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International Magazine - Travel- Oheka Castle
Gatsbyesque Gold Coast, Long Island Mansion
Written by Maureen Seaberg
Photos courtesy of Oheka
"Is something the matter with Otto Kahn or is
something the matter with me?" Fanny Brice once sang. "I
wrote a note and told him what a star I would make. He sent
it back and marked it, 'Opened by mistake.' "
So many starlets desired to get
before the highly influential and randy Mr. Kahn (who headed
the board of the Metropolitan Opera for 25 years), and who
often entertained them at his recently restored Gatsbyesque
Gold Coast, Long Island mansion, Oheka, that Miss Brice
parodied it in song.
One can almost hear the
laughter of such flapper-era gals, or see Charlie Chaplin
tramp-walking through its halls or Dorothy Parker and the
Algonquin set alighting on a chaise lounge, or Enrico Caruso
performing in its ballroom, so true to history is the
restoration of the castle.
Dulcie McCracken and her
husband, Bill, of Long Beach, Calif. didn't know whether to
stare at the Chaplin memorabilia or the foot-high cake the
chef whipped up for their special 45th
anniversary dinner recently, they said.
"The grounds and the service
and the people are just amazing. And the history! We ate in
the Chaplin Room and he was all around us,” said Mrs.
One needn’t write a
note like Ms. Brice now to see the once highly exclusive
halls. Oheka is open now - mostly for weddings and formal
affairs and weekend hotel guests, but also for the
occasional public event, such as the Garden Party coming up
on June 13 sponsored by Friends of Oheka. (Call Friends of
Oheka at 631-367-2570.
Reservations are being taken now and are $45 per person. See
for other upcoming events or call about monthly tasting
Ellen Schaffer, president of
the Friends of Oheka as well as its curator said each time
she walks into the castle it’s new to her. “Every time I
walk in it’s like I walked in for the first time. It’s warm,
elegant and not ostentatious.”
A day trip to Huntington, where
the castle is located, will not only reveal this, the second
largest residence in America after The Biltmore in North
Carolina, but also a quaint and restaurant filled village
Oheka only serves lunch and dinner for events on special
days, there are many restaurant options on and around
Huntington’s Main Street. One popular and casual locale,
Munday’s, is pure Americana and a mainstay with the lunch
Chocolatier at 319 Main St. will delight children and adults
as the smell of the treats wafts over the glass kitchen wall
where visitors (currently Monday-Saturday, 10-6, closed on
Sundays) can watch the chocolate being made.
or stylish casual clothes shopping is on your list, make
sure you visit Marshs
at 270 Main St. where Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Manolo
Blahnik, Escada, Theory, Seven jeans, Chloe and Tory Burch
can all be found. Interesting jewelry by Temple St. Clair (cq,
no 'e' at the end),
Leslie Greene, Pomelatto and Robin Rotenier is also for sale
A car is
necessary for getting around Huntington, which includes the
town and a township region.
austere type of regional living can be seen at the Walt
Whitman Historic Site, 246 Old Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington
Station, N.Y. than that found at Oheka. The poet was born
there and lived there as a small child.
A small museum, The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime
Ave., has stunning Ansel Adams photos up through
June 24. His gelatin silver print, “Moonrise,
Hernandez, New Mexico” from 1941 is an interesting
counterpoint to a day seeing the massive Oheka, as
the sky dwarves the village below. See
But leave plenty of time for
the massive Oheka - the largest residential restoration in
America. It has gardens by the Olmsted Brothers. Its
classicism was inspired by the French chateaux of The Loire.
Its grandeur also served as
inspiration for “Xanadu” in the classic Orson Welles film,
“Citizen Kane.” However, unlike the home of Charles Foster
Kane where rosebud was finally explained, the interior style
is restrained and not a monument to excess; only the
exterior and gardens were used by Welles in filming.
