Entering the grand hallway of the Coe Hall estate for the annual holiday party, guest were greeted with champagne and wine by waiters holding silver platters, while a guitarist and violinist played Christmas songs. For the first time, the Christmas tree was real and the fragrance of Douglas fir wafted through the home while the enormous stone fireplaces crackled and popped with roaring fires casting a warm glow in the castle like rooms. Standing guard was a knight in shining armor properly attired with a garland around his neck, while the head of a deer hanging on the wall donned festive balls on its antlers. If you missed this fabulous event, which gets better each year, not to worry—there are plenty more parties coming up in the future months showcasing this magnificent Gold Coast estate in Oyster Bay.
Greeting the 220 guests at the front door was Henry Joyce, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation, who was ecstatic with the turnout for the event.
“We have been doing this party for 30 years; I have been doing it for seven years. Each year it gets bigger and better. We have a fabulous group of guests and the house looks glorious,” said Joyce. “In many ways, Planting Fields and Coe Hall have never looked as good as they do now.”
He said that after William Coe’s death in 1955, Coe Hall became a school that “didn’t quite work out” and then it became a museum. In the last 10 years, Coe Hall and the park have become an exact recreation of the way the grounds looked in the l930s and ’40s.
“It is a great accomplishment for New York State parks and our foundation and trustees who have worked so hard to give the sensibility of its house in its heyday. We have beautiful Christmas trees throughout the house, the fires are lit, there are candles on the buffet tables and there is a sense that the house is flourishing in a way that it did not do right after Mr. Coe died 50 years ago and now it does again and we are going to keep it that way.”
The holiday party is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Coe Hall. Joyce discussed upcoming events.
“We are having a big weekend in July, a summer garden festival which we never did before to celebrate the park,” said Joyce. “There will be all sorts of activities for families and children. I will be doing a lecture series in March for three weeks on English country houses and gardens. For the first time, we will be celebrating the Chinese New Year on Feb. 13 and 14. The house will be decorated with lanterns and there will be demonstrations of Chinese Opera and music, crafts for children to do. It’s a first for us to celebrate the lunar New Year in 2016.”
Hal Davidson of Mill Neck, president of the board of trustees, admired the decorations with his guest Karen Davis, of Hamburg, Germany and his wife Sally.
“It feels more like a private party and not just a benefit,” Davidson said, commenting on the new changes to the estate.”The sensory garden, which was added in the spring, has been very popular and the new parking lot will be a major improvement.”
Each room was filled with live music, food and drink. There was an oyster bar in the living room, a sushi station with a jazz band in the grand ball room, and the barber shop quartet Quatrain sang throughout the house.
Enjoying the evening was Margaret Frere with her husband, William, who travel between their homes in Switzerland and Wyoming. She is the great-granddaughter of William Coe and also has a special connection to the house because she was married in the gardens of Coe Hall this past summer. As a board member, she has attended these parties many times.
“I think this party really brings the spirit of what Christmas was when my great-grandfather was alive. I think preserving this home is so important,” said Frere. “I don’t think they make things like this anymore. It was such an important period in America, so when you come out here you will be able to experience what life was like back then. “
In attendance and enjoying the sushi bar were Angela Susan Anton, publisher of Anton Media Group, along with Dr. Barbara Capozzi of Garden City.
“I think it is beautiful to open up this house to the public and show people what Christmas is all about and to experience what it must have been like to live here during that time period,” said Anton.
Nina Jennings and Randolph Harrison of Mill Neck warmed themselves by the grand fireplace in the living room. Jennings’ husband had a special connection to the house. “My husband Jack Jennings was very good friends with the son of the man who built this house. He used to climb the trees and play hide and seek in this house when he was a young boy. I think they have done a wonderful job with this house over the years. It’s amazing and wonderful to keep so much of this land free, with the beautiful running paths that so many of us use. The house lends itself so beautifully to these parties and it is a great place for everyone to get together.”
Ann Watters of Oyster Bay shared laughs with a few of her friends and shared her thoughts on the party.
“It is an extraordinary event and a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge the importance of this institution and this land and what it means to the community,” Watters said. “It is a beautiful resource.”
“I have come to this party several times and I love it every time,” said Dr. Abby Aronowitz, psychologist from Oyster Bay. “The best part of being here is that we share the same values. I am a preservationist and a total nature lover. It’s an important part of Long Island History.”
To learn more about upcoming events and parties at Planting Fields and Coe Hall, visit www.plantingfields.org.