Financial History Issue 125 (Spring 2018) | Page 40

it. The original cost to build the estate was $11 million ($158 million today). Largely due to revenue, 85% of Ohe- ka’s buildings and grounds have been restored. When Melius’ daughter, Nancy, came on board, she focused on ensuring that Oheka maintains its original beauty. “Telling a story and creating experiences are key in the success of attracting guests,” she said, adding that operating for-profit is necessary. The business of history is not lost on her. She noted that the business side of the museum feeds preservation. Simply put: “We’re a hotel and historic site,” she said. “We’re a big estate with a small, personal feel.” The facility trades on its vast gardens and palatial Gilded Age zeitgeist. There is a brisk business in weddings and other major events. Guests stay in 117 rooms on the 115,000 square foot property. Nancy noted the value of adding weddings to the repertoire. Otto Kahn’s daughter, Maud, became the estate’s first bride on June 15, 1920. The majority of their business comes from weddings — about 200 per year. Nancy added that guests are often moved by the charming recreated staircase and vintage library, preserving Kahn’s original vision. “We’re going for the ‘wow’ factor,” she elaborated. “We want them to pull through the driveway and feel like they’re in France.” Indeed visitors come from France, Germany and the UK, all coun- tries with famous castles of their own. The formal gardens were designed by promi- nent landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers, one of whom, Frederick Law Olmstead, was a co-designer of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. “We have to get people in the door to sustain it, and these people deserve the experience of a historic site both hon- ored and maintained,” said Nancy, noting Oheka’s 75 person staff. “We’re always reupholstering. With paid staff we’re able to provide a more professional experi- ence.” In addition to weddings, corporate events and hotel guests, there are tours and, recently, a venture into art exhibits. There are also plans for a spa. Oheka brings in roughly $16 million a year, with most of the money going directly back into the estate. “We feel an obligation to keep these places alive and share them with the public,” said Nancy, adding that while there were 1,000 historic sites in 1920, that figure has plummeted The Empress Hotel, on the harbor in the provincial capital of Victoria, British Columbia, holds its legendary high tea every afternoon. Canada has done well in the business of history. From the Empress to the Banff Springs Hotel, to the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. 38    FINANCIAL HISTORY  |  Spring 2018  |