Eleven Most Endangered Structures and Features in Southwest Louisiana as presented at the annual meeting held on Jan 24, 2013. This slide show in PDF format provides photos of the endangered properties as well as award recipients.
For many years, Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society has identified structures, features and sites in Southwest Louisiana that have been part of our shared architectural heritage and that are endangered by inappropriate development, by neglect, or by outright demolition. Each year CHPS publishes the Eleven Most Endangered List.
Over the years many of the nominees have been turned around either with private and/or public support to rescue and reuse them. Today, 2013, we all benefit from such legacy buildings as the Calcasieu Courthouse, the 1911 City Hall, Cash Grocery and Sales, Muller’s, Kelly-Weber warehouse, and Central School, all of which at one time made our list. That they are still with us and still being used helps to tell the whole story of Southwest Louisiana, our story. And there are dozens more structures that have been saved, rescued and reused from having once been identified and publicized. And we are proud of that.
However there have been a few tragic losses of buildings listed on the Eleven over the years. Two relatively recent losses to the architectural heritage of this area were those of Ball’s Auditorium on St John Street and that of the original sanctuary and classroom building of the old Warren United Methodist Church on Lawrence (now Pryce) Street. Both of these buildings were pivotal in the development of the African-American community of Southwest Louisiana serving important educational, religious and social needs. Ball’s Auditorium served not only as a unique showcase for entertainers but also served as a site to educate generations in the vocational crafts. Warren United had long been a center of the religious community for central Lake Charles and had been recognized as a Landmark structure for the parish.
Mindful of the losses but encouraged by the overwhelming general success of the yearly list of the Eleven Endangered, we submit the following for 2012’s roster along with prudent suggestions for possible rehabilitation and reuse:
1. The Berdon-Campbell Building, 600 block of Ryan Street, Lake Charles
This is part of the National Register Muller’s Department Store property, but it is not a part of the Muller’s Lofts development. Currently for sale, this building could be renovated into professional offices, a boutique hotel, a restaurant with apartments, or any number of other suitable functions for the newly upgraded Ryan Street commercial and entertainment corridor. It is a huge advantage that a developer could take advantage of both state and federal tax credits for suitable renovation.
2. The Masonic Temple, 717 Hodges Street, Lake Charles
This is the important central building to the sophisticated urban landscape of Hodges Street with the byzantine style Temple Sinai to the north and the beaux-art limestone federal building (now law office) to the south. There is significant interior damage to the building and the exterior is suffering from weatherization issues and neglect. Many Masonic related lodges and associations continue to use the building, but there are many additional possibilities for the rehabilitated structure to serve as a community center, for commercial activities and as an upscale events center. We would encourage the Masonic community to come together to recapture the grandeur of the building by exploring opportunities for the structure’s maintenance and increased use..
3. The Sabine Pass Lighthouse, Johnson’s Bayou, Cameron
Perhaps the oldest brick structure standing in Southwest Louisiana, this remotely located but iconic structure is an emblem of Southwest Louisiana’s resolve to survive. The lighthouse has weathered well over 150 years of hurricanes, marsh fires, and even a Civil War battle. It should be stabilized and would serve as the proper focus of a commemorative regional or bi-state park that memorializes the importance of the Sabine River area for history, wildlife and industry. While many of the artifacts and the documents of the lighthouse are physically located in various Southeast Texas museums, the actual structure is firmly in and of Louisiana. The people of Calcasieu parish community should support efforts to save this lighthouse.
4. Sacred Heart-St Katherine Drexel School, Louisiana Avenue, Lake Charles
Now that this pioneering Catholic school has been closed, the future of these buildings seems bleak. The school buildings offer space for continued educational purposes—expansion space perhaps for the nearby Episcopal Day School in trying out the real possibility of a middle or high school, or perhaps as a “charter school” location. Or, as has been done elsewhere, apartments could be carved out of the spaces to provide for a community use.
5. Bilbo Cemetery, Lakeshore Drive at the Interstate, Lake Charles
A pioneer cemetery with connections to the very earliest American occupation of the area, Bilbo Cemetery is located where the lake meets the Interstate. This cemetery is adjacent to a huge development site (old Harrah’s) and of a cross continental interstate highway—with approaches for a promised new bridge in the planning. The nature of those potential developments can have risks for an adjacent ancient low-lying cemetery. We would strongly encourage that Bilbo Cemetery be reviewed for National Register nomination to provide at least some review of projects that make use of federal money that would affect the property.
