Not-so-private party: Getting married on the Downtown Mall has its benefits


Photo: Bud Branch Photo: Bud Branch

Dreaming of an intimate wedding day? Don’t get married on the city’s Downtown Mall. But if you’re looking for a distinct venue that nearly screams “Charlottesville,” the iconic urban shopping district may be right up your aisle.

As with any location, it comes with a few restrictions. First of all, forget tents. You’ll have to say your vows under the wide-open sky. You’ll also have to watch the noise level if you’re planning any kind of recorded or live music—more than 75 decibels breaks city law (not to mention the occasional eardrum). And birdseed attracts pesky squirrels, so it’s not allowed to be tossed after the ceremony.

If your guest list is over 50 people, you’ll need a special event permit from Neighborhood Development Services (call assistant zoning administrator Craig A. Fabio for deets). Even if you’re inviting less than 50, you’ll still need Fabio’s say-so on the actual ceremony spot. Unless, not ironically, you choose the First Amendment Monument as your location.

The monument, also known as the Free Expression Monument or the Free Speech Wall, has been the site of many an engagement. But it’s also where Megan Hefner and her husband, Heath, got hitched on August 18, 2012. The couple led a processional of more than 100 people from Lee Park all the way to the monument, which is situated in front of City Hall, to tie the knot. Did Megan have any reservations about sharing their private moment in such a public way? Absolutely not.

“We knew we’d be surrounded primarily by the people we loved, but we knew we’d attract attention too,” she said. “Our day captured all that was important to us about Charlottesville.”

And consider it an early wedding gift—it’s free to get married at the monument.

“Given that marriage involves one of the highest forms of expression, there is no charge to hold a wedding at the Free Expression Monument,” said Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center, which is in charge of the wall. (Incidentally, there’s no charge to use the space for other purposes, either.) The area around the monument can easily hold 100 or more chairs. Contact Wheeler for more information and to make arrangements.

A Mall wedding can certainly capture the heartbeat of the city, but don’t be shocked if a few onlookers stop to ogle. And maybe a squirrel or two.—Lynn Thorne