Laura Miron Mendele and her husband, Tyler, have spent nearly 120 hours renovating the old ballroom in Hugo she bought last December. They’ve added new siding, repainted walls and replaced windows.
One thing they haven’t touched? The ballroom’s wooden floors.
Mendele, 32, said the previous owner gave her specific instructions never to wax the floor herself. He told her that the dancers were supposed to wax the floor with the bottoms of their shoes.
It was one of Mendele’s first history lessons about the Withrow Ballroom, which at the age of 90 is one of Minnesota’s oldest ballrooms — and also likely has the state’s oldest dance floor, she joked.
Last fall, Withrow dancers thought they were on their last twirls after the owner, Paul Bergmann, announced his decision to sell the place at auction.
Mendele, who was selling mortgages at the time, had nearly given up on her dream to own a wedding venue. Then she learned from a family member that the Withrow was for sale.
Mendele recognized the ballroom’s name. Though she is from Princeton, Minn., her father’s family is from Hugo. She said she had been to plenty of wedding dances there and that her dad had grown up going to the Withrow.
So she checked out the auction. “And I guess I surprised myself by buying it,” she said, with the help of a silent partner.
Mendele said she’s learning more about the place every day. A lot of that information has come from her event coordinator, Pam Berry, who had also worked for Bergmann.
The Withrow has been hosting events since the Zahler family built it in 1928. Three generations later, the family sold the ballroom in 1983 to Mark Babcock, whose legacy was his “Kentucky horse farm” renovations.
With the turn of the century came another turn in ownership, when the Aamodts bought the ballroom in 2001. Bergmann bought it from them in 2009.
Mendele said she originally planned on hosting only weddings at the Withrow. She knew of the regular Thursday night dances held there, but she figured there wasn’t a lot of money in them. Besides, she had never been to one herself.
But after talking with Berry, Mendele said she realized what a big deal the dances were and decided to try bringing them back.
“Even if I break even on them I’ll be happy,” she said.
Her event coordinator has booked bands for dances through April, Mendele said, including acts like Barefoot Becky and Top Notchmen.
Fingers crossed, the Withrow will be up and running by April, Mendele said. She already has about two dozen weddings booked, the first being on May 5.
Nearly all the prospective parties who have looked at it “have had some sort of history with the ballroom,” she said. “So it’s very cool.”
Mendele said she’s moving away from Babcock’s equestrian look and going for something more rustic with her exterior renovations. Inside she wants a more comfortable, modern look, with a grey, white and black paint scheme.
“That modern kind of look right now,” she said. “Woodsy, if I can say that.”
Emily Allen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.