6. Remains of Gerstner Field, Old Camp Road, Holmwood
Gerstner Field was the first military airfield in Louisiana and trained 500 aviators and aviation instructors for World War I. It is documented that air-to-ground communication, air ambulance service, and tactical aviation/dog-fighting techniques were “invented” at Gerstner. The camp was dismantled in 1922, however the foundations, runways and some mechanical support buildings remain in place on what is now privately owned land. We would encourage the owners have the Gerstner Field area reviewed for National Register listing to encourage further preservation and stabilization of the remaining features, to allow for academic archeological review of an early air field, and to serve as a memorial to the 12 aviators who perished while training in the airspace above the site.
7/8 The Bridges of Calcasieu Parish, I-10 and I-210 spans, Westlake and Lake Charles
The Calcasieu River Bridge (also known as the Pistol Bridge) and the I-210 Bridge are, believe it or not, historical artifacts and both could be eligible for National Register listing. The first being completed in 1952 and the second in 1963 make the pair of Interstate bridges collectively over 110 years old. And with the daily pounding of increasing vehicular traffic and the effects of brackish water, air pollution, and the occasional hurricane, both are candidates for our endangered list. What makes their listing particularly poignant is that practically all of us use one or the other almost everyday and that alternative ways of crossing the river means using a boat, swimming across, walking the railroad bridge or detouring via Moss Bluff, Kinder or Cameron. Are these bridges vital? Absolutely essential to our communities and to our country.
9. Heritage Live Oaks, throughout southwest Louisiana
When early settlers came to Southwest Louisiana, they found cypress along the bayous and coulees, pines in the north and west, marshes and cheniers along the Gulf coast and the great Calcasieu Prairie practically everywhere else. Great seas of grass made for good cattle ranching, but it took the planting of trees, especially live oaks, to make for settlements.
Live oaks served to mark property claims, to shade homesteads and to act as windbreaks. College oaks, McNeese oaks, trees in the Charpentier Historic District and Oak Park in Lake Charles and live oaks in the Grove in Sulphur are all good examples of these plantings. In the early twenties, from Texas to Mississippi live oaks lined the routing of the Old Spanish Trail through Southwest Louisiana. You can still see legacy trees from that planting along Highway 90 from Vinton to Jennings and beyond. And of course, the signature tree of Southwest Louisiana, the venerable Sallier Oak, marks a spot dear to our heritage and history. But many of these treasures are threatened by inappropriate pruning or by indiscriminate development that clear cuts whole groves. Trees are evidence of our past and essential to our future. They must be cherished and protected.
10. The YMCA building and grounds, Kirby Street, Lake Charles
Damaged and closed since Rita, with several attempts to reopen having failed to generate the necessary interest for returning to its traditional use, this facility is a golden opportunity waiting to happen. The recent successful repurposing of the old Calcasieu Savings and Loan building into the showplace transit center demonstrates that tired buildings can indeed be turned around. The building and grounds would be ideal for a boutique central-city inn with sports, and recreational elements from the old “Y” being showcased along with augmented spa-hotel features. It has parking, a paramount location to business, government, banking, and legal offices, and has good (if plain) bones. It would serve that part of the traveling public that want a unique lodging experience and do not want cookie-cutter motels. Could the old “Y” become the new Majestic?
11. Individual residential properties throughout the Charlestown Cultural District——Lake Charles
The Charlestown Cultural District is a fairly large part of central Lake Charles stretching from the lakefront to Louisiana Avenue and from Belden Street south to Iris (roughly). Within the District are many different neighborhoods, many with valuable historic resources, including properties in the Charpentier National Register Historic District and in the downtown-lakefront area. These uninhabited properties offer opportunities for rehabilitation and reuse to various degrees.
One example of an almost lost historical resource is “the Rosa Hart House”, 800 block Moss Street, Lake Charles, which was the lifelong home of one of the pioneers on the Southwest Louisiana cultural scene. This two-story structure is available for purchase. Shoehorned into a narrow lot, the house, according to one area architect, has serious structural and cosmetic problems.
CHPS wants to remind owners and developers that there are state and federal tax credit programs that may be used to help to stabilize and rehabilitate eligible properties. To see if these programs may be of help in saving and reusing a historic building, contact the Tax Incentive programs of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in Baton Rouge for information and eligibility