President Barack Obama retaliated Thursday against Russia for its alleged cybermeddling in the 2016 elections, imposing sanctions on intelligence services and expelling 35 Russian officials from the United States. The White House is also, among other measures, shuttering two Russian-owned retreats on Long Island and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Both are mansions where Russian diplomats go to unwind, and, according to the White House, possibly make time for a little espionage. The Russians are being evicted from each of the properties as of noon Friday.
The Russians actually own two properties on Long Island: a sprawling 36-acre, 49-room estate in Glen Cove, and another property, a 38-room mansion on a meager 14 acres in Upper Brookville. Despite some confusion, a massive Glen Cove mansion known as Killenworth – which was built around 1913 and belonged to George Dupont Pratt (son of that Pratt) – will not be shutting down Friday as of press time, a spokeswoman with the Glen Cove Mayor’s Office told Daily Intelligencer. Instead, the residents at the lesser known “Norwich House” in Upper Brookville are reportedly packing up and heading out.
Russia, née the Soviet Union, bought both of the properties in the early 1950s as getaways for its delegation to the United Nations. The Norwich House — which was built around 1918 and belonged, at one point, to former New York Governor Nathan Miller — was purchased in 1952 for the Soviet’s chief delegate to the United States. According to a New York Times story from that year, the USSR nabbed the property and three-story mansion (with indoor pool!) for the rumored steal of $80,000.
BuzzFeed reporters captured some of the frenzied move-out from the Upper Brookville estate last night, under the cover of darkness. Neighbors said that the Russians’ occupancy wasn’t widely known in the area, but there was a bit of international drama surrounding it:
In contrast, Judith Berkheimer, who rents a cottage across the street from the Oyster Bay compound, told BuzzFeed News that before her arrival the FBI had rented the upstairs floor of the cottage to spy on the compound. They had approached the owners, Liz and Dan Travers, when they first moved in — about thirteen years ago by Berkheimer’s estimation — and asked to rent out the upper floor. (The Travers confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the Bureau had, in fact, rented from them.) Berkheimer said they had put cameras and listening devices in the trees until leaving about 6 or 7 years ago. “I guess they didn’t get much,” she added.
As for the other Russian retreat on Long Island: The Soviets’ run at the Killenworth estate gained some notoriety during the 1980s, mainly owing to their refusal to pay property taxes to the city of Glen Cove. This threatened to become something of an international incident, especially after the Glen Cove City Council responded with its own form of sanctions — revoking beach parking permits and golf course and tennis passes from the Russians. The State Department did not approve. Access to those city recreational passes were eventually restored; the Russians, to this day, do not pay taxes on the land.
The beach passes might have actually been kind of a big punishment, though. The Russians are apparently into Long Island’s beaches; the Town of Oyster Bay, which includes Upper Brookville, where the Norwich House sits, has, in the past, waived fees for parking and beach permits to the Russian mission as a courtesy dating back to the Cold War days. “Most of the Russian Mission to the UN staff enjoys the beaches,” mission spokesman Alexey Zaytsev told Newsday in 2014. “In any beach facility we meet friendly and attentive people, so we are really thankful to the Oyster Bay authorities and residents for their hospitality.”
It’s unclear how long these evictions in Upper Brookville and Long Island (and Maryland) will last, considering President-elect Donald Trump, who wants to “move on to bigger and better things,” will be taking office in just a few short weeks. At least there’s plenty of time between Inauguration Day and beach season.