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Stores and Offices

Throughout the Village are numerous historic stores and office buildings ranging from the late 1800s to the late 20th century. At the time of their construction they were quickly noted by the architectural critics of the time as leaders in the Village’s development. The first of these sites was the c. 1870 Robertson Block, now the home of Dunkin Donuts and other eateries, which was the first major commercial operation in the Village. Like other buildings constructed in the late 19th century, it was a Victorian frame structure with simple Italianate style details such as the narrow windows with 2 over 2 panes, larger bay windows, scrolled brackets and wooden fish-scale shingles. It once housed the Village post office, bakery and the general store, and was also the ticket office for the Long Island Rail Road, which opened in 1860. The building also had a handsome full length porch that no longer stands.

The Robertson Block, landmarked by the Village in 2006, paved the way for other commercial buildings. They included 11 Middle Neck Road, prominently located at the corner of Middle Neck Road and N. Station Plaza. Also known as the Grace Building, a high-style Victorian brick edifice constructed in c. 1913 by architect James O’Connor, who went on to build 8 Bond Street, also known as the Thomaston Building. Both structures are listed on the local, state and national registers. These structures were financed by William R. Grace, a wealthy industrialist who was once mayor of New York City. He later moved to Great Neck with his wife Lillius Grace, for whom Thomaston was named.

The Grace building included several ground-floor storefronts that housed the village’s freight and shipping office, while the Thomaston Building was home to the Grace family’s real estate operations and at one time Village Hall. The English style edifices are based on similar structures in Kew Gardens, England, which the Grace family greatly admired. In leasing the building, the Grace family strictly prohibited slaughter houses, blacksmith shops or tanneries.

There were other commercial buildings built during the early 20th century in Great Neck, making it a center of development and investment. They included 1 Cutter Mill Road, a striking terra cotta store built c. 1926, that replaced the Thomaston House Hotel, 24 Middle Neck Road, which has similar features to the Grace Building including a pyramid roof and brick façade, and the Nassau Building, located at 45 Middle Neck, which once housed Woolworth’s Department Store and the Great Neck Real Estate Board. A Tudor Revival commercial block dominates the west side of Middle Neck Road between Maple Avenue and Cedar Drive, containing the Squire Theatre and several small stores including a candy stand. New businesses including bakeries and tea rooms also proliferated, as seen at 43 South Middle Neck Road, the former home of Benkert’s Bakery.

During the Depression there was a construction lull in the Village that ended in the late 1930s, as the federal government spent millions of dollars nationwide on public buildings. The most prominent example of public investment was the new United States Post Office, designed by William Dewey Foster and Louis Simon in 1939, listed on the local, state and national registers. With the end of the Depression came a flurry of commercial buildings that coincided with residential development in the Village and neighboring towns. In the 1950s several stores opened on Bond Street and Middle Neck Road including Frederick’s Luncheonette at 9-11 Bond Street, and 10 Grace Avenue, across from Frederick’s, constructed in 1950 by architect Manoug Exerjian. The two streamlined modern buildings are both locally designated landmarks and are part of the Bond Street Historic District. Notable features on 10 Grace Avenue include the curved façade and original 2nd story windows with a bas-relief sculpture at its Grace Avenue entrance.

Perhaps the most notable post-war commercial site built in the Village was the Wanamakers’ Department store, constructed in 1950 by Sol Atlas as part of the Gardens of Great Neck shopping center. The store is now home to Waldbaums supermarket. Atlas hoped that the center at Middle Neck & Great Neck Road would preserve the beautiful trees, yet offer shoppers a memorable experience. The 3-story structure included a 2-story show window, two elevators and parking for 500 cars. Wanamakers was replaced by Stern’s Department store in 1955 and later by Gertz Department Store.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s new storefronts began sprouting along Middle Neck Road south of the train station. These simple 1-story businesses replaced elaborate gardens that were once part of the Wychwood complex on Barstow Road. While surrounding villages adopted the “strip stores” the Village of Great Neck Plaza refrained from duplicating this style. Instead it continued to focus on new innovative styles, such as the Spector Building located at 3 Grace Avenue. This office building was immediately recognized as a symbol of the simplified yet modernized structure, designed by the Spector Group. Distinguishing features include its expansive glass façade and open interior promenade that provides for pedestrian traffic and retail space.

In conclusion, the Village of Great Neck Plaza is an excellent example of architectural history as seen in commercial developments. Like other municipalities, it contains a wide spectrum of architectural styles that suited specific commercial needs which continue to dominate this historic community.
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