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Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society

Barbe Pleasure Pier

Ghost Buildings That Helped to Create Southwest Louisiana 
By: Adley Cormier
Postcard from the collection of Trent Gremillion

These important structures, now lost, helped to create Southwest Louisiana and helped to define our economy, culture and unique lifestyle today.

Though lost by fire, or neglect or demolition, these lost structures were important to our corner of Louisiana.

The Arcade Theatre in the 800 block of Ryan Street. It hosted plays, operas, concerts; it hosted Houdini, the St Louis Symphony, the Barrymores. Because of Texas blue laws, shows and big acts that closed in New Orleans on Saturday, performed there on Sunday before opening in Texas on Mondays. (Lost by accidental arson)

The Train Stations for Union Pacific (where the Safety Council is now), for Kansas City Southern (near the Brickhouse on Ryan and Pryce Streets), and for Southern Pacific (at Bilbo and Railroad Avenue). Railroads helped to make Southwest Louisiana and all three handled freight and passengers. At one time there were 12 train departures to New Orleans or Houston, and 6 each to Alexandria and Shreveport. (Lost by demolition as passenger and freight needs changed)

The Majestic Hotel (parking lot at Pujo and Bilbo) was the place to stay in Southwest Louisiana for over half a century. One of its claims to fame was that every president from Teddy Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy slept at the hotel—although not necessarily while they were president! It was also famous for its cinnamon rolls. During the Great Fire, the Majestic pumped water from its own water plant on the buildings surrounding it to save it and them. (Demolished for a never-built office tower)

The Calcasieu State Bank (parking lot at Ryan and Pujo) was the first brick bank and towered over practically everything else downtown. It was one of the buildings that the Majestic saved, but neither could be saved from so-called urban renewal in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (Demolished for parking)

The Paramount Movie Palace (parking lot middle of the 800 block). One of 18 area movie theatres in the heyday of downtown, the Paramount was far and away the most luxurious and beautiful. There were plush lobbies upstairs and down, real leather and velour seats, and ushers and usherettes. (Demolished for parking)

Ferry Landings for the Borealis Rex and the Hazel. Before the Civic Center, the lake was much larger and extended to what was then called Front Street. It’s now Lakeshore drive. This was a working part of town with rail sidings, wharves, warehouses and ferry landings for several scheduled ferries. This is before interstate highways and even before most paved roads. You would have to take a ferry to get to Westlake or to Cameron. Above the ferry buildings were amusement halls and markets. (Neglected after the bridges, demolished to build Civic Center and landfill)

The Streetcar Barn. Lake Charles had streetcars as early as 1894 and when needing service or repairs they lived at the Streetcar barn (on Kirkman south of Railroad Ave). Streetcar lines expanded just after the Great Fire to cover most of the city from Gieffers Street in Goosport to the old Fairgrounds and Racetrack on Gulf Street (near TS Cooley School) and from Lake Street to Enterprise Boulevard. When the lines were discontinued in 1927, the company that had run them gave each employee a brand new car and a business plan to operate private taxi services. (Demolished as streetcars were phased out)

Barbe Pier, a pleasure pier that extended two hundred feet into the lake, was a center of entertainment and recreation. It hosted dances, concerts, exhibitions, vaudeville shows and lectures. It was built over the water helped to keep patrons cool in the era before air conditioning. (Demolished as obsolete in the age of radio, movies and television)

The Kansas City Southern Rail end repair shops were located just east of the crossing of Lakeshore Drive and I-10. Rolling stock needing work would park on one of the many tracks there to be serviced. When the interstate right of way was developed those tracks were spanned by one of the longest overpasses built along I-10. (Demolished when facility was relocated to west Calcasieu)

The Lake Charles Rice Mill, at the foot of Kirkman Street and the Calcasieu River, for a time was the largest rice mill in the world and served to secure this area as the most important rice port in America. In the early part of the twentieth century, the commodity price of rice for the nation was set at that mill. (Abandonded, then demolished in phases)

The Brimstone and Sulphur Mine plants in Sulphur, LA was where Herman Frasch invented the process to send super heated water down to dissolve and capture sulfur deposits. The returning sulfur-rich slurry was allowed to dry in 100 by 400 foot vats. When cured, the sulfur was broken up and sent by rail to be shipped from a depot on the Sabine River. The discovery and mining of sulfur broke the Italian sulfur monopoly and enabled the American chemical industry to flourish. (Abandoned as source of sulphur played out)

Gerstner Field, off Old Camp Road, just south of the LA 14/La 27 junction at Holmwood, southeast of Lake Charles. This was the first military airfield in Louisiana and was specifically developed to train instructors and aviators for World War I. The airfield was in operation from 1917 through 1922 when it was dismantled, leaving runways and foundations. Five hundred airmen were trained there including Claire Chennault and Jimmy Doolittle. (Designed as a temporary facility, only foundations remain)

© 2012, Adley Cormier