When I am not traveling or writing, I can usually have a book in my hand. I love to read, and often I try to combine my passions by visiting a location from one of my favorite books. My book club recently selected two books, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. I have loved The Great Gatsby since I first read it in high school and have read it numerous times. I also liked Z. After reading Z, I could see beyond the words of The Great Gatsby and realized that Fitzgerald’s lives intertwined with the story. I am sure it is pretty obvious that the book selections coincided with the recent release of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. In addition to making plans to see the movie, which we finally saw this past Saturday night, we also planned to visit Oheka Castle, one of the famed Gold Coast mansions on Long Island.
On the day we visited the castle my friend Cathy and I were struck by the opulence as soon as we turned on the long tree-lined drive that leads to the mansion. Dressed in my country club attire, I immediately felt like I was going to a party for the rich and famous as the attendant waved us through the iron gates it felt like I drove onto a movie set or back in time. We later learned that Oheka Castle has served as location shoots for several films and television shows including What Happens in Vegas and Royal Pains.
Once inside the gates, we met up with the rest of the ladies from our book club at the main entrance and snapped some photographs before entering the castle. The beautiful Grand Staircase that looked like it was awaiting royalty greeted us when we passed through the main doors.
Our tour guide met us at the base of the stairs and gave us a little background on the history of the largest restored home in America. We learned that Oheka Castle was a summer home by Otto Kahn, a financier, and philanthropist. The 1919 home sits on the highest point of the Long Island Gold Coast. The castle had 127 rooms and had formal gardens which were commissioned by the famous Olmstead Brothers. The estate also included a golf course, a private greenhouse, tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool, and stables. It was quite the getaway for the socialites that were entertained by Kahn.
Mr. Kahn died in 1934, and several years later the estate was sold. In later years it served as a retreat for New York City sanitation workers and in 1948 and later for the Eastern Military Academy. The school closed in 1979 and remained vacant and sadly a target for vandalism.
In 1984, a real estate developer, Gary Melius purchased Oheka and undertook the largest private residential renovation project in the United States. Today, he has restored seventy percent of the property.
After learning Mr. Kahn’s background and the history of the estate, we toured several rooms like the Grand Ballroom, the Formal Dining Room, Lounge and Library (my favorite room).
The library was warm and cozy and had albums of weddings and books filled with historical pictures of the Kahn family and the estate next to comfortable sofas. Also above the fireplace was a painting of Otto Kahn which sparked an interesting story from our tour guide and we were surprised to learn that the great financier was the inspiration for Parker Brother’s Mr. Monopoly.
Today, Oheka Castle is a historic hotel with 32 rooms. Each room is uniquely designed with antique decor to match the gilded era. We were fortunate to be able to tour the Olmstead Suite. The suite pays tribute to the Olmstead Brothers. The balcony overlooks the formal gardens, eight reflecting pool, and three spray fountains. The tour guide referred to the suite as the bridal suite, and it goes for a mere $1,095 a night. At least you can sleep on 100% Italian Egyptian cotton linens!
The Gatsby Suite is about half the price and was the suite used by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in What Happens in Vegas. The good news is if you don’t need to stay in a suite, the Chateau Rooms can go for $400 but can be scooped up for half the price when there are deals on Groupon!
We wrapped up our tour with lunch in the Chaplin room that pays homage to yes, Charlie Chaplin who was a friend of Otto Kahn.
I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Roasted Corn and Crab Chowder and a Chopped Salad. While we were having lunch, Gary, the owner who also lives in the castle stopped by our table to chat. He spoke about the continued renovations and his plan to put in a full-service spa in the area that housed the original indoor pool. A few of the ladies I was with had been to the castle for a wedding, and they shared stories with Gary. The WE channel’s Unforgettable Wedding Venues featured the Oheka Castle as the #1 wedding venue. Considering renovations have cost 37 million dollars and property taxes are around $400,000 a year, the income source for weddings and special events have allowed Oheka Castle and the Gatsby era to remain alive and well.
I would recommend visiting Oheka Castle because there is no better way to be swept into a time and place that doesn’t exist any longer. I promise that when you are in the formal gardens, you will transform back to the elegance of the Gilded Age and will experience a moment of how F. Scott Fitzgerald and his character’s Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan embodied the extravagance of the Roaring 20s.
What is your favorite historic home?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Coe Hall Mansion at Planting Fields State Historic Park, Mill Neck Manor, or Holiday House Tour at Westbrook Estate.