This coming Sunday, June 3, is the annual Fort Lee Arts & Music Festival. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., we will celebrate art and music in Fort Lee via two stages of free musical entertainment, a juried art show organized by the Fort Lee Artist Guild and more than 125 vendors and crafters, along with free bounce rides and face painting for kids and a Bergen County Harley Davidson Motorcycle show.
Why might you ask is this fodder for a weekly archive column about the history of Fort Lee?
Simply put, our borough has a long connection to the arts, from the late 19th and early 20th century artist colony along the cliffs and in the northern section of the borough that included the likes of George Overbury “Pop” Hart, to the Ortlip family of the early to late 20th century Irv Docktor, whose family owns the last clifftop art studio/home in Fort Lee.
But this piece will concentrate on another house—actually a castle of sorts that lived its Gothic life from the early 1900s through the early 1970s nestled along the cliffs below lower Main Street at the foot of River Road in Fort Lee.
The Castle, a rambling wooden Victorian house built along the Palisades at the top of River Road in 1900, had a storied history. A German immigrant built the house. Kids grew up in Fort Lee with tales of German U-Boats in the Hudson River receiving signals from people in The Castle during World War I – unlikely, but great stories for Fort Lee kids to grow up with and pass along to the next generation.
The Castle was also the first Fort Lee home and studio of the Ortlip family of artists, who worked and lived in The Castle in the early 20th century before moving to another home/studio atop Old Palisade Road in Fort Lee.
By the 1960s, the house was occupied with what locals called "hippies." Truth be told, the renowned artist Peter Max leased The Castle in the 60s, and on Memorial Day weekend in 1967, colleagues of Andy Warhol filmed parts of the film Ciao! Manhattan there, both on the grounds and inside The Castle.
Among those appearing on location for the filming were Warhol's "Factory Girl" Edie Sedgwick and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The film Ciao! Manhattan is available on DVD and worth a look for this rare footage of Fort Lee’s Castle.
According to the blog The Allen Ginsberg Project:
“Recently-released out-takes from the film Ciao Manhattan show Allen wandering naked on the set (such set as there was!) Memorial Day Weekend, 1967, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Old Palisades Road. As directors David Weisman and John Palmer, point out, it's in the grounds of "The Castle", a rambling, eccentric mansion, rented out and loaned to the company by artist Peter Max. Ciao Manhattan was, of course, a vehicle for fated Warhol star, Edie Sedgwick, Allen's cameo, only a very minor part of it. He does, however, manage to stand out!”
See this link for clips from the film and at the time code of :56 – 1:02 you will see The Factory Girl and Fort Lee’s Castle.
The early 1970s brought many losses to Fort Lee, including the fabled Palisades Amusement Park. The Castle was consumed by fire in the early 70s, and today all that remains are the ghostly turrets at the base of the property, where Fort Lee becomes Edgewater on River Road.
Above looms the garage and large Palisade high-rise – little do the good residents of this modern residential multi-story building know that their foundation sits atop the remains of Fort Lee’s Gothic Castle! Talk about Dark Shadows!
Take a look at these photos posted with this archive piece to see the remains of The Castle and the lone surviving tunnel, which serves as a portal to another time and a special Memorial Day weekend when the Factory Girl and the Beat Poet came to Fort Lee to make a movie.