Mary William Ethelbert Appleton “Billie” Burke, best known as the good witch Glinda in the 1939 film version of “The Wizard of Oz,” began her film and stage career in 1907. She was 24 years old and already a star when she bought the Kirkham estate on Broadway in Hastings in 1910. The estate possessed a fine mansion that Billie re-christened Burkeley Crest. In 1914 Billie Burke and Flo Ziegfeld were married, and for a while they lived in New York City.
Their daughter Patricia was born in 1916, and it was at that point that the family moved permanently to Burkeley Crest. They decorated the house with Italian and English antiques and Chinese hangings. They installed a fully-equipped projection room where they could watch movies, and built a “playhouse” for their daughter that was modeled on George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. Flo loved flowers and had the gardens around the house planted with hyacinths and daffodils, 24 blue spruce trees, and an English box hedge at the gate. A staff of seventeen servants catered to the needs of the Ziegfelds, their guests, and their menagerie of animals that included deer, parrots, geese, pheasants, bears, ponies, and buffalo.
At the time, having celebrities like the Ziegfelds living in Hastings was the village’s claim to fame, as Stephen Zebrock recalled in an article written for the Hastings News in 1941.
The names of Billie Burke and Florenz Ziegfeld of course went hand in hand every time anyone mentioned Hastings. It seemed as though no one could ever speak of our village without invariably adding, “You know, that’s where Billie Burke and Ziegfeld live.” It even got so Aunt Mary Salaky from Perth Amboy made a special trip one Sunday – just to see if this fantastic tale was really true. Every time my mother would say ‘this’ or ‘that’ about Billie Burke, Aunt Mary would look at her skeptically and murmur, “Go on – it isn’t so.”After the stock market crash of 1929 the Ziegfelds were left badly in debt. They closed up the Hastings establishment and moved to the west coast so that Billie could continue her career in the movies. Flo died there soon after, and in 1940 Billie sold the estate. Burkeley Crest was later demolished, marking the end of Hastings’ most glamorous era.
Steve Zebrock at age 12, standing in front of the gates of the Burke Estate
Finally, she could resist no longer and made the trip; as she stood in front of “Burkeley Crest” on South Broadway and took in the vast estate, she shook her head from side to side, chanting, “Florenz Ziegfeld, Bille Burke – right before my eyes.” Then turning to my mother as we walked back, “Just wait til I get back to Amboy and tell the others that I saw Billie Burke’s house.” We all looked at her, beaming with pride, while my mother added the burning remark, “Well, I told you so.”
Aunt Mary took on a bit of local pride from them on, and every time she went to see a Billie Burke movie she would preen herself and, at the same time, whisper to her companion, “I saw her house in Hastings – I really did!”
Billie Burke sitting at her desk in Burkeley Crest