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Black Tie International Travel  1
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel- Oheka Castle

 

Gatsbyesque Gold Coast, Long Island Mansion
Oheka

Written by Maureen Seaberg

 
Photos courtesy of Oheka Castle

   

 

 

 


"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. McCracken.
 

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  www.oheka.com   for other upcoming events or call about monthly tasting dinners at 631-659-1400).
 

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 nearby.
 

While 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 crowd.
 

Bon Bon 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.
 

If couture or stylish casual clothes shopping is on your list, make sure you visit Marshs 
(
cq, no apostrophe) 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 there.
 

A car is necessary for getting around Huntington, which includes the town and a township region.
 

A more 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 www.heckscher.org
 

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 Will Rogers.

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 acreage.
 

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 services.
 

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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