Archive | August, 2010

Reserve, Louisiana – San Francisco Plantation Home

28 Aug

San Francisco Plantaion Home, Built in the 1850s, is One of the Most Unique Plantation Homes on Historic River Road

If you can find your way to LaPlace or to Reserve, or to Garyville, Louisiana, then you can find your way to The San Francisco Plantation Home.  If one goes by way of Reserve and LaPlace you go to the highway that turns into River Road – just turn right and it will not be too long before you arrive and you will not pass it up! You will have to slow down and curve around the house as you pass.  The town of Garyville also claims San Francisco Plantation but if you go that way you will have to make a left on to River Road.

The first time I saw San Francisco it surprised me how close it was to the road.  The flood of 1927 prompted the building of the Mississippi River levees. The river levee took the land between San Francisco and the river. The home is a beautiful structure.  I was determined to get a picture from the front – even with the road.  The house is separated from the road by a chain link fence.  I thought this was not particularly in good taste but after realizing that one could not see the grand home from the road with a “solid fence” it did not look as bad as I first thought. As it was I was able to climb up the levee a ways and to take pictures of the front.  Even with the fence I find the place intriguing.  Also, since the levee is a result of the 1927 flood it too takes on historical importance in the story of Louisiana.  The levee was to have destroyed San Francisco but somehow the locals got organized and stopped the planned destruction – thus the curved road so close to the plantation home.

Unique among all plantation houses in its foundation structure, plan, and silhouette, San Francisco is unquestionably a landmark as that term is popularly understood. It has been pictured in American, British, and Swedish periodicals as one of the major sights of the New Orleans area. The exterior combines a variety of architectural motifs in a design dominated by an immense and ornate roof construction. The interior is notable for the paintings which ornament the ceilings and door panels of the parlors.  The attic area is Victorian in design and because of it many refer to the structure as a “Steamboat Gothic.”  I am not familiar enough with Steamboats to make a determination but I can tell you that it is very unique and a pleasure to see and to photograph.  The unique color scheme is “icing on the cake” as far as I am concerned.

One must not forget that the reason for the home in the first place is sugar.  Although the home is grand in scale, and appearance, the families that owned the plantation could never make a good go of a sugar plantation.  It seems that at critical times in its history that war, depressions, death and bad luck inflicted a toll on those that would seek to make a go of growing and manufacturing sugar. Still the home fits into a cultural landscape that was shaped by the cultivation of sugarcane and the production of sugar.

In the 1970s Marathon Oil purchased  the property and the house. The San Francisco Plantation Foundation was created and the home underwent a massive restoration. As scientific analysis of materials and structure were done, along with archival research, it was decided to that the home would be restored to the golden years just before the War Between the States. The house then became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the San Francisco Plantation remains a major attraction in Louisiana being visited annually by over 100,000 people. Although the house is antebellum in a chronological sense, it is certainly not typical of the period. Its style and coloration are totally distinctive, and its memories are now locked in time just prior to the War Between the States, when the house was at the height of its splendor.

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Convent, Louisiana – Old Jefferson College and the President’s Home – Manresa Retreat and Ignatius House

22 Aug

Manresa Retreat (Old Jefferson College) Commands the View From Historic River Road

When I first took a job in Convent, Louisiana, I did not know how much history and surprises that I would be exposed to just by going to work.  My first trip down the River Road from the Sunshine Bridge to the Courthouse in Convent was unbelievable.

Things were different then. There were small stores and homes all along the way of the Mississippi River and though many of them were old they had a “charm” about them that is unique to St. James Parish.  This “charm” is not apparent on the first visit.  After living or working there a while one begins to understand – it is not something written in books but in the heart and mind.  It is developed over time.

Things have now changed over the years and on a recent visit I found it hard to recognize what I thought would be familiar sights.  Some of the old had been replaced and the new was foreign. Hymel’s was still there.  Every Wednesday a group of us from the courthouse would travel here to eat lunch.  It was usually a large hamburger steak and most of us would get the large gold fish bowl looking mug of cold beer.

