deckers ugg boots This used to be my playground
In the dream, an older man and two young boys are walking down a steep hill off of a parking lot. It’s a summer day. A golf course stretches before them. They are not talking, but the sound of rhythmic clacking becomes audible. It’s the man’s metal golf spikes hitting the pavement.
I open my eyes and realize I was dreaming again about the Castle, the motel/resort just outside of Olean where I spent time every summer in my youth. And I spend the next few minutes wishing it was real.
The Castle holds a place in my heart and apparently my subconscious that is completely out of proportion to the time I spent there, which amounts to about 50 days and 40 nights in a lifetime closing fast on 50 years. The Castle restaurant on the property was far more well known, but I always thought of the Castle first as a motel. The rooms had color TV and cable at a time when most people I knew had neither. It also had such other kid friendly features as a movie theater; an in ground swimming pool with a diving board and a slide; a tennis court; a lobby that usually had a few comic books on the newsstand and desk clerks who didn’t seem to care if you read them without paying and one pinball machine.
It also had a par 3, 9 hole golf course shoehorned into the land behind the motel. It was not a challenging layout; two of the holes were the length of a very long putt on a traditional course. But for as little as $1.50 a day, you could play all you wanted. My grandfather taught my older brother and me to play there when we were 9 and 7 years old. Through our teen years, we visited the Castle and did the same things every summer.
I loved it then because of what it was; I miss it now because of what it represented.
It has been closed for years now, and all the buildings that once sat on the grounds are gone. Except for an afternoon on the way back from a college visit at St. Bonaventure University five years ago, I haven’t been near it for decades. But I dream about it often.
Last year, I shared with my mother that I wanted to go back there, just once, to walk on the land that used to be the golf course. Some part of me wanted to say goodbye.
On my birthday, she handed me a small box. Inside was the business card of Nancy L. Morgan, membership services coordinator for the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce. Her phone number was printed on the front. Before I could ask why I was getting a business card for my birthday, she explained:
She and my stepfather stopped in the Chamber office while on a visit through the Southern Tier to ask if it would be possible for a person to walk on the land of the former motel. Morgan said that not only was it possible, but that she lived adjacent to it and she would be happy to let me traipse through her yard to get there.
So on a damp and windy Friday afternoon, I did.
The story of the Castle started in 1946, when Italian immigrant Guerino “Butch” Butchello purchased two businesses on West State Road: a small restaurant called the Dime Castle and the Tower Gas Station, which looked like a medieval castle. Two years later, according to a 1991 article in the Olean Times Herald, he connected the two businesses into one and began building what would become the Castle, a sprawling fine dining establishment with a national reputation.
Butchello purchased the adjacent 40 room Olean Motel in 1963 and expanded that over the years until it had 160 rooms. The business thrived through the 1960s and 1970s.
The Castle was a focal point of the Southern Tier community, the site of countless wedding receptions, business luncheons and sports banquets.
“The Castle restaurant is itself a classic. Today it is marking its 30th anniversary having opened on May 10, 1946, with the same magic that now calms the hearts and minds of those travel wearied and traffic harried as they leave the hectic pace of W. State Road and enter the peaceful fountain foyer of the large spacious haven.”
When Butchello died in 1976, his sons, Gerald and Daniel, took over operations. They died a year apart in 1985 and 1986. Later, his grandson David ran the company.
By the 1980s, travel and dining habits changed, and the Castle’s popularity began to wane. Its demise was the subject of persistent rumors by the 1990s.
The beginning of the end came in 2001, when first the restaurant and then the motel closed. A company from Fayetteville purchased the 17 acre site and planned to build a mixed use development of retail shops, restaurants, office space and housing. That plan never came to fruition, and today the land is vacant, pending a plan to build a mortgage back office operation there.
In November 2005, four years after the Castle ceased to be a business, it ceased to exist at all when a demolition crew finished it off. Times Herald reporter Rick Miller interviewed Jack Bailey, who was overseeing the project, for a story on its final hours. Bailey said he kept hearing from people who had stories about family events that had been held there. Some would come to him and ask for stones from the restaurant to keep as souvenirs.
One was an 86 year old woman riding in a chauffer driven limousine. Bailey said he gave her a few stones and she was on her way.
My mother’s parents started going to the Castle for summer vacations in the 1960s. My grandfather would play golf, my grandmother would read and relax and the two of them would go out to dinner. For two children of the Depression, spending time at the Castle was the epitome of luxury. They treasured every minute they spent there.
In the early 1970s, they invited my brother and me along. On our first couple of trips, all four of us stayed in the honeymoon suite, which was larger than the other rooms and had a refrigerator in it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
My grandfather knew we were too young to play golf even Castle golf so he took us out on the putting green just behind the first tee and tried to teach us the toughest part of the game. (I’m almost there; 40 more years and I should have it figured out.)
The next year, he let us play the course. Between the swings and misses and the shots I “forgot” to count, I doubt that I broke 100 for nine holes. Still, we both were hooked on the game and the Castle.
Soon my mother and then my stepfather joined us. Going to the Castle became a kind of annual fantasy camp for my brother and me. We could do anything we wanted. Play golf from dawn to dusk, watch as much TV as we could handle, order the most expensive thing on the menu, eat junk food, stay up late. We even got to lie on top of the covers on the beds, although my grandmother almost had to be hospitalized from the trauma of witnessing that abomination to manners and hygiene.
But it was not all sunshine, lollipops and disheveled bedspreads. In 1975, my grandfather decided to play a round of golf after dinner with no shoes on and slipped on the side of a green, breaking his leg and cutting short our vacation.
The following year, our reservation was lost and we had to abandon the vacation. That led my grandmother to pen a letter to the Butchello family in which she said, in so many words: “I’m not mad, but I am VERY disappointed.” (You never wanted to be on the business end of that speech.) Soon, a voucher for a free stay arrived in the mail and almost all was forgiven.
But even those things that seemed tragic at the time became fond shared memories.
The last year our whole family was at the Castle together was 1983. Jobs and young adult life had gotten in the way, first for my brother and then for me. The last time I stayed overnight was for my first wedding anniversary in 1989. By then, it was beginning to fall into disrepair. I never went back, a decision I have regretted ever since.
I didn’t tell many people I was doing this, mostly because even as I was planning it, I recognized how strange it sounded. But my longing for a return to a cherished part of my youth is not all that unusual.