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Oheka Castle

Huntington, New York

Completed in 1919, for Otto Hermann Kahn (1867-1934) and his wife Adelaide Wolff (1875-1949). Covering 112,895 square feet on Long Island's historic Gold Coast, Oheka Castle is the largest private house ever built in New York and the second largest privately-owned house in the United States after Biltmore. The 127-room French Renaissance-style chateau is currently an historic luxury hotel with 32 bedrooms, particularly popular with socialites and celebrities as a wedding and events venue. The chateau and its 23-acres of magnificent gardens are open to the public for tours. In
Citizen Kane (1941) "Xanadu" (Orson Welles' fictional version of Hearst Castle) was modelled on Oheka. For my money, F. Scott Fitzgerald had Harbor Hill in mind when he described The Great Gatsby's mansion as a “factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy,” but Oheka Castle is another similar mansion always mentioned in the mix... 
Dapper, irresistibly charming and urbane, Otto Kahn was the hugely successful financier and bon-viveur whose image was used as the inspiration for the jovial, monocled character created by Parker Brothers, "Mr Monopoly". Kahn was one of New York's wealthiest investment bankers during the height of the Gilded Age; a serious collector of art; a huge fan of Hollywood; a patron of George Gershwin (1898-1937) and Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) among others; and, Chairman of the Metropolitan Opera etc., etc.

On marrying Addie in 1896, her father presented the young couple with Cedar Court, a country mansion set amidst the rolling hills of Morristown, New Jersey. But, barely ten years later the mansion and most of its contents were consumed by fire. They rebuilt it and stayed on until despite all Kahn had done for the area over the years, on account of his ethnic background, he was refused entry into the Morris County Country Club.

This snub in 1914 prompted Kahn to make two significant further splashes into the property market: At 1 East 91st Street, he purchased land across the way from Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) and built the largest private house in Manhattan modelled after the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. And, in the same year, at Cold Spring Harbor outside Huntington, he paid $1 million for 443-acres on which he would build another country estate - the largest private house in the State of New York. 

Perhaps having grown accustomed to his elevated position in the hills at Morristown, Kahn desired his new country home to be built on an eminence with the purpose of enjoying a view over the Cold Spring Hills. It wasn't until 1917 that work could start on the mansion because the hill that Kahn wanted didn't actually exist - it took two years to build, and Kahn would be gratified to know it is still the highest point on Long Island!

Kahn employed the well-established architects William Adams Delano (1874-1960) and Chester Holmes Aldrich (1871-1940) to oversee the construction of the castle. He made it very clear that no expense was to be spared to make it as fireproof as possible: Kahn's collection of art and antiques was among the most significant in America, but he only saw himself as a temporary custodian of these objects - a responsibility he did not take lightly.

For the design of the estate itself, Kahn hired the equally well-established landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). Seth Raynor - the genius behind the The Course at Yale among others - designed the estate's 18-hole golf course which still exists and can be played at the Cold Spring Country Club, housed in the former stables.

Two years and $11 million later, Oheka - Otto HErmann KAhn - Castle was complete, described by The New York Times as the, "finest country house in America". Kahn employed 126 full-time servants to maintain his country home with 39 fireplaces and its own indoor swimming pool. An emblem of a Linden tree can frequently be seen throughout the estate which was the symbol of Kahn’s hometown in Germany.

The Grand Staircase in the entrance hall was inspired by the famous exterior staircase at the Château de Fontainebleau. The wood-panelled library replicated that of Kahn's city mansion and once had a secret passageway hidden in one of the bookcases which led to a chamber that he referred to as his "secretary’s office"... interpret that how you will! 

The dining room followed Addie's taste for simple, elegant refinement. It comfortably sat 50 or more guests for dinner parties, where each guest was assigned their own personal valet at the table. The Kahn's bedroom, decorated with hand-painted silk murals, included a spacious sitting room that led onto a terrace with views over the formal gardens. Whether staying or touring, the castle's interior speaks for itself and just as Kahn took a joy in hosting lavish parties for anyone who was anyone in the Gilded Age era, so Oheka continues it's grand traditions today.

The gardens are centered on a formal axial sunken garden in the French manner - in keeping with the castle. There are gravel pathways with parterres and water terraces screened by high clipped hedging from the entrance drive that ran parallel to the main axis. The grounds included one of the largest private greenhouse complexes in America, tennis courts, an aeroplane landing strip, orchards and stables.

Otto Kahn died in 1934. With increasing taxes and their four children grown up, Addie sold the castle five years later to the Welfare Fund of the Sanitation Workers of New York, who renamed it Sanita and used it as a retirement home for three years. 

During the Second World War it was requisitioned by the Merchant Marines as a training school for radio operators. From 1948 to 1979, it was the home of the Eastern Military Academy who bulldozed the gardens and subdivided the rooms. For the next four years Oheka sat forlorn and empty, trespassed on by vandals while The Cold Spring Hills Civic Association fought to wrestle it from the jaws of demolition.

By 1984, Oheka Castle and its remaining 23-acres was a shadow of its former self: There was no plumbing, no electricity; the gardens had gone, as had all the windows and doors. For $1.5 million, Long Island developer Gary Melius purchased Oheka and took on the ambitious task of restoring both the castle and its formal gardens back to their original grandeur as the Oheka Castle Hotel - a plan he more than ably succeeded in achieving. During the ongoing restoration, 450 new windows have been fitted; 4,000 roof slates have been replaced; and 3,000 new shrubs and trees have been planted.

Oheka was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and it is also listed on Historic Hotels of America. Since it's restoration it has gained a reputation as one of New York's premier venues for society weddings, gala celebrations and corporate retreats. It has also featured in a number of photo-shoots, movies and television shows including the USA Network hit, Royal Pains. But, today, despite all Melius' work for the last thirty plus years to maintain this architectural gem, it is facing foreclosure. 

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