Think of the time it will save the busy man of affairs, who likes to crowd into each day a bit of relaxation. He will leave downtown at Three O' clock in the afternoon, take the subway to a garage within striking distance of the new Blackwells Island - East River Bridge. In twenty minutes a 60 horse power car will have him at the 59th street bridge western terminus of the motor parkway. Here a card of admission passes him through the gates, speed limits are left behind, the great white way is before him and with the throttle open he can go, go, go,and keep going fifty, sixty or ninety miles an hour until Riverhead or Southampton is reached.
I want to tell you a bit about what Vanderbilt had built for himself out on Long Island and the events that surrounded it, because when Walter T came rolling down Willie K's private road, all this groundwork set Walt on the path to success that changed everything. Had this not happened, there probably would not be a Shirley, LI. and many of you would of had to live someplace else.
The Long Island Motor Parkway was originally built for Willie's need for speed. He had grand estates all over Long Island like Idle Hour in Oakdale and Eagles Nest in Centerport. His Vanderbilt Cup Auto Races that were first held on public roads and were killing spectators and participants needed a place with some sort of traffic control. Vanderbilt sent his guy Paddington out to buy up land to build a state of the art concrete road right down the middle of LI. When it wasn't being used for racing ( which was 99% of the time ) it became a private toll road with no speed limit and no police. A decade later this proved to be very attractive to the bootleg industry that wanted to expedite moving their wares from eastern Long Island into NYC in the least unhampered way.
It was a beautiful limited access road with the toll gate entrances designed by John Russell Pope. Reknowned architect Pope (who designed Knapp's Tenacre) also designed for Willie an inn known as "Petit Trianon" to be situated on the shores of Lake Ronkonkoma for Vanderbilt's guests when they reached the end of the road. Vanderbilt actually sent Pope to France to eyeball the original "Petit Trianon" chateau to incorporate in his design. Money was no object.
Money became an object during the depression however which changed everything for everyone including the super rich who found themselves being slightly hampered by taxes. When the huge estates started to break up into developments, Willie K commented "his era is passing and it will never return". Besides the depression, another major factor that wound up changing things was chairman of the State Parks, Robert Moses and his plans for Long Island.
With the power of the state of New York and imminent domain behind him, Moses pretty much was able to build what he wanted, where he wanted. His free Northern and Southern State parkways took most of the traffic away from L I M P and Willie found himself with a white elephant and a mounting tax bill. He originally offered the LIMP to the state for free and Moses let it slide. Various municipalities in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk began to cherry pick what they wanted and it wound up getting sliced and diced.
And then along came Walter Turnbull Shirley. What follows is Shirley's owns words (and my observations) culled from his various reminiscences about the Vanderbilt deal that he gave to the media in the the late 1940's and 50's.
I talked my way into an appointment to see Mr. Vanderbilt. He was a pretty old man by then... ( HE WAS ONLY 59 WALT.... GEEZ ) I told him I was interested in his property around Lake Ronkonkoma. He said he had about 100,000 invested out there and asked what figure I had in mind............ (changing the subject a bit)
I saw a solid gold horse shoe on his desk and asked about it. It turned out to be a memento from the great heavyweight boxer Fitzsimmons and before you knew it, we were comparing notes on all the great fights of the century. (Shirley had been hanging around with all these guys from his days at Billy LaHiff's Tavern which was the New York mecca for prizefighters) Next thing you know I'm showing him how Dempsey KO'd Firpo and Pancho Villa lost to Jimmy McLarnin ..... well an hour must of passed before he restated his initial question and finally said "Well Wally how much can you really afford?" ......... his cashier almost fainted when Willie K told him Mr. Shirley will be paying us $8,000.00 for the Ronkonkoma property.
To recall Paul Simon's 59th St Bridge Song , when Walter T left Willie K's office he had to be "FEELING GROOVY"