From a supper club to a gay bar to an HBO shooting location, this 125-year-old Victorian mansion has lived many lives.
William B. Ogilvie was an orphaned Shreveport native who served as a Confederate soldier before opening a wildly successful chain of grocery stores at war’s end. For a man that lived so many lives, it’s only fitting that his titular mansion did the same.
The Ogilvie-Wiener Mansion is one of the largest Victorian structures in Louisiana and the oldest Queen Anne-style Victorian building in Shreveport, built in 1896. The 9,000 square-foot building boasts 20 rooms, a wraparound porch, and 15-foot ceilings on each of its three floors. William and his wife both passed within 10 years of its completion, at which point their children sold it to Sam Wiener Jr. (also, coincidentally, a grocery baron), whose family lived in the home until 1948. It was at this point, around mid-century, that the mansion really began to spread its wings.
In 1951, the former family home was reborn as the Florentine Club, an upper-crust supper club that hosted big band orchestras of the day and counted Perry Como, John Wayne, Bette Davis, and Doris Day among its members. Headliners from the nearby Shreveport Municipal Auditorium would often stop by for a drink after their performances. The club was shut down in 1962, allegedly for tax evasion.
After a 10-year abandonment, the building was purchased by Gene Barnett who first reopened the Florentine Club as it was. He converted it in the early 80s to simply the Florentine—Shreveport’s first openly gay bar and nightclub. It served as a vital hub for a community with few other public gathering places in the area and is remembered fondly by then-regulars to this day. The club shuttered in 1996—around the building’s 100th birthday—with Barnett’s passing, changing hands several times into the new century before being abandoned again in 2003. At some point thereafter, the eerily decaying building was featured in the opening credits of HBO’s True Blood.
The mansion sat vacant until 2010, when a retired nurse and her husband purchased the historic home with dreams of turning it into a bed and breakfast. For years, John and Debbie Bryant fought to keep the dilapidated building off the city’s demolition list while sourcing furniture from across the country to restore the interior to its original design. (The dining room table came from Nebraska, rare half-tester beds from New Orleans, fireplace mantels from Ohio, and so on.)
The fact that the process is still underway should do nothing to deter those from a weekend tour.With so much work in progress, a jaunt through the enormous mansion offers a unique glimpse into the arduous work that not only went into 19th-century home-building but that currently goes into 21st-century Victorian renovation.
Know Before You Go
Weekday tours are by appointment only. Walk-in tours are accepted Saturdays and Sundays from 3 – 5 p.m. Warning: Ms. Debbie is a self-professed “doll hoarder”—the mansion is now home to an estimated 2,000 ceramic dolls.
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