The Giovanni House, c.1905
| Left to right: Gaye Giovanni McDonald, Maureen and C.A. Miller pose with the Landmark Plaque
presented during the annual meeting of the Calcasieu Historial Preservation Society.
HISTORICAL REASEARCH: French Colonial Influences and Adaptations In Louisiana in Mid 1800’s.
The emerging Federal style, which newly arriving Americans brought to New Orleans, had a lasting effect on French Colonial architecture. The French Colonial floor plan gained the addition of a center hallway, which dramatically improved the flow to the rooms and the privacy therein.
The fireplace might now move to an exterior wall in the Parlor, Dining room or Bedroom. The boxed out fireplace, on an interior wall, so typical of the early French style, was no longer the only location. Some reference that the outside chimney was safer, considering fire was the most common threat to a house. Others credit it a style issue only, harking back to the English traditions of the American Colonies.
Lunettes were added to the main entrance door, and also side windows
Aesthetic influences such as broad entrance staircases rising to the Front Porch, added grandness beyond the pure function required.
The French New Orleanians observed the metric of large square rooms. This feature conforms to the standard French measurement and has direct precedence throughout Louisiana during this time. Floor plans might be four or six room layouts, but the shapes were square.
Norman trussing, dating back to France, was another noteworthy construction technique, and was an example of the tour de force of the joiner’s art.
The addition of a center hallway, the fireplace on an outside wall, the graceful stairs leading to the front entrance, and the square interior rooms are all elements that have been incorporated into the 1536 Foster Street home.
Note: Information gathered from research completed to document plantation styles in S. Frederick Starr’s book: UN BELLA MAISON. The Lombardy Plantation House in New Orleans Bywater, 2013.
HISTORY NARRATIVE OF 1536 FOSTER STREET RESIDENCE
The property was originally part of a land grant signed by Secretary W. O. Stoddard for Abraham Lincoln in 1861. In 1885 the succession of Severine Sallier Estate and Plat dated July 17, 1885, lists the property as “Severine Sallier Subdivision.”
At Probate, Arsene Sallier acquired the lot 28 including lot 13 and i/2 of lot 14. He conveyed this property to George Farquahar. Farquahar donated the land for Foster Street to the City of Lake Charles in 1901. A Plat recorded in 1905 shows the lots, and street as dedicated to the City.
Robert R. Stone purchased the property in 1905 from Farquahar, and continued to own the property until 1907, when it was sold to Robert L. Brown, and wife Effie. They are listed in the 1909 City Directory as living in the house on Foster Street ( hen numbered 136 Foster), and that the house was under restoration. A mortgage was taken out in 1912 for property together with all buildings and improvements thereon. The property was lived on jointly for a brief time, with a homestead waiver, by William J. Martin and Robert L. Brown. An assessment for a sidewalk on the West side of Foster Street was paid to the City of Lake Charles.
C. W. Brown, son of Robert L. Brown, purchased the property in 1919. In 1929 the property came into the Giovanni Family.
Charles L. Giovanni, Sr. purchased the property in 1929, and leased it until he sold it to his son, Milton Abel Giovanni in April of 1948. Milton lived in the house with his wife Yvonne Fournet Giovanni until his death in May 1976. Yvonne became executrix until 1991 when Yvonne, her daughter Gay Giovanni McDonald, and Charles Noble sold the house to James Whitney Martin.
Martin sold in 1993 to St. Patrick’s Hospital, and the neighborhood was threatened by expansion plans of the hospital. Fortunately, the neighborhood and the Hospital agreed to contain the Hospital properties to the North side of Lilleion Street at the Foster Street corner. They placed the 1536 Foster Street Residence on the south side of Lilleion for sale.
James & Eva Porter purchased 1536 Foster Street as their residence in 2001. They did a major restoration to the house, by adding the full front porch that was originally on the house. This restoration garnered a CHPS Calca (Calcasieu Accommodation) honoring the Porters and their efforts. This link leads to the photos displayed when the Porters received the Calca Award.
Maureen & C.A.Miller,Jr. purchased the house in June 2013. It has taken two years for the Millers to reclaim this little jewel of a house, and they are proud to apply for a plaque from the Calcasieu Historic Preservation Society, celebrating the house’s continuing life as a historic residence in Lake Charles. With care it can last another fifty years.
STORIES AND FOLKLORE
MAUREEN'S STORY: THE HOUSE SEEMS TO HAVE A HAPPY PAST.
It has always been a family home, whether lived in by owners or tenants. The first day I walked into the house, I felt the house was filled with positive energy. The high ceilings, the many windows still with the old glass panes, the moulding details, the floor plan, gave me a sense that the house “lives well”. But we knew nothing, only that it was the perfect house for us, though there was much we would need to do. We bought it the next day, pending inspections. We had fallen for this house! It felt right for this time in our lives.
We wanted to maintain the existing footprint of the house, not start adding bigger spaces, more bedrooms, though we did need to find a way to build a master bath and dressing area into the space.
We wanted a fence around the front yard to set the house off the street, and give us freedom of movement for our pets and grandchildren. I wanted a back courtyard garden with a classical composition, a fountain, and a brick wall to add privacy.
I wanted to reuse the trellis work that was so sturdily built. I needed an Art Studio!
