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
“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
“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 | www.MoAF.org