The Foundation for Historical Louisiana has named five properties in and around Baton Rouge to its “Treasures in Trouble” list.
The list keeps tabs on historic buildings the group considers threatened by development in an effort to bring attention to their potential loss.
The foundation put on the list the Livingston Parish Courthouse, built circa 1940; First Guaranty Bank of Ponchatoula, a mid-20th century modern building designed by renowned Louisiana architect John Desmond; True Friends Hall in Donaldsonville, built circa 1886; The Royal Hotel in Amite, circa 1900; and the Laurel Street Firehouse in Baton Rouge, built circa 1940.
The foundation also included dozens of houses relocated from New Orleans’ lower Mid-City district but have since been left exposed to the elements.
“Spotlighting these neglected and sometimes forgotten properties is the first step in bringing them back into commerce and showcasing their full potential and possibilities for economic development,” Doug Cochran, the foundation board’s chairman, said in a news release.
In Baton Rouge, the Laurel Street Firehouse at 18th and Laurel streets is no longer an EMS station and now sits empty, something that caught the attention of the foundation.
“If a building is empty and isn’t being used, there aren’t people coming and going, then you have a potential problem,” said Carolyn Bennett, executive director of the foundation.
She said the foundation will be talking to the city-parish about possible uses for the building, which is next to Historic Magnolia Cemetery.
She said there has been talk of a local fire museum, but there already is one at the Old Bogan Firehouse, home to the local arts council downtown.
Among the other buildings for this year’s list, the foundation noted:
• The Livingston Parish Courthouse, an Art Deco building built by the Works Progress Administration after the Great Depression, will soon be abandoned in favor of a more modern building.
With no clear plans under way, the foundation is concerned that issues such as exposed wiring, holes in the walls, stairwells and roofing, and lighting issues could dampen enthusiasm to put the building back to use.
“We were hoping with this listing we can come to a conclusion that saves the building,” Bennett said.
• The First Guaranty Bank building in Ponchatoula’s mid-century modern architecture is potentially eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The foundation considers the building endangered because the owner has requested to demolish, rather than rehabilitate it, even though it is eligible for both state and federal historic preservation tax credits for commercial properties up to 45 percent of the approved rehabilitation cost.
• True Friends Hall is the largest and oldest existing benevolent society hall remaining in Louisiana, though fire and storms have damaged the building. Fundraising efforts of the River Road African-American Museum volunteers and board members did get the windows and entryways boarded up, but the building is still too exposed to the elements, the foundation said. Musical greats Fats Domino, Plas Johnson and Renald Richard all played under its roof.
• The Royal Hotel is among the 45 buildings in the Amite National Register of Historic District. Volunteer preservationist group Tangipahoa Hotel Cultural Center is now trying to raise $85,000 to purchase the property from its current owners, who want to demolish it and construct affordable housing units. Additional funds would be needed to renovate the building for the Amite Arts Council, an Amite museum and other uses, the foundation said. Gov. Huey P. Long gave a speech from the second-story balcony in the 1930s and legend has it the Kingfish spent the night in one of the 10 hotel rooms.
The buildings were selected by a committee led by foundation board member Mark Drennen. Some are protected by federal historic designation, others are not, but are simply considered important.
Bennett said the foundation will begin working with the buildings’ owners and stakeholders to do what it can to save them. She said anyone from the public interested in joining the fight for any particular building should contact the foundation or visit http://www.fhl.org to stay abreast of efforts that emerge.
One building might need paperwork done to get it on the National Register of Historic Places, for example, or there could be public meetings to determine how a property could be redeveloped. She said the foundation might create Facebook pages that supporters could follow.
This year’s list is the fourth in five years, and Bennett said previous subjects have met with varying fates. The Lincoln Theater in Old South Baton Rouge and St. Paul’s Church in Bayou Goula, for example, have been targeted for protection and renovation.
The geodesic dome designed by famed architect R. Buckminster Fuller, on the other hand, was torn down by Kansas City Southern in 2008 without warning.