In its halcyon days, the estate of Clarence and Katherine Mackay was a Xanadu-like domain which spanned nearly 700 acres.
The couple received the land as a wedding present from the groom’s father, John Mackay, a prominent industrialist and Irish immigrant who made his fortune in the Comstock Lode silver mines. They dubbed the estate Harbor Hill. The main house, completed in 1902, was designed to emulate the style of a French castle. Clarence and Katherine filled their home with art and luxury, employing multiple decorators — until Katherine ran away with a doctor who had treated Clarence for throat cancer.
A traditionally-raised Irish Catholic, Clarence refused to remarry until after Katherine’s death. Regardless, by the 1920s Clarence was a sought-after host, and threw lavish parties for high-society figures. Among them: the Prince of Wales, and Charles Lindbergh upon returning from his legendary New York-to-Paris solo flight. Clarence also disinherited his daughter, Ellin, when to his great disapproval, she married the famous songwriter Irving Berlin.
Then in 1929, the stock market crashed. The next eight years brought hardship for the Mackays. Clarence remarried after Katherine’s death in 1930, but Harbor Hill’s massive acreage soon became impossibly expensive to maintain. In 1938, when he was 64 years old, Clarence left Harbor Hill for the last time. He died only four days later, of cancer. The Mackay property passed to his son, who did not have the funds to take care of it. Harbor Hill fell into disrepair. The main house was demolished in 1947 and the rest of the land was sold to a developer seven years later.
Most of the Mackay property was developed as the Country Estates neighborhood. The Gate Lodge became part of a swim and tennis club that was open to the 500-household enclave. The recreational facility operated until 2006 before being sold to another developer in 2009.
Today, one of the only remnants of Harbor Hill stands folded into the residential neighborhood. The Mackay Gate House, a miniature version of the French Baroque main house, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It endures, abandoned, fronted by an imposing iron gate. Stretched out behind the gate are the shambling ruins of the public pool and changing rooms. These have been tagged and illustrated by countless local graffiti artists.
The Village of East Hills bought the structure in 2017 with the stated goal of preserving it, according to the mayor, as “the proudest symbol of our past, and the rich grandeur once enjoyed in the early 1900s.”
Know Before You Go
This is private property and “No Trespassing” signs abound. Parking may be available near the athletic fields adjacent to Roslyn High School, on the other side of Harbor Hill Road.