A historic mansion in downtown Columbia is getting new life as an environmentally friendly events venue — think weddings, showers of the baby and bridal type, fancy parties of any sort you fancy, really — thanks to the efforts of one of Columbia’s premier social figures.
On a whim nearly five years ago, ballroom dancer Breedlove (that is, Wanda Gale Breedlove, but please, just call her Breedlove) bought the historic DeBruhl-Marshall House at an auction.
She’s spent the first few years of historic home ownership battling the challenges that come with a 200-year-old house — bats in the attic, a leaky roof and the like — and frankly wondering if she’d live to see the day the home would finally transform into a place that could welcome the community and that the community could once again treasure.
“People would say, ‘Well, when are we going to have a party? When are we going to get to see everything?’ I say, ‘Well, I have a work party every single day,’” Breedlove said. “I thought I would truly die before I saw these things.”
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Since purchasing the Laurel Street mansion in 2014, Breedlove and her partner, Richard Durlach, also purchased the historic Big Apple dance hall downtown and spent most of the past couple years renovating that as an event venue. The project meant putting the mansion on the back burner for the time being.
Now though, with the home’s grand foyer and traditional English gardens sufficiently spruced up, the DeBruhl-Marshall House is ready to open itself for weddings, parties and other private events, starting immediately.
Breedlove envisions guests walking up the grand staircase in the front of the house, through the foyer and gazing out into the intricate evergreen gardens that stretch for nearly a full block behind the home. Brides and grooms might exchange vows on the veranda, jazz bands might play on the upstairs terrace. Dancers would sway on the slate courtyard in the midst of the gardens, and banquet tables would stretch the length of a paved carriageway lined with English ivy.
“It’s grand, really,” Breedlove says of the mansion, which is also her home.
The price will run high on events at the DeBruhl-Marhall House — $4,800 for a 12-hour rental. That’s by design, Breedlove said, to protect the integrity of the property by being selective about the number and type of events it will host.
“It’s exclusive,” the owner said, “... to protect it and so that it remains to have a lot of cache. I feel like it is one of the premier, one of the most important venues. It is my home.”
But she’ll offer discounts for events that incorporate environmentally friendly practices such as skipping plastic and paper dinnerware, using organic linens and flowers and wearing pre-used wedding gowns and formal attire.
Repurposing the home as avenue will give people in the community a chance to interact with a place that tells a story about Columbia, said Robin Waites, director of Historic Columbia.
“It’s really important for us to understand that historic houses don’t all need to turn into historic house museums. There are plenty of those in Columbia. There are plenty of those all around the state,” Waites said. “Any time you can find a creative use for a historic place that allows the general public access, that’s a win.”
Breedlove hopes the events ultimately will generate money to help continue the restoration and upkeep of the historic property for years to come. She also hopes to have the house placed in a foundation or charitable trust to ensure it is cared for should anything happen to her.
“We want people to know about (the house and the Big Apple) and care about them, because it’s going to be up to the community to keep them going in the long term,” Breedlove said.