Debbie Bryant in front of her beloved project.

See the beautiful 1896 Ogilvie-Wiener Mansion at 728 Austen Place decked out for the holidays on two Victorian Christmas Tours Friday, Dec. 11, 6-8 pm and Saturday, Dec. 12, 6-8 pm. Tickets are a $10 donation per person, no reservations are needed,  you can purchase tickets at the door.  Every dollar made on the tour will go back into the owner’s labor of love; if you take the tour, know that a piece of beam or board is there because of you. For more information, contact (318) 393-0668 or email here.

Read more about Debbie Bryant and her efforts to save this grand historic home.
Debbie Bryant is nothing if not passionate. The Registered Nurse has long loved most everything about the Victorians. She began collecting antiques, dolls, decor and clothing years ago, knowing that if she could not actually live in a building constructed during the Victorian era (1837-1901), she could be least be surrounded by items created then.

It so happened that in 2011 she found herself on downtown’s Austin Place and came face-to-face with a mansion that had seen better days…FAR better days. Many people had looked at the Queen Anne-style Ogilvie-Wiener Mansion and fled, but Debbie looked beyond the sag and the rot and the flaking paint to the grandeur that was and fell in love. Her husband John, did not. John, the more pragmatic of the two, saw 9,000 SF of work, an onerous mountain of expense, a building whose better days were likely behind it. John was not alone. One local expert in rehab likes to say that ‘God doesn’t have enough money to redo that house.’ It is possible that God is a fan of the Victorian era, too.

Initially, the house was not for sale, but two months later a wrong turn took Debbie past the place again, and she spied a ‘For Sale’ sign planted in the front yard. She called immediately, went by at 9:30 p.m. to see a house that was gutted, with rooms that she could not even access. She knew the purchase was meant to be. John’s not-quite-joking threat of divorce could not quiet her desire to own this remarkable piece of history so she made the leap of faith. To this day, John still occasionally asks ‘why?’ Debbie has no such questions, in fact, there is now almost a spiritual connection between her and the building. She has met and heard the stories of both the Wiener and Ogilvie families, the home’s original two owners. She proudly owns photographs of family members, Ogilvie family Bibles, items from an Ogilvie estate sale, and scrapbooks of the home. She has detailed information of the original blueprints of the house to assist her in the historical rehabilitation. There is no doubt  that Debbie has the desire and drive to bring this historical treasure back to life. If only desire and drive were enough.

The building is old. It is made of wood. It has been vacant, sometimes for years at a time. It has been poorly maintained and up until recently, until the rehab of the Municipal and the Logan Mansion, the creation of Shreveport and Caddo Common and the building of the Southern University Kitchen Incubator, was in a part of downtown people considered sketchy and unworthy of investment. The project was going to need more than drive and desire. Debbie got down to business to learn some of the many things she did not know about rehab. One of the first and hardest things she discovered was that no one would lend her any money. Banks are conservative. They don’t want to lose money, and it was hard for them to share in Debbie’s vision of the potential financial return of a re-created Ogilvie Wiener bed-and-breakfast.. so she decided to fund it out of pocket. Yes, it would take more time, yes, it would cost more money and seriously cut into time for such mundane things as sleep and life, but there was no other way. She took a second job as a traveling nurse, and then a third job working for a downtown attorney and for a little more extra cash, parks cars in her lot during shows at the Municipal. ALL her money goes into the construction; into molding and Victorian woodwork that she has specially made at a sawmill in Dekalb, Texas, the only place she could find to do it, to carpenters who have become family friends, to electricians who share in her vision and love, but still must be paid so that their families can eat. Debbie’s determination is the stuff of historical epics.

When William Burwell Ogilvie (1847-1899) hired Shreveport architect Luther T. McNabb to design his ornate Victorian homestead he could not know that he would live in it for only two years. Ogilvie died in 1899, but his widow continued living there until 1906, at which time the house sold to Samson Wiener, whose architect brothers William and Samuel designed the Municipal Auditorium. The Wiener family enjoyed the home for many years, but in the late 1940s, the home was sold and converted into the upscale “The Florentine Club,” a place that on any given night might host John Wayne, Ethel Merman or William Holden and feature a performance by Perry Como. After going dark for ten years, it reopened in the early 1970s as ‘”The Florentine” dance club. It became vacant again, going through multiple owners before being purchased in 2012 by John and Debbie.

In the ensuing years, Debbie has made some surprising discoveries- a 1932 newspaper in the shower wall, a piece of Art Deco stained glass hidden in another wall…a scrap of gold Damascus wallpaper in the foyer. Debbie had been telling John that she intended to put gold Damascus wallpaper in the home when she found the proof that someone long ago had the same thought. Work is progressing; electricians have been on the job recently taking out the old knob-and-tube wiring and replacing it with wiring appropriate for this century, so soon the first floor will have electricity again. Work also continues on the facade. Debbie has determined that getting the facade repaired will help skittish investors and potential supporters be able to see the vision. That vision is of a bed and breakfast with three rentable rooms, one a giant suite, and two regular rooms, all with private bathrooms. There will be space for tea and birthday parties, receptions, weddings, etiquette classes and a small living quarters in the back for John and Debbie. “This building,” Debbie says, “belongs to the public. I’m just a nurse with a burning desire to save this house and a piece of Shreveport History.”

You have a chance to see the progress being made at the Ogilvie Wiener Mansion and hear Debbie’s stories at two Christmas Tours in December;  Friday, Dec. 11, 6-8 pm and Saturday, Dec. 12, 6-8 pm. The tour will feature the mansion bedecked with 12 Victorian-themed Christmas trees and every room decorated for the season. Tickets are a $10 donation per person, no reservations are needed,  you can purchase tickets at the door. Extra donations will be gladly and thankfully accepted. Every dollar that Debbie makes on the tour will go back into her labor of love; if you take the tour, know that a piece of beam or board is there because of you. For more information, contact (318) 393-0668 or email here.