Something Old, Something New
Warehouse 1856 is a modern wedding and event venue in a historic building in downtown Wilmington.
The old Jacobi warehouse on Water Street in downtown Wilmington has weathered several identities — office building, hardware store, billiards hall, accounting firm and woodworking studio for kids. Built in 1856, it’s beguilingly rustic on the outside, with a white paint patina over the red bricks of the upper floors. Inside, the well-aged charm of its rooms shows exposed brick walls, timber-beamed ceilings, deck views of the Cape Fear River and 5,200 square feet of possibilities.
Which is why current tenant Ray Baca, who has rented the place since September 2019 as a venue for weddings, corporate parties and events, wants people to know the structure — called Warehouse 1856 — can be whatever they envision.
“I like taking prominent buildings and giving them a breath of fresh air and rebuilding them,” Baca says. “We wanted to leave as much of the old bones, the old wood, and add in little elements of modernizing to keep it as neutral as possible, so anyone’s color palate could use it.”
Its appeal mainly is ambience for weddings. Baca describes it as “a historic and modern contrast that will leave you feeling nostalgic.”
Baca says he’s hosted 35 to 40 events as of mid-February, several of them booked before he finished interior construction modifications. “A lot of people came in and booked on the belief of what I was telling them; they could envision the finished product without the finished product being there,” he says.
Baca has been a wedding photographer since 2000. Warehouse 1856, which he runs with business partners Chris Maher and Kathryn Jeffreys, is his fourth event venue, so he understands the necessity of accommodating individual tastes.
“You can use any vendor, any florist, any caterer and any musicians — literally anything you want in order to make this your dream weekend,” he says. “You get about 12 hours, and we can fit about 150 people.”
Baca’s team also offers clean up. “They say how they want it set up, they bring in their decor and have the celebration of a lifetime, and we clean it up.”
The interior’s adaptability can include Warehouse-provided tables, natural-wood, crossback chairs; bar stools, couches and leather chairs; a sound system; refrigerators and freezers; and a large, open room for catering.
The Warehouse’s prime location in Wilmington’s downtown Historic District and its proximity to hotels, restaurants and attractions is a magnet for corporate parties as well as weddings that draw couples from in-state and beyond. “We are in the middle of everything here. There are so many things to do within walking distance.”
Baca says Warehouse 1856 is an affordable option because you can do the ceremony and reception the same location.
Wilmington and New Hanover County host about 2,200 weddings a year. “We get Raleigh and Charlotte brides and a lot from Ohio who have come here for vacation and want to come back,” Baca says, Tourists and out-of-town guests can benefit from the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, which provides maps, visitors guides, explanations of guidelines for oceanfront ceremonies and a list of attractions to experience in the area.
“The money trickles down to hotels, restaurants, even to the North Carolina Education Lottery, because people want to buy a lottery ticket,” Baca says. “Everybody benefits, and we’re glad to be a part of it.”
The most important detail, he says, is for wedding parties to create a personalized, memorable experience. Even if the experience is a bit unusual: A wedding here last fall included a four-legged “ring barker” named Bodie, whose people dressed his doggie self in a shirt-style white collar and blue tie. “I’ve seen a ton of everything, and maybe that’s why I’m not surprised by anything,” he says.
Baca owns two dogs and emphasizes that Warehouse 1856 is pet-friendly.
Wedding parties usually spend between $3,500 and $4,000 to rent his space, Baca says, noting that within a four-block radius, guests will find about any other to-do item — shopping, nightlife, dining, attractions — to add to their weekend.
“My advice to give to couples is to do the research and compare all the options,” Baca says. “Find a venue that fits your needs and allows you to have the wedding you want without all the rules and restrictions.
“Planning a wedding should be fun and exciting, and we are here to help every step along the way. We’re always trying to improve service and anticipate our guests’ needs so they will have a flawless and beautiful celebration.”