Glen Cove and the Russians

The Killenworth estate and mansion on Dosoris Lane, has always evoked a secretive, fortress-like compound for those who grew up in Glen Cove during the 1950s through the 1980s. At that time the United States and the U.S.S.R. were engaged in a “Cold War” (as opposed to a “Hot War” such as World War II which immediately preceded this period). For those too young to recall “duck and cover drills”, this first Cold War spanned some 40 years.

Killenworth is the former George DuPont Pratt Gold Coast estate, constructed in 1912-1913. The present house is the second to be built on this site. The first Killenworth home, built in 1897, was demolished by Pratt in 1912 in order to construct a larger mansion. The Killenworth estate is and has been the home of the Russian Federation’s, and before that, the former Soviet Union’s mission to the United Nations since its initial purchase in 1951. The Soviet Union (also known as the U.S.S.R in those days) acquired the estate to serve as the country retreat for their U.N. delegation.

The Cold War Reaches Glen Cove
A the height of the Cold War, in September 1960, none other than Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev stayed at Killenworth on his second U.S. visit, during which he traveled to New York City for a U.N. General Assembly meeting. This was the meeting where the Russian leader famously pounded the desktop with his shoe in protest during an address by the Philippines representative. While departing Glen Cove, Khrushchev’s motorcade proceeded down Dosoris Lane, which was lined with residents protesting his visit. It has been reported that crowds along the route threw tomatoes and eggs at the limousines. The motorcade was tracked from overhead by a large U.S. military helicopter with a sharpshooter strapped in the open doorway, that momentarily landed on the upper field behind the Deasy School.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev

Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union rose precipitously in October of 1962, when President John F. Kennedy, with less than two years in office, faced off against Soviet Premier Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time many thought that the Cold War would reach its inevitable climax with a nuclear exchange between the two superpowers.

Life Magazine Photo

Khrushchev contemplates Killenworth

After two weeks, the crisis was defused peacefully but the suspicion and animosity between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. continued for more than a decade. Premier Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 and permitted to retire while the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviets settled into a relatively peaceful, yet mutually suspicious period of coexistence, termed “détente” through the 1970s. Subsequent Soviet leaders implemented policies called “perestroika” and “glasnost” in the Russian language, that eventually led to the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. at the end of the 1980s..

Though the limited contacts between City residents and the Russian occupants of Killenworth were generally cordial, local government interactions sometimes mirrored the tense relations of the international scene. On the home front during these anxious times of the Cold War, the City of Glen Cove stumbled into international politics by attempting to collect local property taxes on the Soviet-owned 36-acre estate. As early as 1956 a local newspaper reported that a group of men, led by Charles “Babe” Grella, bought the tax lien levied on Killenworth by the City of Glen Cove for unpaid school taxes in the amount of nearly $11,000. It is doubtful that this investment bore any fruit.

Ten years later, with the City’s attempts to levy taxes on the property still going on, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg claimed that the tax dispute was hurting international relations between the two superpowers. He intervened by moving to apply tax-exempt consular status to the estate, forestalling the City’s action. Glen Cove didn’t give up on the attempt to collect current and back taxes however, and in 1970 Mayor Andrew DiPaola and the City Council moved to foreclose on Killenworth for non-payment of property taxes. This effort was abruptly halted by a restraining order obtained by the U.S. Justice Department, under a request from the State Department. Subsequent requests for congressional action to have the Federal government reimburse Glen Cove for city services related to Killenworth in the absence of tax revenue failed to gain any traction.

Protests at the Gates
In the early 1970s, the U.S.S.R.’s policies restricting Jewish dissidents who wanted to emigrate resulted in demonstrations at Killenworth’s main gate on Dosoris Lane, a few hundred yards up the road from the Glen Cove High School, and necessitated a regular Glen Cove Police presence. The Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry staged vigils in front of Killenworth’s gates for 11 years, and the Nassau County Police Bomb Squad was kept busy investigating the numerous loaves of Levy’s Jewish Rye Bread left on the estate’s driveway. The resulting tens of thousands of dollars annually in additional police-related costs was reason enough for the City to pursue the tax issue.

During the 1980s, there were rumors and newspaper reports that the former Pratt mansion was a hotbed of espionage with listening devices tuned to monitor Long Island’s defense industries (among them, Grumman Aircraft, Republic Aviation, and Sperry Corporation). In this final decade of the Cold War, with the earlier tax dispute still simmering, the City Council under Mayor Alan Parente in 1982 caused an international rift when they revoked the Russian delegation’s access to the City’s recreational facilities – beaches, tennis courts, and the golf course – as a response to the spying allegations. Soon after, the Soviet Union retaliated by denying use of a Moscow beach to members of the U.S. Embassy residing in the Russian capital. In a letter to Mayor Parente, the U.S. State Department stated that the ban ''interfered with the conduct of the foreign relations of the United States.'' The City Council’s position was that if the compound was being used for spying, it wasn’t entitled to a tax exemption.

