GONZALES — Mathile Abramson knows every door, every window and every beam in her country French home. Even before she had any idea of the type of home she and her husband, Dr. Steve Abramson, would build, she spent years searching for and gathering old architectural materials.
“Steve and I had always wanted to live in an old home because we love the architectural details and the ambiance they have,” says Mathile Abramson.
But in 1968 when the Abramsons moved to Gonzales for Steve Abramson to join a medical practice, they could not find an older home close enough to the local hospital, so the Abramsons bought a 28-acre tract just outside the city and began collecting materials.
Don Didier, who had moved from New Orleans to Gonzales to open an art gallery, told the Abramsons that an area in New Orleans near the French Quarter was being demolished to make way for Armstrong Park.
“Don said there were many grand old houses as well as cottages that had largely fallen into disrepair that contained a great deal of wonderful materials that were being demolished,” Mathile Abramson says.
Because Steve Abramson’s medical practice was all-consuming, Mathile Abramson took over the job of traveling to New Orleans to collect old materials for a home.
“I went back many times with a friend, Alvin Millet, who owned a tombstone and burial company, with his flatbed truck that had a wench on the back,” she says. “I made many trips on weekends to New Orleans to dismantle, haul materials to Gonzales and store in a friend’s barn. It absolutely became a labor of love.”
Carpenter John Delmore helped Abramson on her expeditions, and Peter Ricca, of Ricca Architectural Demolishing, did the demolition and salvage.
Before long, Abramson had filled the barn with architectural treasures. There were large pocket doors, interior cypress doors, exterior French doors and 3-by-15 heart of pine boards for the flooring.
“I found every single door knob,” she says. “We saved all the old nails.”
Mary Lillian and Ralph Ford, family friends of Steve Abramson’s parents, the late Dr. Albert and Rae Abramson, who lived in Marksville, introduced Steve and Mathile Abramson to architect A. Hays Town.
“They said there is only one person who can design a home for you and incorporate the old materials,” Mathile Abramson recalls.
The Abramsons took everything out of the barn, and Town measured and inventoried each piece.
“He drew the plans for our house using every single thing except two old mantels that were really just too small,” she says.
Town designed the living, dining and kitchen areas with wood ceilings and functioning exposed beams, something the Abramsons did not have in their stash.
“We found out that the old Rosenfield’s building in Baton Rouge was being demolished and the materials were being sold off, so I went with a flatbed truck to purchase these materials,” she says. “You had to go with cash and take the materials off the job. Whoever got there first got the materials.”
Major Hebert, of Town Construction, supervised the construction, which took 15 months through a bad winter with two snows. The finished product is a magnificent Hays Town home, but not a formal home.
“It’s the way we are,” Mathile Abramson says.
French doors open to a long hall that is parallel to the front of the house. The living room, dining room and kitchen are perpendicular to the hall with the living room to the far right, the dining room in the center and the kitchen on the left. Next to the kitchen is a large breakfast area with a bay window that looks out over the spacious front yard.
A hall from the breakfast room leads to the downstairs bedroom area and a beautiful stairway to the upstairs. There are three bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. In 1981, with Town’s assistance, the Abramsons converted their garage into a large den with a built-in bar.
The home is full of details that reflect the Abramsons’ lifestyle.
“Mr. Town had the ability to work with people. He knew who you were and what you wanted,” Mathile Abramson says. “He was a preservationist, a believer in recycling these wonderful old materials. He took a lot of materials and fashioned them not just into a house but made them into a home, a perfect place to raise our four children and now to welcome our grandchildren.”