We needed storage and a carport.
We decided to focus on the main house first, and get moved in and settled before we tackled the other areas. And so, we found room in the sleeping porch for another bath, and dressing area. The sleeping porch windows needed replacing so we redesigned how they needed to be, to allow for the new bath.
The kitchen was the one Milton Giovanni had built when he renovated the house, but it was in disarray with a redo the Porters were unable to finish, and I had a layout that would give me the storage I needed. So the kitchen was gutted.
We also wanted to open the center hall, which had been closed off and was being used as a storage center along with the furnace, and a huge attic fan. This area was gutted. Now we had the center hall back; the partitioning was just a piece of plywood used for the back of some bookcases, so there was nothing structural to change. Now we had the light moving through the hall and a view from front to back as I imagined it originally was. New HVAC went into the generous attic.
After six months we were able to move into the house, and spent our first Christmas in it Dec. 2013. The next year we tackled the rest of our list, and as of June 2015, our dream retirement home was complete.
GAYE'S STORY: I LIVED IN THE HOUSE FROM 7 TO 21, UNTIL I GOT MARRIED!
My Grandpa, Charles Lawrence Giovanni started working for Powell Lumber Company at 11 yrs old, worked there all his life, for 63 years. He was a bookkeeper. He bought his house at the other end of the block on Foster, 120 at the time, and then bought 136 Foster Street for my Dad, Milton.
Daddy built the kitchen, closed in the side sleeping porch with casement windows, added bookcases in the living room, and millwork all over the house. He had access to good materials from Powell Lumber Company. He also built the alcove in my bedroom, which is where my bed fit in, and the bookcases where I displayed my storybook dolls. Holidays were always special, with my Uncle Lucius Moss, carving the turkey!
My Dad built the garage in the back of the house, in the 1960’s, and then Bill and I also built the house behind theirs, next to the garage. All the wood they put into these homes was Powell Lumber Company supplied. So you know they are built well.
Note by Maureen: I am indebted to Gaye Giovanni McDonald for her generosity not only in time but with her knowledge of the home we have now both shared! The alcove in her bedroom is still there, the garage everyone told me to tear down is now my Art Studio, and the woodwork Milton did is freshly painted and still in place. The trellis that was around the back porch is now featured in my courtyard garden.
DEBBIE'S STORY: THERE WAS A CISTERN UNDER THE HOUSE
Debbie Serra is Maureen’s next door neighbor, and the owner of her own Landmark Home, the William Wenz House.
She very graciously met with me to share what she knew about our house. She has lived in the neighborhood for 32+years, so she remembers when the Giovanni’s lived here. She remembers all the renters after Yvonne moved, and says the wonderful thing about this house is it was always a home. It was not used for workers, transients etc. So I definitely got my sense of the house being a happy house validated by what she knew and had observed.
Debbie knows there was a cistern under the house for a long time, buried somewhere, which apparently collapsed in the 1990’s. You could hear the water dripping, the meter was ballistic, and all the pipes had to be reworked. We found an old clay pipe leading under the house that probably was part of that system. We also filled an area under the house when we re-leveled the foundation, and re-built piers.
This is puzzling, most cisterns I’ve seen are on the side of a building, but it may explain why we had so many beautiful bricks on the property, which we collected and re-used for part of our courtyard walkway design. Amazing!
Note from Maureen: Thank You, Debbie.
MY FIRST MEMORY OF THE HOUSE WAS THE BEAUTIFUL CAMELLIAS in the front and north side yard of 1536. When I moved into the house across the street at 1533 Foster in 1986, the yard at 1536 was just exquisite. The house was white, and has always been white to my knowledge, and there was a small radial stoop with no porch on the front of the house. It was a quaint cottage that several of our friends rented, and we used to play tricks on each other through our front windows with flashlights!
Carolyn Rouyer had a lawn service, so we often mowed 1536 yard for our friends in the 1536 rent house. When Jim Martin owned the house he planted a Drake Elm tree, which flourished opposite the Live Oak tree in the front yard. Hurricane Rita blew it over and we encouraged the Porters, who now owned the house, to cut down the tree but leave the roots. Today that Drake Elm is once again a centerpiece in the front yard. Collie and I are yard and garden people, so we love to look across the street and enjoy the transformation Maureen & CA have given this house. It is singing again, and the birds are visiting again, the yard is blossoming with new life, and I get to visit my Sister, Maureen, any time I want.
About six months before Maureen & CA bought the house, I had just repainted the old concrete street number post at the corner with the correct spelling for the side street: Lillieon and Foster. The Street is dedicated to Lillieon Cutrer who lived on the street at one point and then lived on Foster Street. In retrospect I feel it was an energy moment bringing Maureen & CA back home to a special house on the corner.
We sold 1533 and now live and own 1535 Foster Street, so we are old believers in this special street. When Maureen & CA moved in, we sent a note with goodies saying:
WELCOME back to Lake Charles, The neighborhood, and to Our New Adventure Together!
Note from Maureen: Thank you Bette! So how can you not believe it was meant for us to live in this Special home, on this great Street, in this Great little City of Lake Charles!
Ours is a story of hard work, believing the dream, and gratitude that dreams do Come True!
Maureen & C.A. Miller, Jr.