If you get lost in its
interior, a Marx brothers line from "Animal Crackers" which
parodied Kahn as Roscoe W. Chandler comes to mind: "You go
Uruguay and I'll go mine."
Financier and arts patron Mr.
Kahn built the immense 1919 residence, just 31 miles west of
Midtown Manhattan, as a summer home and weekend retreat for
his wife, Addie and four children, when he found their
previous community of Morristown, N.J. too anti-Semitic.
Their weekday home was a mansion on East 91st
Street and Fifth Avenue that is now the Convent of the
Sacred Heart School.
After four years of
construction, the Kahns would go on to entertain luminaries
of the day including Chaplin, Caruso and heads of state
within its walls.
Well, Mr. Kahn would - his wife
ended up finding the partying a bit wearying after too many
pretty starlets caught her husband's eye. The man who could
not fit in to his previous community was now a
quintessential host and touted as the “King of New York” by
Oheka is now 80 percent
restored after years of vandalism, including many fires, and
open for visitors, including corporate retreats, weddings,
fund-raisers and film production. It is 115,000 square feet
with 115 rooms and 50 baths. Its survival owes to the steel
and concrete Kahn insisted on using after a previous
residence of his was lost in a fire. Some of the walls at
Oheka are three-and-a-half feet thick. As Kahn wanted the
site to have a commanding view and presence, earth was
hauled by laborers to set it on the hill Oheka now enjoys.
The cost of the structure was
$11 million plus $1 million for the original 443 acres in
Cold Spring Harbor where it was erected. Cold Spring Country
Club and its golf course now stand on some of the original
Developer Gary Melius of Long
Island purchased Oheka (an acronym for Otto Hermann Kahn)
and its remaining 23 acres for 1.5 million dollars in 1984
after the Cold Spring Hills Civic Association sought to save
it. He has poured $30 million more into the estate in a
restoration that employed many historians, restoration
experts and Long Island Gold Coast architects. Slate from
the original quarry in Vermont was brought in; workers were
dispatched to the Library of Congress to unearth letters
Kahn had written about the gardens to revive them.
“There were many
naysayers who advised him (Mr. Melius) against buying Oheka,
but he forged ahead despite a host of problems ranging from
the terrible state of disrepair to issues with the town of
Huntington zoning board,” said Mary McCaffery, a frequent
visitor from Bethpage, N.Y.
"I feel very lucky to be a part of Oheka’s life,"
Mr. Melius told the New York Times.
His daughters, Kelly Melius and Nancy Melius-Murton (a
former Broadway stage dancer) have joined the family
business, helping manage special events.
"We are both enormously proud of our father and privileged
to be a part of his vision for Oheka," said Mrs.
Melius-Murton. "He fell in love with Oheka and set out to
bring back to life this historic and monumental treasure of
American history in a way that respects and preserves the
integrity of the estate while giving visitors the chance to
experience Oheka as it was intended...as a home, a retreat
and a fantastic place to hold a party."
Mrs. Melius-Murton decorated each of the hotel’s rooms and
no two bedrooms are alike. The hotel has also added spa
Some of the highlights of the home include the grand entry
staircase, modeled after the horseshoe staircase at
Fontainebleau; faux boix plasterwork, a Medieval technique
which looks like woodwork, is painted in a warm amber in the
library; and a ballroom where Arturo Toscanini once
performed and scenes for “DeLovely” were filmed, seats 350.
After Mr. Kahn died in 1934, the family sold the estate to
the Welfare Fund of the Sanitation Workers, which used it as
a retirement home, renaming it “Sanita.”
During World War II it was used by the Merchant Marines as a
radio operators school, and in 1948 it became a military
academy before falling into disuse.
Kahn biographer Theresa M. Collins called the banker, “the
most influential patron of the arts ever known to America.”
She cited his bringing a Golden Age to the Metropolitan
Opera, the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to America and investing
$10,000 in “Lady Be Good!” after hearing George Gershwin
play, “The Man I Love,” as examples of his generosity.
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