Driving down Round Swamp Road in Old Bethpage – or better yet walking – it’s possible to get a glimpse of Old Manhattan, circa 1882. In summer, woods covered the site to the east of the Museum of American Armor, but right now, behind a parking lot Museum and earth embankment, the edifice appears: a gilded mansion on the west side of re-established 61st Street, and to the east, out of line of sight, a row of brownstones.
This is where HBO’s “The Gilded Age” (which launches Monday at 9 p.m.) was filmed in 2020 and concluded last summer. It’s a little piece of Hollywood in your own backyard, or if you live on nearby Kingswood or Willow Road, this piece of Hollywood is right in your backyard.
Lots of TV shows are filmed on Long Island, but none as widely as this; Incidentally, the sensual interior of this aforementioned mansion fills an entire acoustic theater at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage. Dozens of buildings, or their exterior facades, as well as the Potemkin village train station and ferry terminal, were erected on this site two years ago. They will stay there, perhaps for years or seasons to come.
Gary Lowe, Vice President of the American Armor Museum, who made an intervention for the production team when they were gone here, described the collection as “nothing short of extraordinary.”
He is not mistaken. Even by true Hollywood standards, this place would be impressive. It is a pure reconstruction of a bygone world, presumably as if it had just been minted yesterday, with the sharp edifices of these gold-lined buildings.
This was (or is) the Gilded Age, after all. gold condition.
HBO declined to offer a site tour because it stopped early last summer after production ended. But it’s easy enough to see in the extended trailer, Released in December. “New York is a bunch of villages,” says Agnes van Rijn of Christine Baranski—think Old Money’s widow with a stiff upper lip—in the voiceover. “The old one was in power from before the revolution until the conquest of the new people.”
Ah, yes, those “new people”, namely fictional railroad baron George Russell (Morgan Spector), and his very ambitious wife, Berta (Carrie Coon). For Agnes, they are clichés with a lot of money who are desperate to make their way into the frigid and dislocated upper classes of Manhattan society. They built this gaudy mansion across the street out of its old (or faded) beauty.
With a few exceptions, nearly every scene in that 2:17 trailer was filmed in this segment or at Gold Coast studios six miles away.
Last summer, “There were occasions when they were preparing for the 1890s, and we were running [World War II-era] “The other way around, you were looking for Rod Serling,” says Lioy.
Dozens of TV shows, of course, have filmed on Long Island over the years, from “The Affair” to “Z: The Beginning of Everything” (about Zelda Fitzgerald). They come here to enjoy the scenery (mostly the water) or the atmosphere (in a word, the Hamptons.) They set up their cameras, take their beautiful pictures, and then they disappear – until they need more beautiful pictures.
For a complex set of reasons, the “gilded age” was different. When Julian Fellowes and longtime production partner Gareth Niamh decided to pursue an ’80s-era drama they knew they needed proximity to New York City, the cradle of the age, but also the glories of the remainder, of which a few remain. Existing on Long Island and elsewhere, including Jay Gould’s broad white elephant, Lyndhurst, in Tarrytown. They also needed access to older homes, such as Lawrence’s Rock Hall (1767), which can also be seen in that trailer.
Moreover, they needed a place that could double in Central Park circa 1882, the year the so-called Triple Mansions were built along Millionaire Street on Fifth Avenue. Obviously, this means that there can be no skyscrapers looming over the trees. The landscape should also be relatively flat, with mature trees. The site scouts quickly settled on the grounds of the ancient Bethpage Restoration Village for this purpose.
“We knew there would be a bunch of places here and in some ways, it would be,” David Crockett, executive producer as well as direct producer on “The Gilded Age” — which means, among other things, he’s the head of all aspects of physical production — said in a recent phone interview. Much of it is more photogenic than anywhere else in the country, with the exception of Newport, Rhode Island, which also gets an extensive close-up shot in “The Gilded Age.”
“But you are also reminded that it was set one hundred and forty years ago. The challenge was not only to find a building that existed from 1880 or 1900, but also to question whether the interior and exterior looked structurally as it did at the time. It looks antique – but it’s modern.”
He added: “Our story is really a New Money/Money story, on 61st and 5th Avenue where Old Money Van Rhijns lived and grew up and then came 1882, and a place across the street emerges not unlike Doris Duke’s. [the Benjamin N. Duke House at E. 82nd Street] or grits [E. 70th] The mansions erected on Fifth Avenue at that time. This kind of place was not found for filming, so we quickly chose to build early. “
For the interiors of the Russell Mansion, HBO and production company Universal TV contracted Gold Coast, which owns the largest sound theater on the East Coast. (Apple+’s Dickinson movie, which was recently wrapped, was also partially filmed.) However, the outside will be the tricky part.
After production settled in Old Bethpage, Crockett and HBO began negotiating with Nassau County to build a collection on 6.25 acres of land adjacent to the museum—land that was once crawled with M18 Hellcats or M48 Pattons. Lowe and the Museum Board agreed to move the tanks south, and then in late November 2019, HBO reached a deal that would pay the county $600,000 in annual permit fees for the land. It also promised job opportunities, educational “opportunities” at local schools, and a plan to build sports fields on the site when “The Golden Age” is gone.
During production last spring, then Nassau County executive Laura Curran went to the completed set, telling Newsday that “I visited this location not too long ago.” [and] It is really amazing. “Besides that recreated slice of Manhattan, what Curran and passers-by saw can still be huge green screens. These screens are used to digitally recreate scenes that a group can, no matter how luxuriously built they are. One of those scenes, no matter how luxuriously built, these screens are used to digitally recreate scenes,” Crockett says. Special Effects Producers created the turbulent waters of the Hudson River.)
What happens when the ‘golden age’ ends, as all shows should? “Hopefully we’ll be back in Old Bethbag and Gold Coast for a second season, God willing,” Crockett says, then adds, “God willing, and if the coronavirus subsides a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Liu hopes his new neighbor will continue to exist. “Although I am not an expert in construction, they have created a lot of background stuff that will last for years to come and will accommodate many seasons. [of the ‘The Gilded Age’]. “
He adds, “It could easily be repurposed years from now, long after a successful streak. This is a unique asset to New York, and certainly one of a kind on Long Island.”