unlikely meeting, the Mayor became determined to do what he could to assist the family by providing regular work and additional opportunities in the relative safety of rural Great Neck. 

It so happened that Mayor Grace had a very large farm of 144 acres in Great Neck (originally purchased in 1872 for $30,000), which he often visited, when not residing in his magnificent New York City mansion. The Great Neck manor house was called Gracefield – and located on what is now East Shore Road and Henhawk Drive. The commute was somewhat different back then; a coachman would drive the Mayor to Little Neck Bay where the commuting steamer, Sewanhaka, would leave at 8 A.M. for lower Manhattan.

Mayor Grace had already brought a blacksmith and a carpenter to his Great Neck estate. Why not a tailor? He even had a house for the Wolfs, a three-story white house on West Shore Road, just north of Arrandale Avenue. And so it was that the Wolf family became the first Jewish family in Great Neck. Isaac Wolf, known about town as I.G., was fitted with a wooden leg and eventually graduated from Great Neck High School.  In appearance, I.G. was short and stocky, and in his business dealings, intelligent and enterprising. After graduation, I.G. worked intermittently until 1916, when he became a real estate broker. Within a few short years thereafter, he was the leading broker on the North Shore.

In 1924 I.G. went after what he was sure was going to be the real estate opportunity of a lifetime: brokering the sale of an 160-acre estate of a gentleman farmer named Roland G. Mitchell, who had died in 1906. This property encompassed what is now all of Kennilworth and went out as far as Cherry Lane.

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I.G. successfully marketed the Mitchell Land in its entirety to a group of investors known as The Wolf Group in September 1925 for $750,000 or about $5,000 an acre. The Wolf Group was made up of five member investors;Adolph Levitt, Bernard Black, Rudolf de Lisser (who owned Universal Oil), Charles Stoll (a Hicksville attorney and Arctic explorer) and Bernard Cohen. 

Initially, the Wolf group built four model houses on the property. Each home was fully furnished and decorated by Dorothy Draper. Most of the landscaping was done by John Maynard who brought up many varieties of flowering shrubs from the Carolinas.

As far as anyone knows, the first public appearance of the Kings Point enclave now known as Kennilworth was in an item that appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune on December 23, 1923:                                              

BUYERS FOR LARGE

AND SMALL ESTATES ON LONG ISLAND

Former Mitchell Property of
150 Acres at Great Neck

The property formerly known as the Roland Mitchell estate at Great Neck, L.I., comprising over 150 acres, with more than one-half mile of frontage on Long Island Sound, and the Mitchell Manor house and other buildings, has been sold through Pell &Tibbits to a corporation known as Wildwood Estates Inc. The property was held at $750,000.

Naturally, property in the American Kent is keenly sought after and waterfront property is almost unobtainable. Consequently, it is usually expensive.  There is every reason why it should be; it is inherently valuable and is linked to New York by a most satisfactory transportation system.

But this does not apply to all North Shore property. KENNILWORTH, is a notable exception. KENNILWORTH presents this gratifying anomaly; it is unquestionably the choicest residential property now available on Long Island, yet the prices, surprisingly, are lower than those being asked for inland property obviously less desirable.

Beautiful homes will distinguish this new development. Since the property is being sought in parcels of a half-acre and more, the value of the land invites construction of a harmonizing value -- a minimum of $20,000 to $25,000 according to location.

KENNILWORTH will be a group of small estates, each an architectural achievement; each a triumph of landscape gardening. The next two years will be when KENNILWORTH takes its proper place as one of America's most beautiful residential communities.

Kennilworth began to sell in earnest after these ads were placed in the New York Times. First to go were the waterfront properties, which sold in one-acre minimums at $1 a square foot or about $43,000 per acre. Among the early purchasers were John Willys of Willys Motors and Oscar Hammerstein II, the lyricist of some of Broadway's most successful musicals.

