The Coolest Place in La Grange: Inside the Ice Plant Bldg.’s Hidden Events Wonderland
From concrete bunker to an ethereal wedding venue. This is how a historical small-town ice plant was saved.
Through a serendipitous series of events, La Grange has become home to one of the (literally) coolest event venues, The Ice Plant Bldg. Hidden behind a humble concrete exterior is an ethereal and majestic space that’s equal parts visual crispness and warmth.
It all started in 2015. Los Angeles photographer Dani Brubaker — who’s shot for Vanity Fair, Vogue and Vogue Italia, and whose client list includes Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith and Calvin Klein — was on assignment in Texas, photographing an editorial in the rolling pastures of Fayette County. She instantly fell in love with the land. Brubaker had been longing to leave California for quite some time, but she hadn’t found a place to put down roots that “just felt good.”
The Oklahoma native, a self-proclaimed Zillow junkie, soon was spending hours each day combing through listings for ranch houses nestled between Houston and Austin. In 2018, the photographer spotted what she called an ugly building that was listed as a house for sale in La Grange. It was essentially a concrete bunker with no windows and 20-foot-high walls, but the photos offered the slightest glimpse of a coffered concrete ceiling. She bought it sight unseen.
The concrete structure that Brubaker purchased was actually an old ice plant built in 1888. Her concept was to renovate the building and turn it into an event space or wedding venue. She already had a portfolio of commercial properties that she’d renovated in Los Angeles., so she was no stranger to the process.
“Over time, everybody puts their own makeup on the building, and when you take the makeup off, and you have a bare structure, you see what the building truly is,” Brubaker says. The glimpse of the concrete ceiling in the real estate listing is what sold Brubaker on what might be hidden behind the 60-foot wide cinder-block walls that previous owners had installed.
One of Brubaker’s biggest obstacles during the renovation process was her status as an out-of-state builder. She knew the ins and outs of California laws and the quirks of her local city hall. But Texas was a different beast, and she had chosen a contractor who wasn’t local to La Grange. Those two factors, on top of the usual unwanted discoveries of opening up old buildings, put the project way behind on completion.
Yet the reward for “taking all of the makeup off” the old ice plant was that a breathtaking interior emerged. The ugly duckling had turned into a swan. The raw white concrete space with huge windows was set to metamorphose into the ultimate wedding venue. In the Texas wedding world, brides have unlimited choices when it comes to barn weddings and farmhouse venues, but this is the only venue that’s “Ice ice, baby.”
While renovations were taking place, the photographer’s daughter, Lexi O’Brien, and her fiancé, Tyler Hjorting, were heading to Texas. The couple had been on the road for a few years in their reno-vated school bus/skoolie named One Wild Ride. They had covered most of the western states and Baja, Mexico, on their adventures, amassing a healthy social media following (28,600 followers) on @onewildridebus) and a feature story on domino.com. The Ice Plant Bldg. was going to be a family affair, with the couple tapped as an integral part of running the burgeoning business. The building was due to be finished in late 2019, and Brubaker knew from experience with her wedding venue in California that “it would take at least two years to get the business really up and running.”
In early 2020, The Ice Plant Bldg. was still a construction site, but a couple walking by took a peek inside and immediately decided they wanted to have their wedding there. It became a mad scramble to make the venue viable for the big day. The building still had no electricity, no windows, no doors, and zero decor.
A new contractor jumped in to save the day with the construction punch list, and the trio of transplanted Texans were all hands on deck. There was an entire bridal suite to furnish, lighting to select for the main room, and all of the other pieces that would make the space feel complete. Most of the furniture and lighting was sourced from Old World Antieks in La Grange, and the Flophouze and Nomad at Ex-cess around Round Top. The Ice Plant Bldg. hosted its first wedding in February 2020.
Inside The Ice Plant Bldg., white concrete pillars anchor the lofty 20-foot ceilings. Massive chandeliers are suspended from above, and the imperfect white walls are dotted with frosted windows that allow in soft ambient light and provide privacy from the street outside. The bride has a large suite with cozy leather furniture, kitchenette, an entire wall of butterfly specimens, and a private bath with clawfoot tub. The equation of the visual elements at The Ice Plant Bldg. is equal parts industrial and elegant.
Of course, the promising start to wedding bookings came to a screeching halt in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since The Ice Plant wasn’t technically up and running yet, no weddings needed to be postponed or cancelled. Instead, it was an opportune time to focus on future bookings and a broader vision.
Brubaker and her daughter decided that certain areas of the building could use added visual layers of interest and more Instagrammable moments. Through a friend, they connected with Austin yogi and artist Miki Ash. They commissioned her to paint murals on the exterior and interiors of the building.
The artist’s pink-mottled wall on the outside deck gives off cherry-blossom vibes. Inside, the spiritual eyes and stars she painted in the restroom hallways twinkle in the glow of the chandeliers. In the bridal-suite bathroom, Ash’s freeform brushstrokes add a languid and modern moment to the minimally luxe space. She also devised a painterly touch for a small hallway where most brides make their grand entrance into the main room: She painted those walls with subtle, abstract layers of pink, rose and gold.
While Brubaker and O’Brien focused on incorporating new visual spots, Hjorting honed his own vision. With a background in bar management, he saw the venue as the ideal place for a courtyard bar. The property had two white shipping containers, and Hjorting began renovating one of them into a full custom bar, cleverly named The Ice Box.
He envisions a watering hole for community events, music, and food trucks — when it isn’t busy with weddings bookings, of course. “There’s no place like The Ice Plant in the area,” he says. “I would drive from Austin to come here and listen to music.”
As life in Texas begins to return to normal, The Ice Plant has opened its doors to tours and photo shoots on a daily basis. O’Brien’s and Hjorting’s social-media skills have put the venue on the radar of a hip crowd that appreciates the history and aesthetics of the space. Texas influencers, wedding magazines and photographers have already flocked.
Images and branded shoots have popped up via Instagram and in wedding-industry publications. The growth of The Ice Plant is undeniably organic — and that’s the way Brubaker, O’Brien, and Hjorting like it.
No one could have predicted in 2015 that Brubaker’s search for a ranch house in rural Texas would end with the most unique building in La Grange. She found a place that just felt good, she says, and now she and her family call La Grange home. The skoolie has been parked, and O’Brien and Hjorting have traded in bus life for house life, acquiring acreage with a plan to found a tiny-house community called The Pond Collective.
They welcomed their first child a few weeks ago, a son named Logan. The legacy of the reborn La Grange ice plant has become an integral part of the area’s modern history — and how could it not. The Ice Plant Bldg. is the coolest spot in town.