The second Killenworth mansion, built in 1913

With the election of Mayor Vincent “Jimmy” Suozzi in 1983, better relations with our Russian residents living at Killenworth were sought by the new administration. But the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration was still a hot topic in 1984 when Suozzi took office. That year, four North Shore youths, all under the age of 20, led a joint Task Force of FBI agents and NYPD personnel on an 8-mile high-speed chase from Dosoris Lane, ending in Greenvale with their arrest as suspected terrorists. The kids had stopped their van by the Killenworth gates and inadvertently stumbled into a stake-out by a heavily-armed counterterrorism unit that was anticipating a possible attack on the Russian compound by members of a Jewish extremist group. The case was subsequently dismissed but not without some bad press for the government and lawsuits being filed by the parents.

That same year, some of Glen Cove’s Polish residents formed the “Committee to Honor Lech Walesa”, the Solidarity Leader who was standing up to the Communist regime in Poland. Seeking to poke a stick in Russia’s eye, the Committee petitioned the City Council to rename Dosoris Lane (the address of the Killenworth estate) to Lech Walesa Lane. Not to be outdone by ordinary citizens, NY Senator Al D’Amato and two other Senators penned a letter to Glen Cove’s Mayor Vincent Suozzi, requesting that the same road be renamed for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. According to the letter, if the City couldn’t rename all of Dosoris Lane (a very long road) for Sakharov, could just the segment that passed in front of the Soviet compound be renamed for the famous dissident? Glen Cove’s City Council rejected both requests, but a location in the downtown was subsequently designated “Lech Walesa Plaza” in 1986.

Also in 1984, with the continued police presence at the estate’s front gate, Glen Cove filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department to recoup the cost of police security necessitated by the on-going demonstrations in front of Killenworth. The City’s congressional representatives introduced legislation to reimburse communities in which foreign compounds were housed for such expenses, and although money was included in the Federal budget in 1984 and 1985 for such purposes, it is unclear whether Glen Cove’s claims were ever addressed.

Détente in Glen Cove
Friendly relations with the Soviet U.N. Mission personnel living at Killenworth were restored later in 1984 when the City Council, by a 5 to 2 vote, approved allowing those living on the Glen Cove compound to once again have access to the City’s recreational facilities. As relations improved, a painting of the Killenworth mansion by a Russian artist was presented to Mayor Suozzi at a luncheon held on the estate. The painting now hangs in the Glen Cove Public Library. The Mayor also facilitated a gift of a replica of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, to the Nassau County Cradle of Aviation Museum, by orchestrating the presentation by Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin, despite the objections of some of the County’s political figures.

Mayor Vincent Suozzi accepts the donation of the Sputnik from Russian Ambassador Dubinin at Glen Cove City Hall

The restoration of cordial relations with the Russian U.N. Mission after 1984 resulted in opening up the formerly secretive compound to a few tours of the Killenworth mansion for invited local politicians, and other groups including two Newsday reporters.

The Cold War birthed an entire genre of movies, television shows and novels depicting the world of Western Bloc versus Soviet Bloc espionage. Everything for nearly 30 years seemed to revolve around secret agents and spycraft. In the waning years of the Cold War, the Killenworth estate was featured in author Nelson DeMille’s early spy novel, The Talbot Odyssey. The Cold War essentially ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union that began to crumble in 1989, and the former Communist U.S.S.R. was replaced by the arguably democratic Russian Federation. Killenworth remains the home of some of the Russian Federation’s U.N. mission delegation.

2017 – Now, a quarter century later, in response to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, the outgoing Obama Administration ordered two Russian Federation-owned facilities in the United States closed, one in Brookville, L.I., and the other in Maryland. Their residents were evicted to their home country, however the Killenworth estate was not subject to this Presidential directive.

History Repeats Itself
Today relations between the United States and Russia are once again at a low point; some say nearly as bad as during the worst years of the Cold War. In a move that many see as reflecting the current state of Mayor Vincent Suozzi accepts the donation of the Sputnik replica from Russian Ambassador Dubinin at Glen Cove City Hall U.S.-Russia affairs, the Town of Oyster Bay recently revived a tactic employed some thirty-five years ago by the City of Glen Cove: denying beach passes to Russian delegates. However, Town Officials say this has nothing to do with the current status of international relations. Rather, the policy reflects economics and fairplay. Although in years past the permits were provided as a courtesy to the Russian government personnel at no charge, the delegation may now purchase the annual beach permits at the same rate as Town of Oyster Bay residents.

Who would ever have thought that international politics could be so influenced at the local level?

~ GC350 History Committee