New life for Oakland manor

Oakland: The Columbia Association is planning to renovate a 19th-century mansion that is used for meetings, weddings and monthly teas.

February 12, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Patricia B. Laidig describes Columbia's 19th-century Oakland mansion as a "living and breathing" treasure.

It is full of history and elegance - afternoon tea is served each month in the ballroom, she said.

But wear from almost 200 years of use sometimes intrudes on the glamour. The kitchen roof is leaking and some of the wooden window sills are rotting.

"I grew up in an old house like this," said Laidig, the Town Center village manager whose office is in Historic Oakland. "They weren't built the way places are built now. There's a lot of maintenance, and you have to keep on it."

To ensure that the manor is preserved, the Columbia Association is beginning a major renovation of the 1811 mansion, which is used as the Town Center community building.

The association board of directors has agreed to put $255,000 in the proposed 2004 fiscal capital budget for the first phase of the work. The board is expected to give final approval to the budget at the end of the month.

The money is expected to be used for a long list of structural maintenance jobs, including repairs to the roof, window sills and external stucco.

That is in addition to the $47,000 that is in the budget to replace the leaking kitchen roof and some gutters. The budget notes that if the work is not done, the building will "look unsightly."

"I'm just happy to see that this [board] has the wisdom and foresight to tackle it," said Donna Rice, the Town Center representative on the association board.

A comprehensive study of needed maintenance for the building should be completed by the end of next month, and the association staff likely will request additional money for repairs over the next three to five years, said Keisha Reynolds, the association's manager of community relations and communications.

Garry Chandler, chairman of the Town Center Village Board, said Oakland is not falling apart, but that it definitely needs attention.

"If these things are let go and forgotten about ... its age is going to catch up with it," he said.

The manor, a Federal-style country home, was built for Charles Sterrett Ridgely of Baltimore, a speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates. The home also is of historical importance to Columbia, Rice said. The building served as the Rouse Co.'s first headquarters.

"It's a wonderful building, but it's got to be preserved if we're going to continue to utilize it to the fullest," Rice said. "We've got to address some of these problems."

Town Center became the last Columbia village to get a community building when the association gave village officials control of the manor last year. The Columbia Association, which owns Oakland, restored it in 1988 and 1989.

Previously, the association had provided the village with two offices, a closet and a small basement room at the mansion and rented the other rooms for community group meetings or private events. That did not leave much space for the village to offer to its residents.

Rice said the village is trying to get more people throughout the village and Columbia to rent space in the building. The village has recently been receiving more calls from people interested in using the manor, she said.

The building is a popular wedding site, with a ceremony held nearly every weekend from May through September. But Laidig said the renovation should not interfere with any nuptials.

"[The association] has been very good about making sure they work around things like that," she said.

The association owns the 24 community buildings in Columbia's 10 villages, and periodically renovates and repairs them.

Two others are scheduled to undergo major renovations during fiscal year 2004. The fiscal 2004 budget includes $860,000 to renovate Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village and Owen Brown Community Center by April next year.

Despite the extra care that Oakland requires, Chandler said he thinks the Town Center community is happy that its community building stands out from the other meeting places.

"[The association] could spend $1 million on a neighborhood center and build a brick building like the other communities have," he said. "But I think we like just what we have."

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