Oheka Castle: A Haven for Socialites, Celebrities and Politicians
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:49 PM
Oheka Castle is the largest private renovation and the second-largest private residence in the United States, located in Huntington Long Island. It is known as the Otto Kahn Estate because it was originally built by the financier Otto Kahn in the early 1900s. WE channel has described the castle as the number-one wedding castle in America. Kahn’s daughter was the first woman to be married here. Just like Otto lived in the castle, now owner Gary Melius, who bought the castle in 1984 for 1.5 million dollars, lives in the same room on the third floor.
Otto died in 1934 and the estate has taken on several new owners since. Fire, water, age, vandalism and neglect had ruined most of the castle by the time Melius bought it, but his creative dream was larger than the vision at hand. In 1948 through 1978, Eastern Military Academy had owned the castle. They were the last owners before Gary Melius bought the castle in 1984. Since then, all the rooms were redone, modernized with Wi-Fi cable central air conditioning, alarms; sprinkler systems and everything from the floors to the ceilings were recreated to bring the original luster back to the castle. Today, 35 million dollars later, renovations have been completed.
Oheka, a historical hotel with 32 guestrooms on the upper floors of the mansion, is the most popular wedding venue for socialites and celebrities (one of the Jonas brothers was recently married here) and the backdrop to many photo shoots and Hollywood productions. Right now, the television hit show “Royal Pains” is filmed there.
Nancy Melius, Gary’s daughter, has played an important role in preserving the castle’s historical features and name. Not only was Nancy a graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology, but she was a Broadway Star in the show Cats, she also played a part in Leave it to Jane before achieving her next big role as a dancer in Broadway’s Gypsy. When she finished touring and returned back to New York City, her father had asked Nancy to help decorate the castle a few days a week.
“I worked two days a week to help out. I started decorating some rooms, some of the guestrooms that weren’t finished yet and stuff. We redid the formal dining room which was a learning curve for me because the designing company I worked for was very contemporary. Oheka is a very tradition design. It was fun. Then I started getting involved in the hotel and with some of the operations of the business.” Nancy obtains extreme organizational skills and business finesse. Today she is the Marketing and Design Director of the Oheka Castle.
“Our staff are definitely a compliment to the building. The estate draws people in and creates this magical moment.
As far as her role as the formidable president of the Gold Coast Tours. Nancy states, “It was my initiative to create a collaborative marketing campaign with the other mansions and to include other smaller historical places, but it is based around the Gold Coast Mansions. There are only a few hundred originals left on Long Island. Most of them are privately owned and each year one or two are looking into being demolished. It happens so slowly that we don’t realize that one day they just may not be here. And Long Island as a whole has not grasped the idea that the mansions are a resource to Long Island. If we use them correctly and market them correctly and open them up for tourism and make it easy and accessible to people, we can be a resource. People want to see the mansions; they want to go to them. Tour guides are dying to bring people to the mansions.”
With the new movie “The Great Gatsby” released later this year, which includes actors such as Baz Luhrman and Leonardo DiCaprio, people should know about our historical foundation. The Oheka Castle was partial inspiration for Gatsby’s estate. Great Neck Long Island has been known as the appropriating setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. Lurhmann even moved his family from Austria to Chelsea, NY in 2010, assuming the film was going to be filmed here.
The castle is also host to Nassau County Independent Party Chairman Rick Bellando as well. Karin Murphy Caro, founder of Blu Chip Marketing and I interviewed Rick for Highbrow Magazine at a brief lunch at Oheka:
Alysia: Rick, how long have you been involved with Oheka Castle?
Twenty-nine years…I threw the owner, Gary Melius, off the property the first night I worked. Twenty-nine years later I am still here. I have done every job here at Oheka, working my way to the top.
Alysia: What do you mean, “You threw him off the property?”
The first night I worked here, no one informed me that there was a new owner, Gary Melius. They never told me his name or who he was. So the first night I worked, he came on the property and I made him leave.
Karin: Rick, how did you get involved in politics while working at Oheka?
I met The Independence Party Chairman, Frank Mackay here at an Oheka Power Lunch, which he hosts nearly every Thursday. After many weeks of sitting with Frank and listening to his politics, I realized that he shared my political views. Several months later, I was approached by the Chairman to run for State Committee in my district. At election time, I ran against a four-year incumbent and won by 95 percent of the votes. Several months after winning the election, I was appointed Executive Director of Nassau after the Chairman in Nassau lost his position. Chairman Mackay at that time appointed me the new leader of Nassau County.
Karin: What was your initial reaction when Frank asked you to get involved with The Independence Party?
I was excited. Being new to the field of politics and being appointed the new leader, I knew there would be a lot of obstacles that I would have to overcome.
Alysia: What are your political plans and goals?
My goal, always, is to keep the Independence Party growing at a rapid rate and to see it one day as a major party. I believe to balance the system out, you need a third major party. Today, most people are very upset with their parties and politics, so they are switching to the Independence Party. The Independence Party takes no stance on social issues but lets the candidates answer to the people, not the party superiors.
Karin: What do you like the most? What do you like the least?
The most: I feel like I am helping all Nassau residents in making sure that the best candidate is being selected for the job and in turn protect the Nassau taxpayers.
The least: That there is not more bipartisanship between the two major parties.
Karin: Do you have any favorite charities?
The Elena Melius Foundation, Megan’s Law, Angela’s House.
Alysia: A lot of people do not know Oheka Castle is not just for weddings….
We do many things. Oheka plays host to birthday parties, Sweet 16’s, Bat/Bar Mitzvah’s, holiday parties and fundraisers almost weekly. Gary is a very charitable man; people do not realize this. Aside from the events, we often are a venue for movie, television and photo shoots. It is a hotel; we have a restaurant and a bar so you can come by after work for drinks or to eat. If you’re interested in history, we also offer historical tours. We are the only caterers in America with the six-star awards. That alone says a lot about Gary Melius and Oheka Castle.
Karin: And the power lunches. …These are through invite only, but why did you start these?
The power lunch was started as a way to connect with some of the county’s most influential and often interesting people. Gary Melius and Frank Mackay are quite similar, so having the opportunity to get together and spend time with these individuals makes for an interesting time. Gary and Frank are both powerful men, passionate about life and two of the most kindhearted men you’ll ever meet.
Alysia: So, the election is in September?
Yes, it is. My position opens up every two years so it feels like your always campaigning.
Karin: Have you seen the Independence Party grow?
Yes. People are getting tired of the same old politics, same old thinking. This is drawing many people to the Independence Party.
Karin: What change do you want?
I want to see our two-party system of government change. I want to balance out the system with a third major party. Challenges come with any change. Someone is always going to love you for it and someone is always going to hate you for it. A third-party opens up the possibility to offer people another option and more balance in the system.
Alysia Stern is an author and contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. Karin Murphy Caro is the CEO of Blu Chip Marketing. They are collaborating on a few books.