LAFAYETTE — If anyone knows the value of perseverance, it’s Gordon Brooks. His 1923 Craftsman-style bungalow wasn’t exactly easy to come by.
His first attempt to acquire it came after moving to Lafayette in 1990 from Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I made an offer on the house — the asking price — and was deflated,” Brooks said. “Because this is where I wanted to live.”
Undaunted, through the real estate agent, Brooks asked if the home's owner, Andrew Harwood, would sell at plus 10 percent.
“He wouldn’t," Brooks said. "So I said if you ever sell, can I have first right of refusal?”
Brooks, an architect who is the dean of the College of Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, later moved to another house, which happened to belong to Harwood’s wife. He tried again.
“Remember me?” he asked. “Harwood told me he’d let me have it someday.”
Then one Sunday afternoon, there was a knock at the door. The owner had capitulated.
“He decided to let me have it at the appraised value. He still says I stole the house from him,” Brooks recalled with a laugh.
That was in 1996.
Located in Elmhurst Park and listed on the Lafayette Historic Registry by the Lafayette Preservation Commission, the house has been renovated as any house would be over the years.
“The first renovation straightened up the circulation issues and reconfigured the interior,” said Brooks. “This sitting area off the kitchen used to be a porch. I added the library, another of my favorite rooms. There’s also a small, very private back porch.”
Brooks’ father, a builder, and his mother both loved buildings and architecture. He said he was influenced by their Sunday drives through Memphis, Tennessee.
“So I blame my parents,” he said. “I planned to renovate the attic when I was little and move myself out of the nursery, but never got the chance.”
Brooks has more than made up for any childhood frustration in his present home.
“The house originally had three public rooms, and what you see is a rework of that," he said. "In 2003, I renovated the kitchen with new cabinets.”
Brooks, who has lived in all kinds of homes, explained the first real venture for architects is usually a house, often one for themselves, or at least a renovation.
“There’s a comfortableness about a home from this time,” he said. “Antebellum doesn’t appeal to me. Frank Lloyd Wright based his work on the Craftsman bungalow, and I worked with a student of Wright’s once. The style predated modernism, the style of comfortable living, and rejected the neoclassicism of the time.”
Today, the living room, kitchen and library flow seamlessly together, shotgun style.
Warm wood cabinets, a granite-topped island and copper kitchen utensils brighten the former porch, now a keeping room. A palette of greens, reds and sage compliment the oriental carpets and hardwood floors underfoot. A grand piano sits by a side entrance. All return the interior to a sense of time and history while respecting the nature of the house.
In contrast to the nearly century-old home is contemporary art by locals Richard Goula, Lue Svendson, Tom Secrest, UL art professor Michael Eble, Joyce Linde and Brook’s son. George Rodrigue was a friend, once nominated by Brooks for an honorary doctorate, and standing out from the rest is a Chagall print, part of Drawings for the Bible.
“It’s called 'Ruth and Naomi,' and I bought it for $25 back then,” he said. “It’s worth a lot more now. Always give your parents nice things," he added with a laugh. "You’ll get them back."
In addition to books, the library houses several of Brooks’ collections — vintage cameras, including a windup World War II journalist’s model; antique metal toys and early airline gratuities and handouts.
“I don’t have the first Leica, but I’ll find it one day,” he said.
Brooks also collects movie cameras and as well as their Russian knockoffs. The red tractor on the top shelf in pristine condition was his as a child as was the Handy Andy tool set.
The plaque on the outside of the home was presented by Mayor Joel Robidaux commemorating the house as the “James Domengeaux House,” a longtime former owner.
“The Historic Registry called on me and asked if I minded them doing the research on the house,” said Brooks. “Domengeaux was a former United States representative and instrumental in founding CODOFIL, the Council for Development of French in Louisiana. I felt it was more appropriate.”
Outside stands a single redwood brought back from California, a testimony to longevity all its own. Brooks doesn't see himself moving anytime soon.
“It’s been a very good house for me and my family,” he said. “A great house in a great location.”
“I’m happy here.”