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Old Westbury Gardens: the filming location of Hitch and American Gangster

Nikola Petrovski
 Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

In the year 1874, within the borders of the Allegheny in Pennsylvania, a young boy was born to Anne Childs Shaffer and Henry Phipps. His name was John Shaffer Phipps or simply “Jay,” as his parents often called him. Being a son of a wealthy entrepreneur meant that Jay was exposed to his father’s business practices from an early age – something that would prove useful later in life.

The course of his life was such that once his father departed from this world, John became the heir of the estate known as Old Westbury Gardens. And this is the story of the mansion that with time will inspire a number of movie directors including Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese and American media companies such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. to create some classic films.

John Shaffer Phipps. Author: Bain – Library of Congress Public Domain

John Shaffer Phipps. Author: Bain – Library of Congress Public Domain

The birth of this mansion came as a simple promise in 1903. It was John that made a promise to Margarita, his cherished fiancée that he would build her a home so splendid that would even surpass Battle Abbey itself, the initial home of Margarita. The two of them met on an estate that Jay’s family owned and fell in love. It was on their wedding day that Jay gave his word.

A walk towards the house/ Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

A walk towards the house/ Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

And John remained loyal to his word. He hurriedly set forth to find an architect. He settled to go with George A. Crawley, an artist and designer of British origin. And three years later, the mansion done in Charles II-style was completed. It contained 23 rooms and was part of a bigger 647,000 square meters estate, all done in the name of love.

Bucolic setting in Old Westbury Gardens in New York/ Author: DistlejPublic Domain

Bucolic setting in Old Westbury Gardens in New York/ Author: DistlejPublic Domain

Placed on a gentle slope, the house to this day remains as beautiful as in its heyday. The official entrance to the house is found on its northwest side, adorned with lindens that unavoidably lead the eye of a guest towards the house itself. Once there, one may stand on the South Terrace and enjoy the view over verdant gardens and polo fields.

Interior of the house. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

Interior of the house. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

But this gardens would never have looked this way do if Margarita had not taken part in its design. It was she who designed the west and east rooms of the garden. But she wasn’t alone in this endeavor, for assistance came from Guy Lowell, the celebrated American landscape architect.

Close-up of the mansion. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

Close-up of the mansion. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

Together they both worked on the north avenue of the garden that was intended to be used for horseback riding. The mansion, the gardens, and the estate, in general, is part of the Gold Coast Estates; the major difference, though, is that the Old Westbury Gardens, unlike the rest, doesn’t have access to Long Island’s waters. This detail is what separates this estate from the rest giving it the bucolic feel of the English countryside.

Old Westbury Gardens. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

Old Westbury Gardens. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

The estate remained in use until 1959 when it was opened to the public by Mrs. Phipps Boegner herself. Today, the mansion is used as a museum and guided tours are held regularly, offering the visitor a chance to travel to an English countryside set in New York.

Given its appearance, the house and the gardens were used as a filming location for a number of movies the likes of which include; North by Northwest by Alfred Hitchcock, The Age of Innocence by Martin Scorsese, and The Manchurian Candidate by Jonathan Demme, starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.

Detail of the mansion facade. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

Detail of the mansion facade. Author: Gryffindor CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Furthermore, there is Hitch starring Will Smith and Eva Mendes, and American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. Even Baz Luhrmann drew his inspiration from this estate to create his version of The Great Gatsby.