Life was different here.  It was a hard choice to go to Hymel’s.  That meant we had to miss the lunch time Bourée game.  Every day at lunch we ate our sandwiches in a few bites and then placed the tables together for our daily game of Bourée.  What great fun and relaxation.  The rules were rigged at a nickel a pot and a quarter if you booed.  You couldn’t get rich or go broke with that – only have fun.  The third floor lounge was filled with friends and laughter every day. Back during that time there were several large Live Oak Trees that graced the courthouse.  Beautiful is all that comes to mind.  The courthouse also had an amazing neighbor.  A wonderful building with Doric columns that commanded the view from the River Road that passed in front.  This was the Manresa Retreat.

When I first drove to Convent I was certainly enjoying the many Creole influenced homes and barns and whatever kind of structures along the way.  Then all of sudden  and unexpectedly, a tremendous three story building with the front lined in white columns grabbed all my attention.  What is this, I thought?  It was so majestic and beautiful that I just gazed at it without thinking.  Many of the things in St. James were like that.  You knew that just about everything was historical but that rarely entered your mind.  The beauty of things occupied the mind. These special places were very much appreciated.  They were part of the here and now and were a part of everyday life as far back as one could remember.

Ignatius House (President's Home Jefferson College) Dates to 1836

However, this large majestic building was a complete surprise. I soon learned that Manresa was a Catholic Retreat and that men could come there to mediate and be rejuvenated spiritually. I had never heard of such a thing.  Later I learned that Manresa was not constructed as a retreat but once was a college. Jefferson College was its name.  It would be years after I had left Convent before I really understood the history and significance of Manresa or Jefferson College.

Manresa was chartered in 1831 as the College of Jefferson.  The present main building was constructed in 1842. On the front end of the property (nearest River Road) is the former Presidents home.  It was built in 1836.  Today it is known as Ignatius House.  It is a reduced scale version of a Great River Road plantation home of the period.  There is a difference in dates of the two structures because a fire destroyed the original Jefferson College building in 1841.

The main building is a three story English bond brick structure with a colossal Roman Doric order form gallery of twenty-one bays.Of course the main building was occupied from 1862 to 1864 by the Union forces during the War Between the States.  In 1864 Valcour Aime, the owner of the property, transferred Jefferson College to Marist Fathers and the U.S. Government withdrew its troops.  In 1864  Marist Fathers reestablished the college as “St. Mary’s Jefferson College.”  St. Mary’s Jefferson College operated until 1927 at which time it was closed.  In 1931 the Jesuit Fathers of New Orleans purchase Jefferson College and it was renamed “Manresa House of Retreats.” February 25 – March 2, 1931, the first retreat was held at Manresa under the direction of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus.

I guess we need to know some of the history of the place to gain a full appreciation of the buildings and property.  However, when riding down River Road one need not know a thing about the place to be awed by the sight of this beautiful place along a section of what I would call a “Sleepy Section” of River Road.

New Orleans, Louisiana – Garden District – Homes

15 Aug

One of my favorite places to visit in order to stroll the streets and to take photographs is in the Historic Garden District of New Orleans.  Let me quantify that statement by saying when the weather is to my liking.  My favorite visiting time is in the fall and through the spring.  The homes here are beautiful and the hard light in summer just washes out the color, so you never capture the beauty seen by your eyes.  My intention is to make posts about some of these individual houses and to discuss their history and significance in more detail. At the moment I have beaucoup of photos of the Garden District and so I am posting some of them without any discussion – in reality they need none.

Clinton, Louisiana – East Feliciana Parish Courthouse

13 Aug

East Feliciana Courthouse in Clinton, Louisiana

Having grown up not very far away from Clinton, Louisiana, I always accepted the town as a very pretty place with some nice looking buildings that were much older and much prettier than those in my hometown.  It was only after I was grown that I began to have an appreciation for the history and for the beauty of Clinton. In the center of town is one of the most historic courthouses in Louisiana.  The old south charm of the building is complimented by the Historic Lawyers Row situated directly behind the East Feliciana Parish courthouse and the obligatory confederate soldier memorial out front under the large live oaks that dominate the grounds.

Clinton and the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse have shown their significance and beauty by appearing in a number of movies and television shows.  I do not know all  of them but I do know of some.  As many HBO subscribers already know, Clinton has appeared in episodes of the hit series True Blood.  Prior to HBO many of us can remember that the 1958 movie The Long Hot Summer was filmed in Clinton. Then in 1972 Sounder was filmed here.  More recently The Dukes of Hazzard filmed scenes in and around Clinton.  There are some more instances of filming taking place here but that is not the significance associated with the courthouse.

