Tenants pack up in preparation for repairs to mansion

Landmark in Columbia to undergo renovation

October 06, 2004|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

Two centuries have taken their toll on Columbia's Historic Oakland mansion. In its lifetime, the mansion has housed powerful lawmakers, a horse breeder, college students and soldiers in the state militia. But wear and tear has forced out the building's latest tenants while workers renovate the 19th-century home.

The roof leaks. The wood of some window sills is rotten. And the house needs new gutters after weathering years of storms.

"It's as elegant as ever, but it needs a few things here and there," said Doris Ligon, who keeps an office in the building's basement. "Two hundred years will do that to anyone."

Repairs are to begin this week and are expected to be complete Nov. 30. The prospect of the two-month disruption is causing a few headaches for the mansion's residents.

The African Art Museum of Maryland maintains exhibits on the top and bottom floors of the three-story building. Ligon, the museum's director, spent most of last week trying to move out the museum's 2,500 pieces.

"Every pencil we own has to be out of here," she said last week while sitting on the office floor.

Movers had packed the chairs and desks. Only the biggest sculptures and pieces remained, including one particularly hard-to-move mask that was woven of fragile corn stalks and towered over the movers at 12 feet tall.

"If anyone mentions the word move to me again ... ugh, it's one of those four-letter words you just never want to hear," she said.

Most of the museum's collection will be kept in climate-controlled storage to prevent the wood from molding, fur from matting and sculptures from cracking. Meanwhile, Ligon plans to open an interim exhibit at Howard County Center for the Arts.

The renovations will also mean two lost months for Town Center Community Association, which occupies and manages the mansion. The association rents out the manor for weddings and parties, and is booked most weekends.

"We're going to be losing $40,000 to $50,000" during the renovations, said Patricia B. Laidig, Town Center village manager.

Couples love the 1811 mansion for its Federal-style design, she said. The interior is adorned with Belgian chandeliers, and newlyweds often pose for pictures along the winding staircase or on the veranda.

Couples interested in renting the site won't be able to look inside for the next two months. The village hired a camera crew to produce a promotional video it can show in the meantime. But Laidig fears that might not do the trick.

Most summers, every weekend is booked, she said. And while half of next summer's weekends are booked, Laidig said, "We may have to depend on last-minute planners."

The renovations will temporarily cut the village office staff from 13 employees to two, while operations are squeezed into a room at Stonehouse in Long Reach village.

The repairs will cost $585,000. The Columbia Association, which owns the building, has allocated funds for the repair from its 2004 and 2005 budgets.

Despite the stress the renovation has brought, Laidig said, the repairs will be worth it.

None of Columbia's other villages has a community center as old as the Oakland mansion.

"It provides a different atmosphere," she said. "It's a part of history."

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