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Carolinas: Venues with a past

Courtesy Brookgreen Gardens

When it was time to plan the annual Christmas party, the staff at Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Wilmington, N.C., had no problem deciding on a location. They returned for the second year to 128 South, an event venue in downtown Wilmington.

“It was beautiful, and the staff was incredible,” said Gwen Smyth, who organized the event. “We’ve gone there two years in a row, and we would absolutely go there again.”

About 60 people attended the party, which included a buffet and had seating for everyone.
Smyth appreciates the colored blocks of stained glass that accent bay windows of the building’s historic facade.

The circa-1862 structure is one of the many historic venues in North Carolina and South Carolina. But banish the thought of an antebellum home with big pillars and cascades of spanish moss. While that scene does exist, the five properties featured here show how diverse historic meeting places can be in the Carolinas.

128 South
Wilmington, N.C.
In the Von Kampen Building in Wilmington’s historic district, 128 South still emits the air of the Victorian-era business. Its bay windows used to showcase wares; awnings that once sheltered shoppers punctuate its red brick facade.

W.H.S. Fuchs Dry Goods, one of the largest area grocery stores, was housed there. The exposed heart-of-pine beams, the hardwood floors and of course, its windows, deliver mercantile chic.

Exposed brick walls and ductwork also remind of the building’s roots, but glossy white woodwork and gleaming floors lighten the space, creating an elegance that balances the more rustic features. A second-floor mezzanine overlooks the lower level, giving 128 an expansive feeling.

128 South opened in February 2010. “The interior of the facility underwent extensive renovations,” said owner Christie Brogan. “The goal was to maintain historical features as well as update it.”

Last October, the venue added an outdoor deck overlooking the lower Cape Fear River, with views, too, of the USS North Carolina.

“The deck provides an opportunity to enjoy the generally mild weather in the area, as well as the spectacular views of the Cape Fear River and picturesque downtown Wilmington,” Brogan said.

At about 2,200 square feet each, the indoor and outdoor spaces are treated as one and rented together, she said.

Weddings have dominated business, but recently, Brogan has seen an uptick in interest from businesses and associations. Many use 128 South for awards dinners, presentations, luncheons, mixers and fundraisers.

128 South shares the building with Stemmerman Inn and its six loft-style suites.


Brookgreen Gardens
Murrells Inlet, S.C.
The classic Carolina experience comes alive at Brookgreen Gardens, situated between Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island, off the U.S. Route 17 bypass. Twenty minutes from bustling Myrtle Beach, the gardens are a peaceful change of scenery.

The property marries four former plantations: The Oaks, Brookgreen, Springfield and Laurel Hill. The plantation homes had burned by the time Archer Huntington, son of an industrial magnate, and wife, Anna, a self-taught sculptor, first visited the area in 1929. (Brookgreen’s kitchen building remains.) Still, the couple saw the potential. They bought Brookgreen and the three adjoining properties — 9,127 acres of forest, swamp, rice fields and beachfront. Thoughts of a winter home in 1931 became plans for a nonprofit dedicated to American sculpture and a native plant and animal refuge.

Brookgreen is the first U.S. sculpture garden designated a National Historic Landmark, with 1,400 pieces in the collection. It also has numerous event spaces.

“One of our most popular venues for smaller corporate board meetings and retreats is the Holliday Cottage,” said Kym Bailey, manager of private events. “It’s beautiful, private and so unusual.”

The cottage, which has served as a Southern Living showcase home, is near a picturesque pond, which makes it appealing for outdoor events.

Larger groups opt for the E. Craig Wall Jr. Lowcountry Center, which seats up to 144. “Because there are no windows in the auditorium, it’s a really good space for PowerPoint and audio-visual presentations,” Bailey said. For a breath of fresh air, attendees can visit the adjoining open-air courtyard, which features wildlife sculpture.

Large outdoor events — up to 600 — are held in the Huntington Sculpture Garden, which in the  evenings is closed to the public. Many groups rent a tent in case of inclement weather.

800-849-1931, ext. 6017

Anderson Arts Center

Anderson, S.C.
When the city of Anderson needed a place to a hold a half-day meeting, it booked the Anderson Arts Center.

“We needed not only a boardroom but also a lot of room for breakout sessions,” said Beth Batson, the city’s communications and marketing director. “It was perfect.”
It was so perfect that a visitor from Charleston,  S.C., who attended the meeting raved about the site.

“It made us so proud,” Batson said. “She was extraordinarily complimentary.”

Founded in 1972, the Anderson Arts Center, in 2005, moved into a renovated warehouse built in 1901 to hold cargo. It gives the organization 33,000 square feet in which to flex its imagination.
Exhibitions, which rotate every six to eight weeks, range from ceramics to quilts. “The exhibits are very diverse,” said executive director Kimberly Spears.

Two galleries, each about 2,400 square feet, and an atrium space that can hold 100 to 150 can be booked for events.

“We’ve had trade shows, Christmas parties, corporate parties and daylong workshops,” Spears said. “It’s a good place to get away.”

Batson would agree. “The environment,” she said, “inspired us a lot.”

The center makes an ideal party place. During the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce’s Taste of Anderson, guests sample food from area restaurants as they wander through the center. Organizer Michael Mance likes the roominess. “Everyone isn’t so clustered together,” he said. “It’s a very inviting atmosphere.”

Some 200 free parking spaces is another perk. “Parking is usually difficult in downtown,” Spears said. And the center doesn’t limit its rentals to after hours. “We’re very flexible,” she said.