The East Feliciana Parish Courthouse is the oldest continuously operated courthouse in Louisiana.  It was built in 1840 and is one of four courthouses in the state of Louisiana that were built before the Civil War and are still in use today. The two story Greek Revival structure, surrounded by a Doric colonnade, is centered in the public square.  The masonry walls and columns are plastered and painted white.  A domed, octagonal cupola sits on top.

Watermelons Being Sold in Front of Courthouse

Clinton has a number of historic buildings that would be of interest to a visitor.  Although True Blood may be filming in town, one is more likely to find a red flowing substance oozing from some cut watermelons being sold from the back of a truck under the shade of the large oak trees in front of the courthouse.  Now that is something I can sink my teeth into!

New Orleans, Louisiana – Canal Street Walgreens Neon Sign

11 Aug

The Neon Sign on Walgreens at 900 Canal Street in New Orleans Dates Back to 1938

Walgreens, located at 900 Canal Street in New Orleans, has applied to the CBD Historic District Landmarks Commission to replace its existing neon sign with an LED sign of the same design. The Architectural Review Committee will review this proposal on August 17th.

The existing neon sign is part of the original store which was opened in 1938. The store was welcomed to New Orleans by other businesses that lauded their support in the local newspaper The Times Picayune.

I don’t think that anyone will disagree that the unique store and the unique sign have become New Orleans Landmarks and even a part of the city’s culture.  The store that would become an icon in New Orleans was also the 500th store opened by the national Walgreens chain.

I can only imagine how pretty Canal Street would be if all the neon signs that were once on Canal Street were still there.  What lights that are there become magical at night, especially after a rain when the wet streets reflect the beautiful lights back up into the eyes.  Walgreens is probably the best at producing beautiful reflections.  I like the Palace Restaurant Sign too but that is of a different type.

I am not qualified to make a recommendation on what would be the best thing for the city and for Walgreens to do regarding the lighting.  My thoughts are that anything that would change the cultural significance that the sign has created should not be attempted.  If you have thoughts on the request or need more information you can let the Landmarks Commission know or perhaps contact the Preservation Resource Center for New Orleans.  Their website is http://www.prcno.org/.

Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana – Klondyke Strawberries

8 Aug

Shipping Label from Amite

It seems that strawberries have always been central to life in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.  One can still find locally grown strawberries for sale and see a few fields filled with ripe berries and pickers but the culture associated with the growing and shipping and selling of the berries is almost gone.  The strawberry industry in Tangipahoa is now just a shadow of its former self.

Shipping Label from Independence

Not too many years ago the towns up and down US Highway 51 in Tangipahoa Parish bustled with activity during strawberry season.  The towns were jammed with people and activity for weeks and there were berries just about everywhere.  Private stands sold the berries all along the route of Highway 51, the migrant worker school was full of kids, and it seemed that hundreds of gallon jugs with red colored water advertised strawberry wine.

Label from Natalbany

Even the strawberries were different back then.  They were Klonkdykes.  They had a distinctive aroma and they were tart and sweet.  Once you had eaten one another type of berry would not do.  However, the main market for the Klondyke was in Chicago and trainload after trainload carried the distinctly flavored berries there throughout strawberry season.  There was no such thing as plastic pints and cardboard carriers back a few years ago.  Everything was made from wood.  As the season edged on the wooden pints and hand carriers would get drenched in strawberry juice and the delicious smell permeated the wood.

"NIC" Brand from Amite

Not that long ago a disease hit the Klondyke plants and just about wiped them out.  The growers switched to the Chandler Berry which is the same berry grown in California and Florida.  Tangipahoa and Louisiana had lost its unique strawberry niche.  Without a special product to offer, the commercial  stores and outlets could get cheaper and more dependable supplies from other places.

Fluker Even Shipped Strawberries

In general I don’t eat genetically engineered food but if the Klondyke could be brought back through gene therapy I would eat as many as I could.  I suppose the old Klondykes are grown in places but they are no longer the center of life in Tangipahoa Parish.

I have attached some of the old shipping labels that were once in use in Tangipahoa.  The Louisiana State Library at least has images of many of the private labels.  The imagery too was a vital part of the strawberry culture in Tangipahoa.  All of it now has just about become a part history.

