Henry Phipps purchased the Great Neck property, in the Village of Lake Success, in 1916. In 1917, construction began on the house, a thirty-nine-room Georgian mansion. In 1919, it was completed and named Bonnie Blink, which is Scottish for Pretty View, an appropriate name since on a clear day, Manhasset Bay could be seen from the house. This was the family summer home. It was said that they filled forty steamer trunks for their twice-yearly moves from Newport to Great Neck to Palm Beach, each time reportedly backing a private freight car up to the Great Neck railroad station to receive their baggage.
Henry Phipps lived from 1839-1930. He was a partner, in the late 1880s, with Andrew Carnegie in the Union Iron Mills and the Carnegie Steel Company (which, in 1901, was sold to the United States Steel Corporation). His philanthropies extended to family housing, fighting tuberculosis and mental diseases, and providing public baths, playgrounds, reading rooms, and a conservatory in Pittsburgh.
From 1940-43, thirty British children, evacuated from their homes because of World War II, lived in the Phipps house under the supervision of Lady Margaret Barry of Norfolk, England. Their stay was sponsored by John S. and Margarita Grace Phipps, Henry's son and daughter-in-law. (John's home is now the Old Westbury Gardens; his wife was a granddaughter of Michael Grace, a founder of the Grace steamship lines.)
None of Henry's five children wanted the Phipps house in Great Neck, so, consistent with their interest in public education, and for tax purposes, they donated the mansion and nine acres to the Great Neck Public School District in 1949. The rest of the nearly 115-acre site was purchased by the district. In 1950, the Phipps mansion was converted into the Phipps Administration Building. An extension was added in 1966. Today, about seventy school-district employees work in the building.
In 1957, South High School and South Middle School were built on property surrounding the administration building. When the estate was donated, there was a stipulation that part of it be kept in its natural state. That condition was met during construction. Where necessary, the schools' locations were altered slightly to save individual trees. Twenty acres were left entirely undisturbed and fifteen of them were set aside for environmental study classes. The two schools opened in 1959.
The presence of Henry Phipps can almost be felt in his former mansion especially when viewing the family painting of Henry himself that hangs in what was once the library and is now the Board room at Phipps. The Phipps Administration Building is a central part of the unique history of the Great Neck Public Schools.