Written by John Owens, firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday, 30 January 2014 00:00
When the demolition team attacked the 72,000-square-foot mansion Inisfada late last year, a lot more than just bricks and oak timbers were shattered. So was an important monument in the history of American women, says Chuck Idol.
“The house really was dedicated to women and Mrs. Brady’s fight for women’s rights,” the Port Washington resident said of Genevieve Brady, who with her husband, industrialist Nicholas Brady, started construction on the Manhasset mansion in 1916, finishing it four years later.
“When they were going to tear the house down, everyone said it had no history,” said Idol. “But that wasn’t true.”
And Idol proves it with hundreds of pages of evidence.
The 57-year-old owner of a technology company (Long Island Builders), Idol grew up in Manhasset, and is a 1974 graduate of St. Mary’s High School. About 20 years ago, he and his wife settled in Maryland. And when they moved back to this area last year, it was just as the mansion was being sold to a Hong Kong developer.
“I was stunned,” he said, and immediately joined with Manhasset activist Richard Bentley and local civic groups to save the building.
“There must have been a thousand things that could have been done with it,” he said of the property, but Inisfada’s fate was sealed by the notion that it was a white elephant with no historical value.
Idol started looking into the history of the place and the people who built it.
“The history started to unfold,” he said of his research at the Manhasset and Port Washington public libraries, as well as on the internet and in more than a dozen books he bought.
“We wouldn’t have X-rays without Mrs. Brady,” he said. “She funded Madame Curie. Not once, but twice.”
Idol cites a litany of contributions Mrs. Brady made to the Girl Scouts, the suffrage movement and other women’s causes. In fact, Idol says, the mansion was built with not only Catholicism in mind (for instance, 33 chimneys signifying Jesus’ age when he died), but also women. Joan of Arc led an architectural hagiography of women saints represented in the house and on the grounds.
Idol shares his research on the website www.inisfada.org. He also has compiled a 183-page paperback and e-book. (Go to the website for details). Amazon offers a Kindle version.
Idol stresses that what he’s produced is a “research document,” but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating reading.
There are newspaper clippings from the early 20th century, dozens of glorious color photos of the mansion and its details, and well-presented overviews of world affairs during this period.
Idol also offers wonderful little gems of history. For instance, the last port of call for the Titanic before it sank in 1912 was the island Inis Fada (Long Island) off Cork, Ireland. As one word, Idol says, Inisfada means “between” in Gaelic. “Between Heaven and Earth” is an interpretation he offers.
There’s no question but that Inisfada was an unheralded historic structure.
“I think that if my book had existed when Inisfada was being sold, it would have created more pressure to save it,” he said.