Amite, Louisiana – R.C. Davis Studio

2 Aug

RC Davis Adds Final Touches to His Latest Painting

I like to ride over to my visit with my friend Chris Davis in Hillsdale, which is near Amite, Louisiana.  It is nice to sit with him and discuss items of the day while he diligently paints at his easel.  In the meantime I stay busy petting his three terriers and a heeler.  The dogs like the large easy chair in his studio as much as I do.  The studio has changed some over the years but I notice that the smell of turpentine and linseed oil and other aromas no longer fill the air and that is something I miss very much.

Many of those that know the art scene in the Gulf South know Chris as RC Davis.  Heis one of the best known artist in the region and known for his paintings of the rural parts of South Louisiana.

Davis's Brush Works Quickly Highlighting Areas of His Painting

He also has a love of the Louisiana Coastal areas and when he is not painting he is often headed for the Louisiana Coast to fish for speckled trout and to enjoy the entire area of what we call the marshes and coast.  On occasion I accompany Chris to the Gulf Coast and I love to see the water and the marsh and the birds and to do my best photographing these things mostly from a moving boat.  In fact I spend most of my time doing that while Chris fishes or is figuring out how to get the boat out of shallow water. Ha, sometimes I wonder why he tolerates me because it is more work for him – maybe I should take the fishing more seriously and the photos less so since it is impossible to get a great picture while bobbing and weaving around in the water.  But a photographer has the delusion, or the hope, that somehow he will still capture a wonderful scene.  Well, I guess they all are amazing down in the Coastal part of Louisiana even if a little blurry.  Each image has a special memory to me regardless of what it looks like.

However, on the day of this visit Chris was finishing up what he calls his “Pelican Piece.”  He said that he loves the pelicans along the coast and that he thinks of them every time he thinks of that area.  They indeed are a beautiful bird and it seems that they dominate the skies and activities when we are out there.  Chris has done Pelicans before but the oil spill has been weighing heavy on his mind lately.  We do not know the fate of the birds and fish and dolphins that we so dearly cherish.  We do not know the fate of the marshes where we spend a great deal of time.

I think that Chris is missing the Gulf so much that he is painting part of his favorite memories.  When down there one learns to feel that the pelicans and dolphins are indeed friends and he is missing his old friends.

The Pallet For the Pelican Painting

During one visit to the coast we headed to the marshes to anchor and bed down for the night.  A trio of dolphins followed us into the marshes – they had followed us while in the Gulf.  All during the night they would surface and exhale the air from their air holes and at times the blasts that would awaken us.  It happened many times that night but it was a beautiful thing and was not bothersome at all.

Before daylight one of the dolphins pounded on the boat with his tail.  Now that woke us up!  We noticed a bad storm coming in from the Gulf and thought that it would probably arrive at about time the tide was out.  I think that dolphin was telling us that they were leaving as bad weather was on the way and that they were getting out of there.  We should have left when they did.  We got caught in the middle of the storm, out in the Gulf, and before long waves were going over the boat.  One hit me directly in the face.

All of these things were going through my mind as Chris added highlights to his pelican picture. One of the merchants, that carries his paintings, thought that the darkness along the shore was too reminiscent of the oil spill.  The sun was going down in the painting and of course the shore area had shadows, but no oil was in this image!

Chris decided that he could add highlights to the shore and to the water near the shore and his brush worked quickly with white and blue paint as we talked.

Rainbow Greets Us as We Hit the Road with Pelican Painting

He finished up pretty quickly and the painting was placed in the back of his truck and we headed down the road to show it to his brother.  As we pulled into the driveway we noticed a rainbow in the distance even though we had not seen any rain.  We thought we could get a better view in a open field just down the road and so we, along with the painting, headed to the field.  When we arrived there was a rainbow that stretched all across the sky and we could see both ends.  What a sight.  I wonder if it will one day show up in a future painting of RC Davis.

I plan to do a post, in the future, on his gallery.  It is a gallery that he created from an old chicken farm barn.  If you wish you can visit his gallery at this link: http://www.rcdavis.com/.  I just looked at his website and the new piece has been posted.  It is named Gulf Flight.

Let me say that my photographs are just snap shot images and in no way exhibit the wonderful color and superb artwork for which Chris is known.  My images are just here to help tell the story.