A Twentieth Century
History of Munsey Park
(1920 - 1930)
An original work by Philip A. Atiyeh, July 1980
The modern history of Munsey Park dates to the early part of the twentieth century. The area was almost totally large estate farmland with rolling hills, natural and verdant wooded landscape abounding with small game, and only occasionally broken by developed homesites. In the case of the larger estates such as the 300 acres owned by Louis Sherry, the wealthy French confectioner, the chief residence was a prominent chateau modeled after the ‘Petit Trianon’ at Versailles . The total population in all of Manhasset at that time in the early 1920's was about 900 people.
The Sherry estate and his mansion were among the properties purchased by Frank A. Munsey in 1922 -- he remodeled and enlarged the home into its present elegant form we know as the Strathmore-Vanderbilt Country Club. Through additional purchases of small and medium sized tracts, Munsey finally amassed some 663 acres. The estate included all of the present Munsey Park, extending south across North Hempstead Turnpike (where trolley cars of the N.Y. & North Shore Traction Company had operated until My 1920) -- into the Strathmores, abutting the Nicholas Brady (Inisfada) Estates on the east and to the approximate location of Deepdale Drive on the west.
Munsey, a prominent and conservative newspaper publisher, was second, possibly, only to William R. Hearst, and through his successful papers accumulated a fortune estimated at over forty million dollars at his death in 1925. Munsey had no heirs, no family and his entire estate and assets were left to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York . The Museum, when it had recovered from the magnitude of this legacy, then sought the most effective means of converting the land into funds which could be used to enhance their superb art collections.
One portion of the Munsey lands - the Strathmore area and the magnificent chateau - was sold to Mrs. Graham Fair Vanderbilt. But the 320 acres north of the Turnpike, which Munsey had acquired only a few days before his death, were to be shaped into a model restricted community to reflect the generosity of Frank Munsey.
Almost all of the Munsey estates were vacant. One exception that provides a small historical footnote was an old barn (on the present Munsey Park School grounds) which was consumed by fire onAugust 13, 1927. It had been the training camp for the French heavyweight boxing contender, Georges Carpentier, the ‘Orchid Man’, for his memorable “ Battle of the Century” with Jack Dempsey in 1921. And Dempsey was news since he would have his controversial “long count” rematch with Gene Tunney the following month.
The syndicate engaged by the Museum for the initial land development was the Hasset Realty Company, headed by Alexander M. Bing with such other notable associates as William S. Coffin, Douglas L. Elliman and Elliot Cross. Coordinating with the Museum’s directors, a first tract of 83 acres would be converted into a prime residential community named Munsey Park (originally Munsey Meadows) to commemorate its source; the streets would be named for illustrious American artists to signify the Museum’s role. The first Section “A” included the most westerly portion from Locust Place (renamed Munsey Place in 1933) as far east as Thayer Road .
To maximize the financial return high construction standards were established with strict architectural control embodying authentic Colonial American reproductions. Street layouts conformed to the topography to preserve and enhance the natural wooded settings. Rigid “Protective Deed Restrictions” were defined prescribing lot sizes of at least 6,000 square feet (raised to 8,000 square feet in later subdivisions), only 2 ½ story, no house to cost less than $6,000, and many others. The Deed Restrictions for property west ofManhasset Woods Road ran to 1968 and east of Manhasset Woods Road to 1970, and automatically renew for additional 20 year periods unless affirmative action is taken against them.
The first group of 25 homes was actually priced from $13,500 to $18,500. To avoid architectural monotony there never were, nor are there today anywhere in the village, any adjacent or nearby homes of identical design, a factor greatly contributing to the steadiness of property values.
The first model home at 258 Park Avenue was opened on February 19, 1928 after some 3,000 invitations had been sent out. Over 2,000 people visited that first day and inquiries were received steadily. Newspaper accounts identify the two first plot sales to Leslie A. Dittman at 4 Thayer Road , and to H.W. Carroll at 322 Nassau Avenue . Both of these pioneers were to remain community leaders, Dittman later becoming a Town Councilman of North Hempstead.
