Oil City Students Get Royal Treatment at Wildcat Mansion
When inclement weather forced the cancellation of Oil City High School’s promenade outside The Moose Lodge last Friday evening, prom-goers were left scrambling.
Incidentally, word was spreading on Facebook about the Wildcat Mansion where prom-goers could take pictures for free on the property before attending prom. Jon Bernstein, the owner of the historic mansion located at 4849 State Route 322 in Franklin, had given permission to a Franklin High School student and his date to take pictures at the mansion on Saturday.
Bernstein was completely unaware that Oil City’s prom was on Friday.
“(The post) got a ton of responses,” Bernstein said. “One of the responses was ‘It’s so nice of you to open your mansion for the kids,’ and I’m like oh – well, I’m not, but maybe I should.”
Needless to say, the Wildcat Mansion was the hot spot for pictures on Friday night for those attending Oil City’s prom.
“Hoards of people showed up, and they were rampaging through the mansion,” Bernstein chuckled. “I had laundry, I had unmade beds, I had litter boxes, closet doors were open, clothes were strewn about, but I just had to surrender.”
“It was definitely ‘baptism by fire.’ Sort of just – take a deep breath, and resist your impulse to have everything be perfect,” he added. “It’s a long haul, and it’s going to be a while until (the mansion’s) 100% done. My sense was that everyone was forgiving and that people were just gravitating towards what was the Instagram-able, photographable, mansion.”
Bernstein remains mindful of the mansion’s history as a public venue, not his private residence, although he is living on the property.
For him, it was welcomed chaos.
“I’m developing it to be a public venue, so it wasn’t like people were tromping through my house,” he said. “It just didn’t feel like that. It was more like I’m just the person who was ready and preparing this venue to be a public venue. It’s just that the public came in numbers more than I had anticipated and sooner than I had anticipated.”
Nevertheless, Bernstein got up early the next morning, cleaned the mansion, and played host for another round of prom-goers on Saturday night.
Bernstein, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, purchased the location, formerly known as Turning Point Treatment Center, after years of looking for what he described as a “non-traditional” residence to start a destination venue business.
As a former professional screenwriter in Los Angeles, Bernstein was successful and had a passion for the arts, but grew frustrated through certain elements of the job.
“I was missing having more control, frankly,” Bernstein said. “When you’re a screenwriter, you’re at the mercy of things beyond your control all the time. Although the notion of being a professional screenwriter for my whole life was appealing, I was starting to recognize it was becoming really frustrating.”
Bernstein had always dreamed of owning his own immersive theatre venue, drawing inspiration from venues like the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, and Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Immersive theatre is a concept in which the stage is removed, and the audience becomes immersed in the show, even sometimes becoming a part of the script.
“I had this dream of how I can have a destination venue and what that would look like,” Bernstein said. “I spent many years working at venues and thinking like I will sell my house in LA if I can find a venue that works.”
It took about three years, but Bernstein found the dream destination tucked into the Oil Region, and he was star-struck from the first visit in May of 2021.
“The more I learned about the history of the mansion and the history of the region, I became more and more drawn to it,” Bernstein noted. “But, it had been a rehab treatment center for 20 years, so it was all about how I can de-institutionalize it and reclaim its origins as a private residence.”
“I just thought this was exceptionally special,” he added. “After years of looking at a variety of places, nothing compared to this one. I thought, ‘Will I regret it if I do it, or will I regret it if I don’t do it?”
Bernstein pulled the trigger after a couple of weeks and was the owner of the mansion by December.
The meaning behind the name Wildcat Mansion is derived from the days of the booming Oil Region in the late 1800s. Exploratory oil wells were often referred to as “wildcats,” and the drillers were subsequently known as “wildcatters.” Bernstein drew the correlation between drillers searching for “boom-or-bust” wells and his story of purchasing a mysterious property like Wildcat Mansion.
“When you look up the definition of ‘wildcatter’ on Merriam-Webster, the example they used said: ‘to be a wildcatter, I wasn’t sure if he was a fool or a genius.’ I was relating a little too much,” Bernstein said, laughing.
Wildcat Mansion will open for lodging this upcoming summer season before hosting its first round of seasonal-themed immersive shows during Halloween and Christmas.
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