Bill Scrivo's People
Olga Blondyn and the 'Sugar Castle',
Landmark on Lake Erie's South Shore
|OLGA BLONDYN in front of The Castle |
(Photo by Michael Good)
Such a building is the fortress-like landmark on Lorain's lakefront. Most of those in the Steel City and surrounding communities know it simply as "The Castle." It started life some 50 years ago as "The Sugar Castle," a medieval fort-like home for an eccentric sugar baron of World War I, a man who made a fortune speculating in the commodity in that period.
Much of its history has been lost through the years, but the massive hand-cut sandstone blocks that make up the outer walls attest to at least part of the truth of the legend of the building and the man who built it.
"MOST OF WHAT I know about it is what people have told me," says Olga Blondyn, who operates The Castle as one of the better known restaurants in the area. She came here with her husband, Walter, in 1960.
Walter and Olga, both of Ukrainian descent, were from Akron. Walter had been a newspaperman, a wine merchant, supermarket and restaurant owner and manager of restaurants on the Ohio, New Jersey and New York turnpikes before he came to Lorain to find his dream on the South Shore of Lake Erie.
"The Castle was built by a man named Hagemen," says Olga. "He had workers from the quarries come out and cut the stone and fit it together by hand. No two stones are the same."
It is a dark, solid building with exposed beams, a big fireplace in the main dining room and many rooms. What is now the kitchen was the stable.
"They say he (Hagemen) had dogs running around the place and kept chickens in the basement," says Olga Blondyn. At any rate, he built a sturdy place, for the only thing that really shows any signs of wear are the wooden framed windows, which tend to vibrate when the wind whips off Lake Erie and send a chill through winter diners.
The Castle had numerous owners after the Sugar Baron departed and for many years was the "in place" to go. It had a reputation for good food and people came to dine from many miles around. When Walter and Olga Blondyn took it over in 1960, it needed many repairs and was on the downgrade.
***WALTER BLONDYN and Olga Halamay were married on May 21, 1939. He was a man who drove himself hard at whatever he did and became ill with a high thyroid condition. He was given two weeks to live in 1958, Olga recalls.
When he bought the Castle, it was a dream come true. He added a room which houses the present bar and expanded the dining facilities. He developed an International Menu and the restaurant was once more back to regaining its former popularity.
Many business deal has been concluded over the Castle's bar or in one of its dark nooks in the lounge. It has seen sports stars and celebrities, the great and near-great.
The dream ended for Walter Blondyn on Aug. 9, 1971 when he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage.
OLGA AT FIRST thought she would sell the Castle. But she delayed and today she is glad she did. She has enjoyed her role, the staff has backed her and the customers are again crowding the Castle. At lunchtime these days it's hard to get a seat.
"I intend to keep on going," says Olga. She keynotes her hopes for success on one thing.
"I think if you give people quality they are going to come back."
***The Blondyns have two daughters, Mrs. Richard (Diana) Roman of Bay Village, with whom Olga now lives, and Patricia, who works for IBM. Her son-in-law plays accordion at The Castle on weekends. There are three grandchildren, Mark 9; Eric, 8; and Todd, who will be 6 in May.
OLGA CENTERS her life around the family and the Castle now and she's grateful she held on to Walter's dream.
"I don't know what I would have done if I'd let go of this place," she says. She gets a lot of help from Jean, the cook, Wally, the bartender, and the red bloused waitresses, many of them veterans at the Castle. They're all like "family" to Olga now.
She even opens the kitchen on New Year's Day to server breakfast to the Red Barons, a group which meets on Fridays to talk and bend an elbow.
"Walter started that and after he passed away they asked me if I would," says Olga. So she serves the Barons and their guests at 9:30 a.m. even though she didn't leave the Castle until 2 a.m. New Year's Eve.