Travel

Castle to open before year's end

After five years of off and on construction, the Woodford County castle will finally open its doors to guests and charity fund-raisers before the end of the year.

Open, that is, to those who can afford a $1,000-a-night room or $3,000-a-night turret suites in what is now called The CastlePost.

That's what owner Tom Post, a Miami lawyer, has renamed the U.S. 60 landmark that he once called the Kentucky Castle.

For $25,000, you can rent the first floor with ballroom, dining room and great hall for 24 hours. Pony up $50,000, and you'll get a three-day weekend to have your own private Renaissance.

At those prices, can anyone other than Rolling Stones' frontman Sir Mick Jagger or billionaire adventurist Sir Richard Branson do any swashbuckling there?

"You'd be surprised at the inquiries that we've had, who said 'Call us back when you're ready to talk,'" said Mary Ellen Slone, Post's spokeswoman. "The mystique of it has been so amazing. People are not shocked at the prices."

Versailles Mayor Fred Siegelman, who toured the castle grounds last week, said there is "absolutely" a market for lodging fit for a king. He predicts the castle will draw interest from out-of-town guests in for horse sales and other events.

"When it's finished and complete, it's going to be amazing," Siegelman said.

General contractor Richard Besola said construction is "98 percent complete" but hedges on whether the castle will be open when Keeneland's fall racing meet starts Oct. 3.

"I built a shopping center one time that took me about a year, and that was three times as big as this place," Besola said. "I built a house one time that almost took two years. But this has taken a long time because there's a lot more to it than meets the eye."

Slone was slightly more definitive, saying that if someone wanted an Oct. 1 wedding reception at the castle, "it's probably not going to happen."

For his part, Post said in a telephone interview that construction workers have done "a wonderful job."

"Now people will have an opportunity to get the feel of Europe even if they don't actually go," he said.

The CastlePost's Web site, www.thecastlepost.com, also markets the site as a possible place to shoot scenes for a movie. Two production companies have already inquired about future use of the castle, Slone said.

Post won't say what the construction cost is, but the county assesses the fair cash value of the property now at more than $3 million, a figure that will increase when construction has finished. And if you're curious: Post's tax bill for the castle last year was $8,523.89.

Post, a graduate of Lexington's Lafayette High School who received his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Kentucky, bought the castle for $1.8 million in 2003. The previous owner, Lexington contractor Rex Martin Sr., started building the castle in 1969, but it was never finished and sat empty for more than 30 years.

A May 2004 fire burned the house. Kentucky State Police and the state fire marshal's office concluded that there was a high probability that the fire was intentionally set but no one was charged.

In 2005, the Woodford County Board of Adjustment approved — with conditions — Post's plan to open the castle to overnight guests, weddings and charity fund-raising events.

The conditions included limiting the number of parties and charitable events to one a month. And any musical entertainment must be kept inside the castle residence.

Under Woodford County zoning regulations, the castle is considered "a tourist home," which is essentially the same thing as a bed-and-breakfast but with more rooms. In all, the castle has 16 guest rooms — 12 within the castle residence and four on the perimeter walls — and 21 bathrooms.

Now you know why Jerry Abney of Boone Plumbing in Winchester has been working on the castle for three years. And it's not just bathrooms that have kept him busy, but a gigantic septic system and a heating system that will warm the concrete floors.

"It's a learning experience every day. Everything is different for a castle," Abney said. "You've got a lot more expensive material to work with. There are a lot of special-order fixtures that you can hardly find."

When it's finished, the castle will have a library, commercial kitchen, dining room for 40 guests, ballroom, game room, 20-by-50-foot pool, and tennis and basketball courts. On the open-air roof will be bowling lanes and a putting green.

Inside, "There will be a lot of gold gilding, beautiful wallpaperings, tapestries and oil paintings," said interior designer Victor Saho of J. Victor Interiors.

In short, The CastlePost will have everything but the moat. Besola said he and Post had toyed with the idea of putting one in, but decided against the potential liability.

The site was a veritable beehive of work during a Wednesday tour.

Besola has 20 people on his payroll now, and estimates that the total construction workforce fluctuates between 60 and 80. A table saw whined and echoed in the cavernous great hall, where 30-foot ceilings are tall enough for Errol Flynn wannabes to swing from, except the three chandeliers haven't been hung yet.

Still, one worker expressed a kid-in-the-candy-store feeling at the opportunity to showcase his work on such a project.

Jerome Smyser of Louisville, who did the woodwork in the castle, recalls how he climbed over a fence when he was 15 to explore the then-empty castle shell.

"Here I am 25 years later, doing trim work in it," Smyser said. "It's like a dream come true. It's a nice experience and somewhat of a privilege."

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