What has secret passages, Charlie Chaplin as a visitor, and was America's second largest mansion?
Weighing in at 109,000 square feet and 126-rooms, Oheka was once the second largest private dwelling in these United States. Oheka is named after railroad financier Otto Herman Khan, who built the castle as his LI residence in 1914. It took 5 years to complete. Otto Khan built Oheka after being denied membership to a nearby country club. The property originally consisted of 443 acres, including a private golf club.
After Otto's death in 1934, the castle was sold to New York City, which turned it into a retreat for sanitation workers. By 1948, all the land was sold off except the castle and 23 acres around it. It then became Eastern Military Academy. The military academy installed drop ceilings and drab panels, covering some of the castle's beauty. The academy shut its doors in 1979, leaving the castle to decay.
Arsonists tried to set the place ablaze many times, but were unsuccessful because of its fireproof concrete and brick and steel construction. Before constructing Oheka, another of Otto's homes burned, so he decided to make Oheka fireproof.
Businessman Gary Melius bought the castle in 1984 and has since restored it. Now it serves as a wedding and conference hall, with elegant rooms for rent.
Otto was a philanthropist who supported the arts, including motion pictures. Charlie Chaplin was a guest at the castle on occasion. The renovated castle now features a small pub dedicated to the memory of Chaplin. Almost all of the wall space is covered by pictures, illustrations and other memorabilia of the comedian. The room is nothing short of a shrine to Chaplin's memory.
Some interesting facts:
- The high point hill that the house sits on is man-made. It took 4 years for the entire construction. 2 years to build the hill & 2 for the house. Mr. Kahn wanted the highest point on LI, but it was already bought up by someone else in West Hills. So he built his own hill.
- The pool is interesting since it's so long & narrow. It's a lap pool & the area was not supposed to be a pool. Where the lap pool is was originally to be an indoor orange grove with trees. The pool was originally supposed to be outside & of normal size. But he thought that it was a bit over the top & too decadent since the period was during WWI. That's why there is no entrance to the lap pool from inside the house.
- On Easter he would invite not only wealthy friends kids, but servant's kids, as well, for an Easter egg hunt on the great lawn in front of the house. Each egg, when found, contained a $1,000 bill inside.
- The golf course is still in use today as the Cold Spring Hills Club. The club is located in the old garage & stables, which are huge.
- The original greenhouse & nursery are still there & now is a commercial nursery
- There was also a private airstrip since one of his sons flew.
- All the library's wood work is painted concrete; not only the shelves. It appears today as it originally looked.
- Kahn was originally Jewish, but converted to Episcopal. He & his family are buried in St Johns Episcopal Cemetery in Cold Spring Harbor on 25A.
- Gary Melius faithfully restored the 1st floor & grounds to almost original condition. The school had painted much of the marble in military grays & blues.