From the strong initial response it was evident to Hasset Realty and the Museum that they should proceed with the second group of 15 houses planned for fall occupancy. Mr. Robert W. DeForest, president of the Metropolitan, had grasped a sound financial principle in the early development of the ‘Park’, that it should “...be an asset to the community as well as to the Museum.”
By May 1928 the model home had attracted over 10,000 visitors and when it was purchased by an architect, Robbins L. Conn, Munsey Meadows, Inc. was not tardy in pointing out this was confirmation of the high construction and design standards of these homes. In short order the cost prices rose to $16,000 to $25,000 and plot prices from $2,500 to $4,500.
Hasset Realty moved rapidly with the subdivision of Section “B” mapped May 21, 1928 . This land was directly east of the first section to Manhasset Woods Road . Including Ryder Road and Eakins Road as far south at Inness Place . The model home for Section “B” at 361 Park Avenue was heavily displayed in local advertising. Subdivision of Section “C” that November utilized the remaining lands west of Manhasset Woods Road south to North Hempstead Turnpike (today’s Route 25A), including Bellows Lane, Stuart Place and Hunt Lane as well as the southern extension of Eakins Road. The Section “C” model home was at 99 Manhasset Woods Road .
This third subdivision also outlined a district for business use -- now the Munsey Park Shopping Centerat the foot of Manhasset Woods Road . This was not the first actually proposed, however for a November 1927 site plan indicated that the entire frontage on Locust Place (Munsey Place) would be for business, as well as all four corners at the intersection of Park Avenue with Manhasset Woods Road.The “Protective Restrictions” effectively rezoned these two areas into completely residential districts.
By January 1929 not only was a community growing, but a community spirit and character as well. Mr. H.W. Carroll, the gentleman who had bought one of the first plots, invited a meeting of residents to consider means of gathering together from time to time. Fifty four of his neighbors attended and soon coalesced into the Munsey Park Association with a concern for “the future of the section”. Mr. Carroll most appropriately became the first elected president of this group, which a full half century later continues with the same worthy dedication.
The ‘Park’ was at the same time a growing segment of the Town of North Hempstead as well as ofNassau County . And their plans for growth called for creation of sewer and other special districts. The Manhasset Sewer District was formed in April 1929 encompassing what is now Plandome Heights , MunseyPark , part of Flower Hill, as well as properties on both sides of North Hempstead Turnpike.
Both Munsey Park and Plandome Heights opposed sewering, and initiated proceedings leading to incorporation as villages with their own local government and home rule. John E. O’Shea who wrote a history ofNorth Hempstead in 1968 stated, “The values of incorporation, in terms of local autonomy, are many but the most highly valued by the “Estate Villages” was the power to establish a local zoning ordinance. The CountyCharter of 1936 preserved this right for all existing incorporated villages but denied it to all that might come into existence after that date: accordingly, no incorporated villages have been created in North Hempstead since 1936.”
On January 27, 1930 out of 175 eligible voters 155 turned out and with only 3 negative votes legalized the incorporation of Munsey Park , to take effect 20 days later. When the results were announced MunseyPark had its first parading of cars with tooting horns and happy cries.
At the official village election held March 1, 1930 at the Park Avenue model home Herman Block of 60 Thayer Road became the first Mayor of the Incorporated Village of Munsey Park. Almost immediately thereafter Munsey Park exercised its option to withdraw from the Manhasset Sewer District and the Manhasset Parking District (no connection with the present Manhasset Park District). When Plandome joined with MunseyPark in its withdrawal the Manhasset Sewer District was to all effects stillborn and soon disappeared from the scene. Munsey Park elected to remain in the Fire and Water District, as well as the Police District of North Hempstead.
In addition to four elected Village Trustees and the Mayor, management of local government required as well such appointed officials as Clerk, Police Justice, Treasurer, Registrar of Vital Statistics; later officials have included a Health Officer, Superintendent of Public Works, Building Inspector, Village Counsel, Planning Board, Assessors, Dogwarden, and several others.
The confections were French - Mr. Sherry was from Maine according to a memorial to Mr. Munsey published at his death.