Manor gives `sense of home'

Style: A Columbia village gains a 19th-century mansion as its community center and gets a boost in its self-esteem.

August 15, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

For years, Town Center has felt somewhat neglected among Columbia's nine other villages.

It doesn't have the traditional amenities the rest of the villages have - no pool, no grocery store and only a handful of tot lots. Instead, it offers another convenience - downtown living in a suburban setting, with a mall and office parks in the center of the village.

But this year, some persistent resentment among residents was eased - the village finally acquired a community center, a place residents could call home.

In February, the Columbia Association gave Town Center officials control of Historic Oakland, an 1811 manor home.

As the last village to get a community building, Town Center had been using space at the mansion to house its village offices and hold meetings, but it had no control of the facility's bookings and was not able to collect revenue from rentals.

"It's very important to the community identity for the residents," said Patricia B. Laidig, Town Center's village manager. "It's the sense of home, the sense of community - especially in Town Center, where it's all around the mall."

Village officials are working on the transition, transferring all accounting and payroll books to the village's name.

An additional 15 employees, raising the total to 18, have been hired to take on the new duties. By the fall, the transition should be complete, Laidig said.

"Our staff is working 15- to 18-hour days, really trying to get things going," said Columbia Councilwoman Donna Rice of Town Center.

The Columbia Association, which owns the building, previously had provided the village with two offices, a closet and a small basement room at the manor.

The homeowners association rented the mansion to a number of groups for events or programs.

That left inadequate space for Town Center residents to hold events such as birthday or retirement parties, Rice said.

"We weren't a priority" for the Columbia Association, Rice said. "We were always second fiddle."

Now that the village controls the building, officials expect to provide more programs for residents and with greater flexibility in scheduling. The village offers activities such as yoga classes, children's play groups and concerts.

"It's like breathing a breath of fresh air when it's been stagnant for so long," Rice said. "We're just delighted to have this wonderful opportunity to finally do adequate programming and meet the needs of the community."

Oakland Manor is vastly different from the other community centers among Columbia's villages.

The Federal-style country home was built for Charles Sterrett Ridgely of Baltimore, speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates.

The Columbia Association restored it in 1988 and 1989.

"It's a living thing - you have a building this old and with this much history," Laidig said. "It needs love and care."

Weddings are held at the mansion nearly every weekend from May through September. Brides can descend a winding staircase into the foyer, decorated with chandeliers and historic paintings.

Laidig said couples from the Baltimore area get married at the historic home, which she called a gem for Howard County.

"People are looking for this facility, the uniqueness of the building," she said.

Village board meetings are held in the library furnished with red leather chairs and shelves full of books of the county's history and 1800s fiction.

Afternoon tea is served in the ballroom monthly, on the first and last Thursdays.

The mansion also houses the African Art Museum of Maryland and the Helping Hands Enrichment and Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

"There's no other village center like this - that's for sure," said Garry Chandler, chairman of Town Center's village board.

Since the village acquired the mansion home, Chandler said, he has seen factions of the 4,265 residents slowly getting together at community events.

He said he saw a number of residents there from the Banneker neighborhood - which he said is not usually largely represented at community programs - at the village's ice cream social for National Night Out last week at the mansion.

"That let's me know that the word is getting out - this is their village, and they're welcome to come to these things," said Chandler, who lives in Banneker.

"In the past, I don't really think they felt that connection," he said.

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