Amongst our old neighbors we can single out several noteworthy residents:

 

 Paul Wittgenstein was a world-class pianist born in Vienna, Austria in 1887. He was a very accomplished pianist but put his career on hiatus when World War I broke out in Europe and he was called to duty. Sadly, he was shot in the elbow during battle and his left arm had to be amputated. Despite this handicap, he went on to become perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most famous, one-handed pianist in history. Paul devised an extraordinary one-hand technique that permitted him to recreate the fullness generated by a two-handed pianist. He emigratedto the United States after the Nazi regime came into power and became a citizen. Paul Wittgenstein settled in Kennilworth in a Tudor house overlooking the Long Island sound.

 

 

 Marvin Hamlisch was born in New York City to Viennese Jewish parents. Hamlisch was a child prodigy; by age five he was able to accurately reproduce on his piano the music he heard on the radio. He is one of only thirteen people to have been awarded Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and a Tony (those four together are known as an EGOT). He was one of only two people to ever receive both the EGOT and also be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (the other recipient of these honors was Richard Rodgers). Marvin Hamlisch has also been honored with two Golden Globe awards. Hamlisch has created some of the best known and well-loved music of our time. His expansive collection includes the film scores for The Way We Were, The Sting, Sophie’s Choice, and Ordinary People, and the music for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical A Chorus Line.

 

Oscar Hammerstein was born Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein in New York City.His father was adamantly opposed to his son's desire to participate in the arts and as a result, Hammerstein attended Columbia University from 1912–1916. He went on to study at Columbia Law School until 1917. It was not until his father's death that he quit law school to pursue his passion in music. Throughout his career, Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards and was twice awarded an Academy Award for "Best Original Song". Many of his songs are standard repertoire for singers and jazz musicians. Additionally, Hammerstein was the credited with co-writing 850 songs. As a co-writer, Hammerstein was the lyricist and playwright in these partnerships; his collaborators wrote the music. While Hammerstein collaborated with many famous composers it was his work with Richard Rodger that garnered him the most fame.

 

 

Alan King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg in New York City on December 26 1927. His father was a Jewish emigrant from Warsaw, and his mother came to the United States from Russia. At the age of fifteen, King quit high school to pursue his love of comedy. His career picked up when he changed his own style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. King moved with his family first to Forest Hills, Queens. Later he moved to Kennilworth to the mansion formerly owned by Oscar Hammerstein. King was known for his biting wit and often angry humorous rants.  He was well known as a Jewish comedian and satirist. Alan King was also a serious actor who appeared in a number of movies and television shows. King wrote several books, produced films, and appeared in plays. In later years, he helped many philanthropic causes.

 

Murray Bloom, born in New York in 1916, was a magazine journalist and author. He earned a degree in 1938 in journalism from Columbia University. While he frequently wrote articles intended for magazine publication, he was also an established author. Bloom has been published by The New York Times, The New Republic and Harpers, among others. He authored The Trouble With Lawyers; Rogues to Riches: The Trouble With Wall Street; The Man who Stole Portugal; The Brotherhood of Money: The Secret World of Bank Note Printers; and The 13th Man. Bloom and his wife Sydelle, lived in Kennilworth from 1950-2005.  He served on the Kennilworth board and, while in that position published a newsletter for Kennilworth residents called “Inside the Gate”. He was also active in local politics and the Great Neck Public Library.

 

Norbert Schimmel was a collector of antiquities who gave an important group of ancient Egyptian reliefs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1985. Mr. Schimmel, who also backed major archeological excavations in the Middle East, was known in the antiquities field as a discerning collector possessed of a keen eye, who did not rely on curators for confirmation of his taste.  In some 35 years, he developed what is today considered one of the world's outstanding private collections of Mediterranean antiquities. He exhibited his holdings at museums throughout the world, and donated objects to many of them. Mr. Schimmel was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art advising the museum on acquisitions. In 1964, he returned two bronze objects to the Greek Government because they turned out to have been stolen from a small museum in Sparta. In 1975, 300 works from his collection were shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Always modest about his collecting, Mr. Schimmel once told an interviewer that he had unwittingly acquired fakes several times, “Show me the collector who doesn't get taken,'' he said. Mr. Schimmel was a long time residence of Kennilworth before moving to Florida for retirement.