Strictly ballroom

The recently renovated ballroom in the Semple Mansion offers a glimpse into another era

On the third floor of Stevens Square’s Semple Mansion there’s a 3,000-square-foot ballroom fit for a fairy tale.

In the early days of the mansion constructed in 1901 with a white Roman brick exterior and grandiose Italian features, the ballroom was always kept wide open so that guests could easily mingle and glide across the vast floor. Now it’s furnished with banquet tables and chairs. An old-fashioned bench or “banquette” wraps all the way around the perimeter of the aqua and taupe-colored room.

While ballrooms are common to mansions built around the same period, many of them have been remodeled. The ballroom at the Semple Mansion has been kept intact. The Semple Mansion was built for Frank and Anne Semple and their children. Frank was a prosperous businessman with ties to the old hardware giant, Janney.

Several years ago, the ballroom was dubbed the Grand Palladian Ballroom, in keeping with the house’s luxurious Italian Renaissance palatial style.

Semple owner Kristi Oman and her husband Zev purchased the mansion a year ago under their company title, Space Unlimited. They rent out the room for special occasions and also have offices on the first and second floors in the building.

The Omans recently renovated the mansion, which involved mainly dusting off the richly hued maple woodwork that runs throughout, repairing parts that were chipped, installing antique light fixtures and giving the walls a fresh coat of paint.

In the process, the couple ripped up the carpet and unearthed tiled mosaics, marble inlays, and maple floors. They also discovered intricately designed copper ceilings and faded frescoes buried by dropped ceilings.

The couple hired an artist to touch up the frescoes. In the ballroom, classical frescoes appear in pastel shades. In fluid brushstrokes, they depict motherly figures teaching children to play musical instruments.

The music theme is continued in large stained-glass windows that are considered to be original Tiffany glass. A small stage juts out for a band. Mantles and mouldings are hand-carved. There are also decorative columns while the ceiling is hipped, or curved.

This summer, over 15 weddings were hosted in the ballroom. Kristi said brides are attracted to the fact that the chamber is a “real ballroom,” offering them a glimpse into another era. “A lot of people have heard about the incredible ballroom,” she said.

From the ballroom, a balcony that was previously shuttered reveals a panorama of Downtown skyscrapers. There’s also a kitchen for caterers to use for weddings and other events.

In the old days, Kristi explained, a kitchen wouldn’t be connected to the social ballroom dances. Nowadays, entertaining always revolves around food, she said. Around the corner from the ballroom, what was once a bedroom is now being remade into a bridal suite. The Omans wallpapered it in a tapestry-like design, matching the period.

To ensure that the building will be preserved, she and her husband worked with the city to secure designation as an historic building (it was already listed on the National Historic Register of Places).

“We wanted to preserve the integrity of the building,” she said. “We haven’t built anything here. It was all uncovering what was here.”

Until the Semple was sold to the Omans, the landmark had served temporarily as headquarters for the Ford Bell campaign and before that, it housed African American Family Services. Changing ownership many times, it was home to the Franklin National Bank in the 1960s.

“We wanted it to feel not so institutional,” she said, adding, “It’s wonderful to come to work here every day.”


Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].