Nine contiguous incorporated villages and some small, unincorporated areas make up Great Neck, an 11.4-square-mile peninsula on the northwestern edge of Nassau County in New York. The Village of Great Neck Plaza (population 6,787), incorporated in 1930, covers just a third of a square mile area, but has its own village hall and local laws.
Great Neck flourished as a farming community. Its close proximity to Manhattan enabled commercial transactions via steamships, followed by the railroad, which arrived in Great Neck in 1866. Known as the Gold Coast in its heyday, the area was soon discovered by wealthy New Yorkers. Among the first was W.R. Grace, a millionaire who served as mayor of New York City in 1881. Grace built vast estates in Great Neck and was soon joined by wealthy contemporaries such as the Vanderbilt, Hewlett, Chrysler, and King families. The estates were eventually sold off as subdivisions.
Entertainment and literary figures who once lived in the Great Neck villages—Groucho Marx, Eugene O'Neill, W.C. Fields, Fanny Brice, P.G. Wodehouse, Sid Caesar and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald —shopped and dined in the streets of Great Neck Plaza, which still serve as the commercial hub of Great Neck.
Great Neck Plaza's efforts to protect its historic resources began with the adoption of a landmark ordinance in 1976. In recent years the village has established a Historic Preservation Commission and has become a Certified Local Government. A cultural resource survey conducted by the village and the private, non-profit Long Island Traditions identified 53 historic resources—residential co-ops and condos, religious and commercial properties, and a historic 1925 Long Island railroad station—and a historic district has been designated.
A self-guided historic walking tour publication gives a decade-by-decade review of the community's development, and approximately 5,000 people annually visit the village as a result of its heritage education efforts. Since some of the other villages in Great Neck do not have downtowns, Great Neck Plaza strives to maintain its "Main Street USA" image.
In the 1980s, the village formed a Business Improvement district (BID), the first non-city in New York State to do so. Through BIDs, businesses band together and tax themselves a certain percentage of their property value. The funds are then used to enhance the area.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2004.