From the ground up, A. Hays Town always knew exactly how he wanted the houses he designed to look.
Hays’ touch was on every element, from the stain he and Warren Grevemberg developed for his signature brick floors to the weathered slate that roofed his designs.
To him, the art was in the whole package.
In a new exhibit at the Old State Capitol, “The Enduring Architecture of A. Hays Town,” the detailed approach of Louisiana’s legendary architect is on display.
The show runs through Saturday, Sept. 5, and features a collection of Town memorabilia, along with Philip Gould’s photographs from the 1999 book, “The Louisiana Houses of A. Hays Town.”
The photos show Town’s completed houses. The items filling the exhibit provide examples of what made those houses special.
“He chose everything for these houses,” curator Lauren Davis says. “He knew how he wanted them to look. He would spend time finding specific objects that he would place on mantles and in the yard.”
Sometimes owners would reject the interior objects, but they could never refuse Town’s signature brick floors stained with the beeswax, which created the color and feel Town wanted. He insisted on it.
Davis has placed a sample of the stained brick next to an example of the slate roofing that Town used, the kind found in the French Quarter.
Town liked for the slate to have a weathered look and salvaged it from historic buildings in and around New Orleans, which only added to what has become known as the “Town style.”
“Town’s earlier home designs borrowed from American Colonial and Georgian architectural styles,” according to the exhibit. “As his career progressed, he began developing a more unique style influenced by south Louisiana’s Spanish and French colonial architecture and Acadian architectural patterns.
Through his designs, he created a style that is often referred to as ‘Louisiana colonial Revival.’”
Town was born on June 17, 1903, in Crowley, and died on Jan. 6. 2005, in Baton Rouge. His architectural career spanned more than 65 years, the first 40 filled with commercial and governmental designs.
But he was best known for the residential architecture in his latter years.
“A. Hays Town inspired the design for the lamp in 1945,” Davis says, standing next to one of the lamps. “The coppersmiths at Bevolo in New Orleans still make these lamps out of antique copper.”
Town studied engineering at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute — now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — and earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1926. He then worked for the N.W. Overstreet architectural firm in Jackson, Mississippi, where he surveyed the state’s antebellum homes for the Works Progress Administration.
“He drew them in detail,” Davis says. “We have some of his surveys in the exhibit. We assume that this is where he got his inspiration for his residential designs. He knew these properties, because he visited each one. In the ’30s and ’40s, he continued to do modern architecture, but then he said, ‘No, I’m going to do houses.’”
Town returned to Baton Rouge in 1939, establishing his own architectural firm in Baton Rouge.“He applied lessons of vernacular tradition — integrate into the environment, use quality materials and respect the patterns and construction practices of the past,” according to the exhibit literature. “He began to search for historic places being demolished so that he could reuse the materials for their sense of history … For Town, the greatest form of flattery was when one of his houses was mistaken for a historic structure.”
Town retired after suffering a series of strokes. His last design was the Orangerie on the grounds of the LSU AgCenter Botanical Gardens at the Burden Research Center on Essen Lane.
But Town didn’t stopped working.“His parents wanted him to incorporate his art into something where he could make a living, so he went into architecture,” Davis says. “But later in life, he began painting landscapes and made them into Christmas cards to send to his friends.”
A few of the cards are on display next to Town’s box of paints, paintbrushes and supplies. Even Town’s landscapes include historic structures, much like the ones he designed.