Jun 30 2014

Mystery Foto #74 Solved: The C.K.G. Billings “Farnesworth” Garage in Locust Valley

Steve Babinsky provided this week's Mystery Foto of an estate garage located in Nassau County which is still standing today.

Answers to Mystery Foto questions:

-Where is the garage located?

The garage is still standing and located on Planting Fields Road in Locust Valley (sometimes the address is designated as Matinecock, Upper Brookville and Oyster Bay).

-Who built the garage?

The garage was part of the Farnesworth estate built for C.K.G. (Cornelius Kingsley Garrison) Billings from 1914-1915.

-Who later owned the estate and stored his large car collection in the garage?

Farnesworth was used as a part-time war time hospital in 1918. Around 1924, it was purchased by a Standard Oil heir Wallis Clinton Bird and his wife Marjorie Winifred Kendall. Wallis kept a spectacular collection of cars in the garage. Bird's collection and the tragic deaths associated with the family will be posted tomorrow.

-What year was the photo taken? 

The reverse side of the photo notes the "Billings Estate", indicating the photo was taken from 1915 to 1918. A close-up of one of the cars in the photo appears to be a 1915 New York license plate. My best guess is 1915.

-Identify the automobiles

None of the cars were identified on the reverse side of the photo. See the comments below for the best guesses from our "Mystery Foto" experts.


Congrats to Art Kleiner, Ariejan Bos, and John Hammond for identifying the Farnesworth garage. Kudos to Ariejan and Hugh Nutting for attempting to identify the automobiles and Art Kleiner for forwarding article on Wallace Bird which will be posted tomorrow.



Howard Kroplick

C.K.G. (Cornelius Kingsley Garrison) Billings (1861-1937)

Location of the garage in relation to the mansion.

The Farnesworth Garage Today

The stables and garage are still standing today and are available for $2.999 million

The garage is still used to store some automobiles.

Vintage view of the garage

An outside view of the garage.

Automobile Close-Ups


Jun 27 2014 Ted 12:27 PM

Howard- Slight error here, this is Mystery#74
From Howard Kroplick

Ted, good catch!

Jun 27 2014 Art Kleiner 9:44 PM

A very interesting story lies behind this picture.  Marriage, plane crash, murder, haunted houses.  Howard, I’m sending you some background info. that others might enjoy reading.  Plenty of material on the web also!  Thanks for an interesting research task!

Where is the garage located? The garage was part of the Farnsworth Estate in Matinecock and still exists today as a private residence. 

-Who built the garage?  The garage was built for C.K.G. Billings of Union Carbide by Guy Lowell in 1915. 

-Who later owned the estate and stored his large car collection in the garage?  Estate was later owned by Wallis Bird, a Standard Oil heir, who stored his car collection there.  After Bird’s death in a plane crash his wife moved abroad but continued to own the estate and the cars remained in the garage.  After her death (in which her Dr. was found guilty)  the cars were auctioned off in 1962.  One car was actually purchased by Austin Clark for $1750 - a 1928 Bugatti two seater.  And in 1966 the estate was demolished, but the garage was spared and lives on today (but not as a garage)! 

-What year was the photo taken? Let’s say 1962, the year of the auction.

-Identify the automobiles - I’ll let others exactly ID the cars but those sold at auction included the Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Hispano Suizas, Dusenberry Model J, Stutz Bearcat, and an Alfa Romeo. 

Hope everyone had a good topic this weekend!

Jun 29 2014 frank femenias 2:36 AM

Wow, what a garage and collection! Don’t know off hand but hope to come back with more. There’s even antlers hanging on the walls, sheez.

Jun 29 2014 Ariejan Bos 10:48 AM

In the garage we see on the left two Delaunay-Bellevilles, probably from around 1910. The other cars all appear to be Cranes of around 1913.
The garage belonged to the Farnsworth Estate at Locust Valley, LI. The estate was built in 1915 by Cornelius Billings, founder of the Union Carbide Company. The year of the photo could well be 1915 also.
Billings, who was a a real “horseman”, nonetheless had a large car park, which he ordered mainly through Brewster & Co., located in Long Island City, NY. Brewster was the New York distributor for Delaunay-Belleville from about 1905. After a large number of Delaunay-Bellevilles and a few Renaults, Billings next bought a series of Cranes, which were also bodied by Brewster. Crane is better known from the name of the merged companies Crane and Simplex. 
Interesting is that all cars but one (a Delaunay) are equipped with Universal Shock Eliminators, a telescopic-like shock absorbing device with two springs inside. The U.S.E. Inc. was located in New York City (Wall Street and/or Broadway) from around 1913. U.S.E. director was Samuel H. Shaw, who was formerly racing manager of the Darracq Automobile Company and who was involved next in the Rainier Automobile Company. Besides, Shaw was involved in the organisation of the Long Island Auto Derby in 1909 and of the Brighton Beach 24 hr race in the same year.
The Farnsworth property was later owned by Standard Oil heir Wallace Clinton Bird, who died in an air crash in 1941. He appeared to have stored in the 27-car garage a large collection of automobiles (consisting of Duesenbergs, Mercedes, Bugattis and Hispano-Suizas), which were auctioned only after more than 20 years, on May 12, 1962.

