About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OHEKA Castle Tour

OHEKA Castle has an interesting history as far as castles go, it reminds me more of the history of Alcatraz then of a castle.  I just want to start by saying that my guide, Lowell, was wonderful, full of history and a passion for the castle.  She lives right around the castle so she is a local with an invested interest in the success of the castle.
Grand Staircase
Lowell started the tour in the entrance to the castle with the history.  Otto Herman Kahn bought 443 acres of land in 1914 to build this as a summer and weekend home on a high point of Long Island, since it wasn't the highest point, he built it up to be the highest point.  Today the castle land is only 27 acres, much of the landing having been sold off after Otto's death in 1934.  The home was built with 127 rooms, it was then and still is the second largest home in the United States.

After Otto passed away in 1934 his wife sold it off.  Being the tough times of the depression she didn't have many offers and it was purchased by the NYC Department of Sanitation to be used as a retreat.  That didn't go so well and only lasted 2 years.  Then it was taken over by the Marine Radio Operators before being purchased by the Eastern Military Academy.  The Eastern Military Academy was a respectful owner of the building, if you don't mind tanks driving around the gardens.  

In 1978 the Academy went bankrupted, they basically left everything, locked the doors and left.  The castle became a home for vandals, squatters, and kids doing bad stuff.  By 1983 the only reason the building was still standing was because Otto Kahn was so paranoid about fire that the building was very fire proof (there was almost no wood used in the construction).  So although there was no roof in areas, there was fire damage throughout, and plaster had simply fallen off the walls due to cold Gary Melius thought this was a good investment.  He bought the castle for $1.5 Million and has put in another $37 Million dollars into repairing the castle.

 Today the castle restoration is the biggest restoration project of its kind.  70% of the castle has been restored, with plans in the works for the other 30%.  The castle is currently functioning as a hotel, restaurant, catering hall.  I think catering hall is an understatement.  You may have seen OHEKA on Platinum Weddings or in photos of Kevin Jonas wedding.  You may have also seen it in The Emperors Club, What Happens In Vegas, Royal Pains or in ads for Audi, Victoria's Secret, Ralph Lauren and every bridal magazine - just to name a few of its accolades.

Charlie Chaplin Room
So the tour started at the Grand Staircase, which was modeled after a staircase at Chateau Fountainbleu in France.  From there we moved upstairs to the second floor and the main living floor of the castle.  Our first stop was brief in the Foyer before moving to the main ballroom.  The main ballroom was one of the early rooms to be restored, due to it's location across from the entrance and it's allure as a venue space to rent out.  The room had once been a gymnasium, complete with basketball nets.  Today is has ornate ceilings, wood floors, chandeliers and serves as a main dining room for guests.  To the right of the foyer is the formal dining room, and the new Terrace Room that was added to accomodate larger parties, up to 450 guests.  
Formal Dining Room
To the left of the foyer is a series of smaller rooms.  The library has been restored to the state it was in when the family owned the house and it's wonderful.  There are also sitting rooms, the Charlie Chapman Room and the bar is in what used to be the billard room.  Outside this wing is the formal gardens, which have been fully restored from the days of being a tank field.  
4th Floor Hallway
After this we moved upstairs to the 4th floor where most of the suites are.  We got to see the bridal suite and a Fairbanks Suite (a different one then featured on the website).  After the 4th Floor we went to the wind tunnel, which functioned as 1910's air conditioning and then to take a peak at the pool from the outside.  The pool is a long lap pool and for several reasons is not open to the public.  Although it is partially restored, it is still part of the 30% of the estate to still be completed.  After this we were brought  back to the ballroom for coffee and cookies, a really nice way to end the tour.  And it allowed you to take a look around the castle some more if you didn't have time to check everything out.
Bathroom in Fairbanks Suite
Fairbanks Suite
Fairbanks Suite
Bathroom, Fairbanks Suite
Entrance to Bridal Suite
Bridal Suite
If you're out on Long Island this is absolutely a wonderful site to see, although there are some other historic mansions on Long Island this one is unique in it's history.  I think you'll also find OHEKA Castle to be a very warm and home like environment compared to many other mansions you could see in the country.  This could also have to do with the fact that Gary actually lives in the castle and calls it his home.  Yes, while waiting for my tour Gary came by the grand staircase and said hi to anyone who was waiting for the tour and welcomed us to him home.  

Tours operate daily at 11AM, if you are planning on visiting I would recommend asking if there are any events going on when you are there.  If they are filming or have a party you may find areas of the castle are off limits for the tour.