Apr 23 2015

New Series: An Insider’s Look into the Petit Trianon in Lake Ronkonkoma Part I.

Bob DeStefani and his family lived at the Eastern Terminus of the Motor Parkway in Lake Ronkonkoma. In a new VanderbiltCupRaces.com series, Bob provides an "insider's look" into the Petit Trianon and Motor Parkway adventures with his friends.

Part I provides his family background and a brief history of Petit Trianon and its Annex building.


Howard Kroplick

Vintage automobiles will celebrate the 104th anniversary of the opening of Petit Trianon on April 26th with a "Sunday Drive" from Cunningham Park, Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma.

Approximately where the red circle on the1925 blueprint of the four- acre property of the Petit Trianon and the termination point of the Motor Parkway was the location of my parent’s home. The rest of the streets, North Drive, South Drive, Washington Avenue, Lincoln Drive and Marion Drive did not exist at this time. This last section of Motor Parkway was renamed Lake Drive. Also in the photo is the Petit Trianon on the far right and the building labeled the “Annex” (located lower center), which housed the staff.

We had a home on the east end of Motor Parkway back in 1937. The house was built in 1928. My parents bought it for $3,000 in1938 from my uncle Carmine Ferrara who wanted to move further out to Riverhead. He liked the salt water fishing out east. 


Our house still stands there, number 28 Lake Drive, it is on the last block of Motor Parkway about two hundred feet from where the Petit Trianon stood. There were only three homes on the north side of Lake Drive, an elderly German couple named Tessert, our home at number 28 and a home owned by the Italian Gluliamo family who later changed their name to Williams, the corner property belonged to the Scalzo family located on Washington Avenue facing North Drive. The family was into real estate and is still in real estate located in Brooklyn on Thirteenth Avenue. All these homes and the ones built in later years along side the Motor Parkway had natural gas heat and cooking, not bottle gas, thanks to the gas line installed to feed the Petit Trianon back in 1910.

Across the street on the south side of Lake Drive was a large two story building which was called the Annex. It at once housed some of the Petit Trianon staff.

After the closing of Petit Trianon, the Annex was later in the 1930’s made into a hotel, called Parkway Inn owned by the Max Greis family with a German restaurant on the first floor and a tavern in the basement called the Rathskeller.

Later it became a senior citizens'  home named the Park Lake Rest Home.

Around 2000, it was taken down and the property was sold to a real estate developer. Now there’s nothing there, like the Petit Trianon, the remains are all gone.

I spent all my summers and weekends at the lake and all the inclement days were spent inside and on the remaining four acres of wooded, lake front property belonging to Petit Trianon. Although we were constantly warned by our parents not to go near the building, there were about six of us kids who would venture inside The place was completely boarded up, there was always stories of ghosts and spirits inside the old building,

Let me describe what it looked like in the early 1940's .No one would ever enter alone, there were seven large doors, five doors entered the main dinning room and dance floor from the terrace and one that entered the north wing reading room.

 The other, a Dutch door entered the south wing reading room (see left side of this photo). The doors were very big, from what I remember they were about ten feet tall and about six feet wide, double French doors, all boarded up they were very heavy, Sometimes it took two kids to open one of the two doors that we knew were unlocked, far enough to squeeze in.

 On rainy days we even brought our bikes in to ride around the 100-foot long dinning and dance floor.  We never destroyed anything. It was our bad weather clubhouse, all we did was scare the  life out of each other. We were always terrified of the dogs, which of course only existed in our minds, I say that with tongue in cheek, why they existed was because around the dinning room there were two balconies about twenty feet up. The strange thing about them was the entrance ways to the balconies which were located on the second floor, the doors were only two feet high and the front wall of the balcony was only a eighteen inches high, so we assumed they were for vicious watch dogs.

We also never knew the building was a restaurant, we thought it was a private house at one time belonging to the Vanderbilt family. We were half right. It was built by William K. Vanderbilt Jr. and named after the Petit Trianon Palace in Versailles, France.  The origin of these small balconies still remains a mystery.


Apr 23 2015 frank femenias 11:05 PM

I loved this. Thank you Mr. DeStefani for the descriptive view of the interior. I know a child’s memory and views of early events can be precise and everlasting. Mine sure are. Those small balcony doorway/windows over the reading rooms are indeed strange. My best guess for their purposes was to keep the guest off the balconies for safety reasons (the low walls outside), and were probably used as crawl access points for maintenance crew outside. Those balconies could’ve been used for displaying large plants or trees high up, complImenting the famous inn. Looking forward for more insights from within!

Apr 24 2015 Walt Gosden 7:16 PM

This is an absolutely wonderful insight into that magnificent structure and the surrounding area. Thank you Mr. DeStefani.

Apr 26 2015 Bob DeStefani 1:35 PM

In answer to Mr. Frank Femenias, comment about the odd dimensions of the balcony that could have very well been a balcony for plants and decorative foliage and it probably was, but from a child’s mind, we always thought of something more freighting, after all we thought it was an old haunted house and plants just didn’t fit in.  Thank you for your observation.  I’m sure your right.

In regards to Mr. Walt Gosden, I agree with you on that magnificent structure and the surrounding grounds, how anyone with any forethought, being the town, county or state did not try to save that property, two acres on lake front, four acres altogether with an incredible view of the lake from the hill where the Petit Trianon was built, the building itself was made of stone with a slate roof, it would have lasted forever, inside some of the plaster came down from the ceilings, probably from rain getting in, but basically the old girl was in great shape, no vandalism to speak of and all the boarded glass, even up to the fire of 1958 was still in tact.  Thank you for your forethought.  Somebody dropped the ball.

Apr 26 2015 Tom Cotter 6:10 PM

Having grown up in the Lake Ronkonkoma area, and being a racing history buff, I am particularly in this series.  Thanks so much!

Apr 26 2015 R Troy 11:27 PM

Some buildings in Disney World have, on higher levels, small windows, etc. that from street level look normal sized and that sort of make buildings look taller then they really are.  This may have been intended to create an illusion in this house.

Apr 27 2015 Bob Destefani 9:38 AM

Mr. R. Troy, that is quite possible as the ceiling in the main dinning room was over thirty feet high.

Sep 20 2015 Colette 11:36 AM

My house is now located in the “circle driveway” shown in your map.  The property of the Annex now houses 4 new homes, as well as the area of the Petit Trianon property which houses 4 new homes.  I fell over this website as finding out how “Washington Avenue” got its name.  This site is so interesting!!  and once again your parents home - is up for sale!!

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