Jun 29 2014 hugh nutting 6:49 PM

It is the Green Farms estate where the Vanderbilts once had a home. In 1861 Decan F. T. Bradford bought it. His family lived there into the 5th generation. Lucie Bradford married Briggs S. Cunningham II in the 1930s and the garage was home for his car collection. One of Lucie’s aunts married Robert Thurlow Vanderbilt and father was an executive at Standard Oil.

The first car looks to be about a 1910/11 Franklin next is a Brewster bodied towncar likely with a Knight engine. The 4th one is a Pierce-Arrow 66. There are a couple more Pierces farther down the line likely Model 48s.  This must have been about 1913 or 1914.

Jun 30 2014 John E. Hammond 11:39 AM

Howard, I spent much time in these buildings as a youth; the buildings were built by the estate’s original owner, C.K. Billings. In the 1920s the estate was given as a wedding present to Winifred Bird by her father. The building on the left in the photo was for the automobile collection the one on the right in the photo was for the estate maintenance equipment. When I was a kid in the 1940s Bird’s collection of cars included a Bugatti, two Duesenbergs and several others. They were all auctioned off in the 1950s. The cars in the photo are before my time, probably in the 1920s and I can’t identify any of them.

Jun 30 2014 John E. Hammond 11:42 AM

Sorry but my earlier response failed to mention where the buildings are located. The estate is on Planting Fields Road in Upper Brookville. Most of the estate buildings have been torn down and the property divided up.

Jun 30 2014 frank femenias 11:54 AM

Purely guessing, it’s Willie K’s collection located in Deepdale Estates, taken approx 1920.

Jun 30 2014 Ted 10:35 PM

I couldn’t even take a guess. All that I know is that it had to be were there’s a lot of property and there’s a lot in Nassau County.

Jun 30 2014 Greg O. 11:15 PM

Fun and interesting when two interests intermingle. I’ve read quite a bit about Farnesworth on Zach’s Old Long Island Blog site for a few years now, but didn’t make this connection!

More info/pics on Farnesworth;

Jul 03 2014 Ted 12:47 AM

Now I know where it is, reading the comments. It’s around where the Planting Fields Arboretum is, right? Howard- I just noticed it now, your submit is mystery #73

Jul 03 2014 Mark Offenberg 10:05 PM

I attended the auction at this estate in 1962 when I was 12 years old with my dad, who turned me into a gearhead with his purchase of a ‘59 jag mark I 3.4 salon.

I begged him to bid on the Type 57 Bugatti, which was missing a wheel. “you will never find a wheel like that” my father said. I BEGGED him to no avail; I watched as the car sold for a hi-bid of $750.00.

I recently found a newspaper clipping of the auction stuck in a similar vintage copy of Floyd Clymer’s book entitled the Fabulous Model “T”.

I wonder where that car is today?

Jul 06 2014 S. Berliner, III 12:44 AM

Funny, I immediately thought of the Bird Estate but didn’t remember the garage as being THAT big!  I, too, was at the auction, and then rode down to Massapequa in a visiting 1931 Chrysler Imperial 8 CG sedan, formerly from Osborne Road in Garden City near the LIMP, which I’d almost bought previously - long story there on my site - trouble was I lived in Mineola then and had a devil of a time getting home!  That Franklin circular grille matches 1906 cars and the 1907 Model D.  Did anyone notice that ALL the cars are fitted with those vertical shocks (or whatever) up front?  Sam, III

Jul 06 2014 Walt Gosden 2:55 PM

There is no Franklin in that group of cars. The first car with the round radiator is a French built Delauney - Belleville. note it has a radiator cap - Franklin’s were always air cooled, and not as large a car as the car in the photo. The D-B cars were imported into the USA at thie time of the photo and for a few year prior, Brewster was a agent in the USA for them. The vertical shocks mentioned were made by Westinghouse and a popular accessory at the time that gave a better ride as the roads were for the most part not paved .

Jul 06 2014 S. Berliner, III 8:13 PM

Walt is, of course, SO right - tricked by a “radiator” cap!  Somewhat off topic, the history of C. K. G. Billings and his Fort Tryon estate in Manhattan and Farnsworth are really worth your time; it was he who gave the fabulous 1903 horseback banquet at Sherry’s!  Just Google him and follow the many links.  Sam, III

Sep 24 2018 Steve Krask 7:18 AM

My Grandfather was the mechanic and grounds keeper for Wallis. I have a copy of the auction that lists all the vehicles if anyone is interested-SK

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