Once a great Gold Coast Mansion, OHEKA Castle is refurbished, maintained and one of the most popular party spots on Long Island. 100 years later, its newest owners want to continue the legacy that the castle once upheld during its 1920s heyday.
“I feel we’re really fortunate as a family,” Nancy Melius said. “It’s my father’s legacy to bring it back to what it was always meant to be.”
Today the Cold Spring Harbor mansion is a hotspot for celebrity weddings, photo shoots and media sets. The average person could have a wedding here too – if they’re willing to pay at a $15,000 site fee and a per-person charge.
But people are willing to do it, Melius said. “We have roughly 200 weddings a year,” she added.
The castle as a long history, consisting of different emotions; happy, glamorous, sad, devastating, hopeful all stemming from when it was built in 1919 on the island’s north shore. OHEKA offers tours of the house everyday for those interested in seeing and hearing the story of Long Island’s most famous home.
OHEKA is not a museum, but a catering hall and home owned and operated by Gary Melius, who took it over in 1984. Melius to this day lives on the third floor of the castle and occasionally will join in the walking tours. He can be seen saying hello to guests inside the dining room café, as well.
The story of OHEKA started a century ago when financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn built his new summer home on the north shore of Long Island after his New Jersey house burned down. He had heard that this area of New York was becoming popular for vacation homes and he wanted this new residence to be on the highest point of the island.
Kahn was at first unable to buy the actual highest point in the Huntington area (Jaynes Hill), so for two years every day he would have laborers deposit soil onto his newly purchased property. Eventually OHEKA’s property became the highest (man made) point on all of Long Island. He also made sure that the home was completely and utterly fireproof and that he would have a magnificent view of the harbor from his backyard.
He decided to name his Long Island castle OHEKA – an acronym for his name. Here he would host lavish parties during America’s golden years, hosting celebrities, musicians and artists in the 127-room home.
Kahn passed away in his New York office in 1934 and the house was too much for his wife to uphold. It became a retreat for the New York sanitation workers and then a government training school for the Merchant Marine radio operators. In the late 40s it became the Eastern Military Academy until the late 70s. Sadly after, the beautiful gardens, sculptures, bedrooms and halls were taken over by vandals and squatters who moved into the once lavish home.
For years the mansion was an eyesore. Locals were angered by its appearance and even more upset by the people taking over the property, unwelcomed. That’s when developer Gary Melius purchased the mansion and refurbished it to what the community sees today.
“Our job is to continue to tell the story… we want to engage the younger generation,” his daughter said.
Inside the castles is not only a wedding venue and restaurant, but other beautiful rooms to visit, as well. The Charlie Chaplin Room is homage to one of the castles most famous guests, and a former friend of Otto, himself. The room is covered in images of the late silent film star along with a vintage-styled bar where small events can be held.
Unfortunately since things were destroyed during the later parts of OHEKA’s time, all the furniture pieces inside are not original Kahn antiques. Instead, the Meilus family purchased vintage furniture and props from the same era, and those decorate the interior. Overall, the restoration had cost more that $40 million.
People from all over the world come to visit the castle and tour the halls. Melius said that around 20 people daily join the groups and dine in the café. Even the Friends of OHEKA guides that help tour groups around the property enjoy coming back every single day.
“I never tire of coming here and learning about the history of our town,” guide Beth Kance said. “To see a side of history on the Gold Coast never ceases to amaze me.”
To celebrate the 100-year birthday of the castle, bricks are being sold that allow people to share their #OHEKAmoment with the world. Specialty engraved bricks will be placed outside for future generations to see. The castle is also offering collectible coins for sale and a specialty drink celebration at the bar. Each month for the year, two drinks will be featured – a 20s style drink and a newer generation drink – to celebrate Otto’s legacy and the newer one.
Melius hopes to keep Otto’s memory alive 100 years later by providing patrons with parties and galas suitable for anyone.
“That’s what Otto wanted it to be,” she said, “We’re going to continue living up to his legacy.”