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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bulldozers razed a storied mansion where F. Scott Fitzgerald partied and which some say inspired his novel 'The Great Gatsby,' leaving just a few chimneys standing on Long Island's Gold Coast on Monday.
The Lands End mansion was built in the early 20th century in Sands Point, New York, overlooking the waters of Long Island Sound. In the 1920s it became the home of Herbert Bayard Swope, the executive editor of the New York World and an acquaintance of many of the luminaries who came to define the Roaring Twenties, including Fitzgerald.
But in recent years it had stood empty, a reminder that fabulously wealthy hedonists known for their decadent parties have found other playgrounds around the world.
"This is the last little bit of this glamour, the Gatsby era, the flapper age, and they're tearing it down," said Monica Randall, who regularly ambled through Gold Coast estates on horseback as a teenager in the early 1960s and later wrote books about the area's gilded homes.
Bert Brodsky, the founder and chairman of a healthcare technology company, bought the Colonial Revival-style mansion in 2004 from Virginia Kraft Payson, a breeder of thoroughbred horses. She wanted $50 million; he paid $17.5 million. Brodsky had hoped to move into the 21,000-square-foot property with its two dozen or so rooms but his family thought otherwise.
"My wife felt the house was far too big for us at our stage of life," he said. It soon went back on the market but found no serious takers. "People would say, 'I don't want to live in an enormous house.'"
Brodsky then began seeking permission to divide up the 13 acres of property on which the mansion sits and build five "relatively normal-sized" houses, by which he means 11,000 square feet or so.
The process took several years -- and the mansion stayed on the market the whole time -- but local authorities granted permission earlier this year. They said the building was not landmarked and public hearings on the planned demolition produced little outcry. Bulldozers arrived on Saturday and by Monday all that stood were a few brick chimneys, with demolition to be completed on Tuesday.
It remains open to debate whether Fitzgerald was thinking of Lands End when he described the "cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay" in which lived Daisy and Tom Buchanan, central characters in 'The Great Gatsby.' (For one thing, Lands End was all-white.)
True believers, like Ruth Prigozy, the executive director of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society and the editor of the Oxford University Press edition of 'The Great Gatsby,' say that Fitzgerald had attended Swope's parties at the home while he was writing his novel and that the view and the way the property juts out into the water is "very much as Fitzgerald describes."
Naysayers, like Village Clerk Randy Bond, say that is ridiculous.
"It was a nice old house but it's totally ludicrous. Daisy Buchanan's house was visible from Great Neck. This one isn't," Bond said.
Brodsky, the owner, thought it probably wasn't the same house, but added: "It's a wonderful feeling to believe it really is the one. Let everybody believe what they want to believe. Why take away a nice thought?"
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune