Great Neck is a region on Long Island that covers a peninsula on the North Shore of Long Island, which includes the villages of Great Neck, Great Neck Estates, Great Neck Plaza, and others, as well as an area south of the peninsula near Lake Success and the border territory of Queens. The incorporated village of Great Neck had a population of 9,989 at the 2010 census, while the larger Great Neck area comprises a residential community of some 40,000 people in nine villages and hamlets in the town of North Hempstead, of which Great Neck is the northwestern quadrant. Great Neck has five postal zones (11020–11024) and one school district.
The hamlets are census-designated places that consolidate various unincorporated areas. They are statistical entities and are not recognized locally. However, there are locally recognized Harbor Hills, Saddle Rock Estates, University Gardens, and Manhasset neighborhoods within the hamlet areas. The Manhasset neighborhood (in zip code 11030) is not considered part of Great Neck. The part of the Hamlet of Manhasset that is considered part of Great Neck includes the Great Neck Manor neighborhood. Great Neck Gardens is featured on many maps as a name of one such hamlet, even as the name is used rarely if ever by local residents.
Great Neck is a 25- to 35-minute commute from Manhattan's Penn Station on the Port Washington Branch of the Long Island Rail Road via the Great Neck station, which is one of the most frequently served in the entire system. Nassau Inter-County Express connects the villages to the train station and offers service to several destinations in Nassau County and Queens from the station, while the southern part of the Great Neck area can also directly access the Q46 New York City Bus on Union Turnpike at the border with Glen Oaks and the Q12 bus on Northern Boulevard at the border with Little Neck.
Great Neck, originally called "Madnan's Neck", was settled by whites in the late 17th century, not long after settlers landed on Plymouth Rock. The area had previously been inhabited by the Mattinecock Native Americans.
In more recent days, Great Neck—in particular the Village of Kings Point—provided a backdrop to F. Scott Fitzgerald's book The Great Gatsby. It was thinly disguised as "West Egg," in counterpoint to Manor Haven/Sands Point, which was the inspiration for the more posh "East Egg" (the next peninsula over on Long Island Sound), Great Neck symbolized the decadence of the Roaring Twenties as it extended out from New York City to then-remote suburbs. The Great Gatsby's themes and characters reflected the real-world transformation that Great Neck was experiencing at the time, as show-business personalities like Sid Caesar and the Marx Brothers bought homes in the hamlet and eventually established it as a haven for Jews, formerly of Brooklyn and the Bronx.
The end of World War II saw a tremendous migration of Ashkenazi Jews from the cramped quarters to the burgeoning suburb. They founded many synagogues and community groups and pushed for stringent educational policies in the town's public schools. Jay Cantor's 2003 novel, Great Neck, portrays this era, with recently installed residents of all stripes trying to secure the brightest futures for their children.
During the 1960s, many residents frequented the local pool and ice-skating complex, Parkwood, which was extensively renovated in 2007 and 2008, after which its patronage dramatically increased following years of decline as homeowners built their own in-ground pools. (After the events of September 11, 2001, the ice-skating rink was renamed in honor of Andrew Stergiopoulos, a local resident who was killed in the attack).
Things have changed in Great Neck since the Baby Boomer era. In the 1980s, an influx of affluent Iranian Jews who left their country following the 1979 Islamic Revolution settled in Great Neck. Though the majority of their children attended Great Neck schools, they did not integrate into the existing Ashkenazi synagogues, instead starting their own Iranian synagogues, where they could follow Mizrahi traditions. The Persian community also established its own grocery shops.
From the late 1990s, the Great Neck peninsula has been home to another Jewish shift. During this time, more observant, Orthodox Jews have moved to the area. This is a similar trend to what has happened in the Five Towns area on the South Shore of Long Island, although Reform and Conservative Jews appear to remain predominant in Great Neck.
On Old Mill Road, three synagogues represent the three main branches of American Judaism: Temple Beth-El (Reform), Great Neck Synagogue (Orthodox), and Temple Israel of Great Neck (Conservative). Old Mill Road also has an honorific extra naming, "Waxman Way," in memory of Temple Israel's renowned rabbi, Mordechai Waxman, who led the congregation for 50 years.
Also beginning in the late 1990s and continuing till present day, a number of East Asians, predominantly Chinese and Korean, have been moving into the area. Many of these families move to Great Neck for a better environment for their children as well as the well-known public school education. Great Neck's proximity to ethnic enclaves such as Flushing and Bayside make it ideal for East Asians.
The general trend is that the northern part of Great Neck (north of the LIRR tracks) has a greater number of Iranian families, while the southern part (south of the LIRR tracks) has a larger East Asian population. The African-American population is low in all of Great Neck.
The Parkwood pool and skating rink complex, the Village Green and sections of Kings Point Park are managed by the Great Neck Park District. The park district serves all of Great Neck except the villages of Saddle Rock, Great Neck Estates, and Lake Success, and the neighborhoods (not hamlets) of Harbor Hills and University Gardens. The areas not served by the Great Neck Park District each have their own facilities for their residents, run by the villages or civic associations. Parkwood can also provide tennis lessons and skating lessons. During the summer it is a part of the Great Neck day camp program, where young campers use the swimming pool facilities.
A rather entertaining, easy to read history of the whole Great Neck area is available online: