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The Fire Walk - The Architecture of Recovery

Good afternoon.

One hundred years and one day ago a violent conflagration destroyed property and disrupted lives in our corner of Louisiana.  Certainly, there have been many other disasters:  floods, yellow fever and influenza epidemics, hurricanes in 1933 and 1957.  Only very recently, we experienced Rita and Ike.  So it can be said that the disasters are no strangers to us in Southwest Louisiana.

So what makes this particular disaster so unusual and why are we commemorating this particular recovery?  I would suggest that this disaster was relatively compact and relatively complete.  Not only did the fire clear out the early, in some cases original development in downtown Lake Charles, it also cleared out a particular nineteenth century notion of how cities work.  Recovery from the Great Fire created for Lake Charles a completely new, modern way of building and using downtown.

The Great Fire was so intense, particularly here in the heart of downtown, that there was little to nothing left to restore.  The photographs that document the fire show a bleak landscape of little more than fire-damaged chimneys.  Literally, we were left with ashes, particularly at this intersection.  The slate had been washed clean by the fire.

Both the police jury and city council decided early on to approach the recovery from several different angles at once. Immediately following the fire, the need for security was prime.  The state militia, sheriff's department and city police kept up round the clock watches.  The fire department went on special alert to monitor errant blazes from piles of ashes and rubble.

Revised, updated building codes were soon in place following a short moratorium on all types of construction in downtown.  Fire codes and lists of suitable building materials, styles, and setbacks were reviewed and put into place.  Missing documents were reconstructed from bits of existing records and from memory.  It took well over a year to reconstitute property records and successions using materials that have been in the care of an abstracting company located away from the fire.

The actions of the paid fire department were reviewed as was the availability of water hydrants and water pressure.  Unfortunately, Fire Chief Sudduth was fired, but the water company review passed muster as providing sufficient water pressure.  Streets were cleared and the streetcar lines and electric utilities were reestablished in record time.  The fire was deemed a natural disaster, given the dry gale-force winds and the totally unregulated, densely packed city of wood.

One of the early post-fire decisions was to abandon the alderman-mayor format of civic government.  By 1912, Lake Charles began to operate on a commission basis, considered then to be a more modern, more progressive, business-like approach to civic government.  The new commission form encouraged sound fiscal practice, and rejected waste and favoritism.  The Commission form presided over the next two decades of rapid civic growth and improvement.  In many respects, the city had matured and began to think of itself as a modern city worthy of all possibilities.

The economy diversified with investment in oil exploration and petrochemicals.  Local entrepreneurs experimented with diversified agriculture including meat packing, citrus farming, and rice milling.  The area made an early foray into aviation by competing for and getting Gerstner field as an army training site only 10 years after the Wrights invented the airplane.  The city recruited the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team under Connie Mack to make Lake Charles its winter headquarters.  Both the City and Parish cooperated in efforts to locally build and open the deep water Port of Lake Charles.

Within 6 years, downtown commercial Lake Charles had been largely rebuilt.  New modern structures replaced many of the older surviving wooden buildings.  Ryan Street was lined with new structures using both modern codes and fireproof materials.  One of the best examples of this surge of new construction was the impressive Muller's Department Store building, at Ryan and Division, completed in 1913.  Rail connections were strengthened with three active passenger and freight terminals in place.  Potential firetrap structures were condemned.  Streets and highways were improved as automobiles became more commonplace.

As to replacing civic architecture, the minutes of the City Council and the Police Jury showed that they were able to meet in a variety of locations immediately following the fire.  The Majestic Hotel served as a surrogate courthouse and city hall for a time.

The decision to rebuild downtown was overwhelming and the decision to build better was made evident by the selection of the prestigious New Orleans-based architectural firm of Favrot and Livaudais for the principal commissions to replace lost buildings.

Favrot and Livaudais was a long-established firm with may civic, academic, and religious commissions throughout the South to their credit.  In designing for this area's needs, the firm used traditional building styles but shaped the interiors for modern use.  Strong and distinctive historically-based exteriors provided the big picture outline.  As to the interiors, they would be shaped by function and utility.  And of course, they selected brick, marble, terracotta, copper, bronze, tile, and other fireproofed materials that have stood the test of time.

The first commission completed was for the new City Hall.  The building is Italianate in style with a central clock tower and tile roof.  The design placed the new City Hall facing Ryan Street and surrounded by spacious grounds covering the entire block.  No longer was the area chock-a-block with wooden frame structures.

Across Ryan, the city abandoned South Court Street to provide ample grounds for the new Courthouse.  Favrot and Livaudais used the Classic Palladian style with columns, porticos, and a massive copper dome.  The principal facade faced Ryan Street.  There were once equally impressive entrances on the north and south as well, but these are now obscured by later additions.

These two important buildings were monumental in scale and designed to inspire and edify the common man and woman.  The functions of city and parish government were elevated both literally and figuratively as the main entrances are not on the street level - the level of commerce and the everyday.  Government functions were made special, spaces were grand and materials used were solid and real to allow the structures to withstand hard daily use and to impress both citizen and visitor.  The buildings became the symbols of Calcasieu and of Lake Charles and represented strength and tradition.

To replace the Catholic Church and rectory, Favrot and Livaudais chose Romanesque-Lombard styling in a deep red brick.  The new Immaculate Conception followed a classical outline with rounded arched windows and a distinctive bell tower.

In all, we are lucky to have these three remarkable, diverse and striking landmarks.  Each of the three is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and these buildings are arguably the most significant architecture ever built in Southwest Louisiana.  They are the physical evidence of a determined decision to build bigger and better after a challenging disaster.

The parish and the City commissioned the Favrot and Livaudais firm for additional new structures including Central School and the Ward Schools, Lock Park Pavilion, several private homes, and the Calcasieu Marine national Bank.  In addition, the parish of Allen, chose this firm in 1912 to design a courthouse for their newly minted parish.

For many of the displaced families, the choice to rebuild was not a difficult one.  A few families, like that of Judge Gorham, rebuilt new homes in place.  And new residential areas of town were being developed and were readily available.  Some families took the opportunity to start fresh in what is now called the Charpentier District just to the east of downtown.  This area had been largely prairie fields.  The oaks we now associate with this residential area were only saplings planted in years following the great fire.

Other residential areas developing included Baptist Meadows (the area around St. Louis School which was the site of the Louisiana Baptist Orphanage), and Margaret Place.  The city had provided opportunity before the fire, and certainly with all the new construction, would provide opportunity again.  The idea of residential suburbs ringing the central core of the city was firmly in place.  Trolley lines were extended to serve these areas with lines on Hodges, Kirby and Kirkman as well as Ryan.

In conclusion, the architecture of recovery from the Great Fire was not only an architecture of buildings, grand as they may be, but also an architecture of ideas, opportunities, and symbols that created a stronger, better and modern city and parish.

The Fire Walk - Script for the Fourth Stop: The Ashes Cool

The fire continued to burn eastward and southward to end the continuous destruction at the Catholic Cemetery at Iris and Common Streets.  However, wind-blown embers caused spot fires in many parts of the city.  Even a house located two full blocks away on Kirkman Street ignited and went up in flames.  Similarly, spot fires were reported throughout the city.

Pithon Coulee kept the fire from progressing any farther south along Ryan Street.  Pithon Coulee was graced with what amounted to a freshwater swamp at the foot of Front Street (now Lakeshore Drive).  The swamp kept the fire from progressing into the newly developed Margaret Place subdivision.  Before the construction of Shell Beach Road, a rickety boardwalk crossed the coulee onto the south shore of the lake.  The rickety boardwalk was known as a local "lover's lane" for its un-chaperoned use by young couples.

On the north side, flames continued almost to Division Street and on the northeast, the strong southwest wind fanned the flames almost to Kirkman Street.  Over 30 blocks of the city were affected and seven whole city blocks were burned to the ground.  At least 5,000 people were dislocated, at the time about a third of the population of Lake Charles.  Many were housed in commodity warehouses along Railroad Avenue, in the homes of friends and relatives in other parts of the city, and in churches.  The rice mill provided cauldrons of boiled rice in an effort to allay hunger.

Early in the fire, emergency telegrams had been sent to neighboring cities for assistance, but by the time crews and equipment came from Jennings, Orange and Alexandria by rail, the fire was coming to a close.  Once the fire expanded beyond the relative densely constructed downtown where roofs and walls were made of wood, the lack of fuel literally killed the fire.

At this corner was the St. Claire Hotel which was totally destroyed. (Ave Maria Center)

Of particular concern to the Catholics of the parish was the loss of the wooden framed Church which was built in 1881 to replace the modest original church built in 1869.  By 1910, the congregation had added a rectory, a convent, and a school which provided education to day students and to boarders who lived at the convent.  The entire complex was leveled by the fire.

Ten Pin Alley separates the current church and rectory from the site of the original church.  The story goes that when the 1881 church was constructed, the land had to be mortgaged to pay for its construction.  When the Dutch bankers asked whether the land was "good land or hilly land" the response was that it was level enough for to play ten pins" hence the name.  Ten Pin Alley provided service access to the center of the block both before and after the great fire.  It is still in place today.

After the fire the nursing nuns of St. Patrick Sanitarium provided housing for the teaching nuns and for the boarders.  Other churches offered to host services but a new church of their own was viewed as essential to meet the church's mission in Southwest Louisiana.  It had been the only Catholic Church for an area of over 5,000 square miles.  The church met for a time at what was called the Auditorium building and the congregation discussed heatedly how to rebuild both the church and the school, given the immensity of their loss.  It was essential to their existence.

Essential to the general survival of the area was the return of order, the reconstruction of City Hall, the Courthouse and the jail, and reestablishment of the many businesses and homes which had been lost.  In addition, documented parish, business, and church records had to be reconstructed.  Total physical losses were pegged at $4,000,000 in 1910.  At that time, two thousand dollars bought and furnished a three bedroom home.

An effort to partially reconstruct parish land records took another 12 months, and many land abstracts to this day begin with the words "on the 23rd of April, 1910, a great conflagration" to explain some of the inconsistencies in tracking ownership.  While the staff of the Clerk of Court is generally helpful and conscientious, some requests for specific documents do get the response that "oh, dear, that was burned up in the fire".

And while there was a great loss of property and records there was no known loss of life reported as a result of the great fire, except for one unfortunate temporary guest of the parish sheriff.

The jail had been lost in the fire and the sheriff of Calcasieu Parish, D J Reid, son of a sheriff and part of the great Reid Dynasty of Calcasieu Sheriffs, determined that his prisoners would remain prisoners for the duration of their sentence.

Sheriff Reid transported the prisoners to his own home at Ford and Pine Streets where they resided as his guests for a year.  Local lore has it that during this time, one of the prisoners attempted an escape from the third floor attic where the temporary jail had been established.  The escape by crashing through the attic's window failed and, as the tale continues, the ghostly sounds of breaking glass and a last desperate cry are sometimes heard in the neighborhood.

Another casualty of the Great Fire may have been Imperial Calcasieu Parish itself.  In 1840 Calcasieu Parish had been created from the western half of St. Landry Parish.  Thirty years later, Cameron Parish was carved out of the coastal part of Calcasieu.  By 1900, communities in the east and north of Calcasieu Parish began petitioning for their own parishes and courts.

Residents of the Merryville and DeRidder areas had held at least two formal convocations to petition independence as early as 1900.  For property transfers, paying tax, performing jury duty, or conducting other court business residents had to make a two-to-three day trip to the parish seat of Lake Charles by horse and train.

It is speculated that the loss of records may have tipped the scales in the movement to establish new parishes.  Seven months after the fire, a special convention was called with the specific purpose of formally dividing Imperial Calcasieu Parish, and by 1912 the civil parishes of Jefferson Davis, Allen and Beauregard were carved out and established.

From this viewpoint, you can see three of the legacy structures from the recovery of the great fire:  The great domed Calcasieu Courthouse, the 1911 City Hall and the Church, now Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

For concluding statements about the Architecture of Recovery and for a question and answer session, please follow me to the steps of the Historic Calcasieu Courthouse.

The Fire Walk - Script for the Third Stop: The Site of The Majestic Hotel

The fire had started about 3:40 in the afternoon of that fateful day.  Within 5 hours the explosively violent fire had changed this city of wood to a mound of smoldering ash.

In 1910, fire was a constant.  Chimneys were everywhere and wood or coat fires were necessary and most times the only way to prepare food, heat water, and generate power.  Trash and garbage fires were normal and standard ways of disposing of burnable trash.  Smoke was seen every day and everywhere and was a normal part of everyone's lives.  It may have been difficult to judge when a major alarm needed to be sounded.  It was nearly impossible to immediately judge the severity of the fire.

As the amount of generated smoke, flying embers, and flame grew, more and more people grew alarmed by the intensity.  The ferries connecting the lakefront with the Westlake and the other communities halted on the opposite shore.  More than a few had to take the treacherous railroad bridge back home from errands run on the Westlake side.

Fire whistles blew the alarm at the fire stations throughout town and at lumber mills and factories which skirted the lake.  Church bells rang throughout the city to spread the alarm.  Railroad bells and whistles shrilly proclaimed the conflagration throughout the city.  By five o'clock, bells began to ring continuously city wide to sound the surprising growth of the fire.

Individuals and families who feared that their homes could be next evacuated with household goods and furnishings.  Some families placed goods on the street in an effort to save them and there are family tales of the house being saved while the furnishings in the street caught fire and burned.  The Christian Church which was located on Iris Street removed their cherished new organ and placed it on the street where it and the church were both lost in flames.  Interestingly, had they kept the organ in the church, it would have been insured!

A gusting wind from the southwest blew embers and smoke across Ryan and towards the north and east.  Shop owners and homeowners wet quilts and blankets and used them to smother ground flames.  Using steam-powered pumps which drew water from the lake as well as from hydrants, firemen attempted to squelch flames on roofs and porches.

Horses were led out of burning stables and herded towards safety lakeside or across Pithon Coulee.  Merchandise was carted away and residents emptied their houses to try to save family heirlooms.  By late afternoon, the Courthouse, the Catholic Church and school, City Hall and the fire station were in flames.  The Clerk of Court, the assessor, and courthouse staff attempted to save records and parish property, but the courthouse and the city hall was tinderbox infernos.  The Jail was emptied and inmates were drafted to help fight the fire.

But the fire was immense and moved quickly in this densely packed wooden city.  Within an hour fires were being fought on over 30 blocks of Lake Charles.  The fire was raging all along Ryan as far north as Broad Street and along Kirby Street as far east as Common where a fire line had been established.  Dynamite was used to help clear firebreaks.

At this site, the former location of the Majestic Hotel we tell one of the more unusual of the fire fighting stories.

The Majestic Hotel was built in 1906 to be the modern ultimate hotel for Lake Charles.  The area had many lesser hotels and boarding houses in its day such as the Haskell House, the St. Claire Hotel, and the Lake House.  The Majestic was bigger and grander.  It had its own power plant and water system, and had ceiling fans in every guestroom.  It had a popular restaurant and was alleged to have hosted every president from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy, though not necessarily when they were president.  At the time of the Louisiana Maneuvers just prior to World War II, the Majestic hosted General Bradley and General Eisenhower and the relationship bloomed between the Eisenhowers and general manager Emma Michie was legendary.

But this is the story of the much earlier Majestic.

The Pujo Street corridor between Bilbo and the Lake was perhaps the hospitality and financial main street of Southwest Louisiana.  The Carnegie Library was located on the north east corner of Pujo and Bilbo, on the northwest corner the Majestic Hotel, on the north east corner of Pujo and Ryan, the magnificent dark red brick Calcasieu State Bank, on the southeast corner of Lake Charles Drug Store (later Gordon and Van Phul Drugs and now Pujo Street Cafe), and returning east to the site of the Trotti residence where the Pioneer Building/City Hall is located today.

In 1948, Mordello Vincent and Lee Welch would construct the 10-story Pioneer Building.  Together the Majestic Hotel and the Pioneer Building shared the street for an additional 25 years or so until the hotel was demolished in 1965 to build a never-constructed 12 story bank building.

But in 1910, as the Great Fire leapt from building to building leaving ashes in its wake, the management of the Majestic, using the up-to-date and self-contained water system of the Hotel itself, sprayed water on the roofs and sides of the adjoining buildings and buildings across the street in a successful effort to protect lives and contents.  The Majestic saved those structures and in doing so saved itself.  Post fire, the Majestic provided housing for some of the displaced citizens and served as a temporary City and Parish headquarters, allowing business to be conducted until new facilities were constructed.

Unfortunately the original domed Carnegie Library was demolished in 1949 and reconstructed as a more modern Lake Charles Public Library on the same site, and the Calcasieu State Bank was demolished about the same time as the Majestic Hotel.  But the commercial block on the south side of Pujo Street still exists as testimony to the generous and hospitable gesture of a long gone classic hotel.

Please follow our guide to the next stop.

The Fire Walk - Scrpit for the Second Stop: 900 Block of Ryan Street

And back to the day, that fateful day, the 23rd of April.  It was a Saturday, a working day for most people.  Men worked at the mills or for the railroad, or toiled in shops and forges, warehouses, in the fields, or rarely, in offices.  Women maintained households, doing laundry, cleaning, sewing, or perhaps shopping for the Sunday dinner.  A few women operated their own shops and stores.  Children would help their families by harvesting vegetables, greens, and strawberries from family gardens, or they would perform other necessary chores both inside and outside.  For working children, and there were many, the day meant running errands and delivering messages, helping in a shop, ork working for a blacksmith or a livery stable, or most dangerously at a sawmill or woodworking shop.

For the few who worked a half-day or indeed, had the entire day off, they might have taken one of the trolleys to Barbe's Pleasure Pier or to Walnut Grove to enjoy the day.  An electric railway ran right down Ryan Street and onto South Ryan, to end at Lake Street where one could fish or swim, or just hold hands at the water's edge.  They might have chosen to visit friends or family, or perhaps to pack a picnic to enjoy at Orange Grove Cemetery.  A lucky few might have chosen to take a short train excursion to Welsh or Jennings, or to Orange, Texas and marvel at trains that raced at up to 50 miles per hour.

And the story goes, about 3:40 in the afternoon, a sunny, windy and hot April 23rd in 1910, Horton Porter, owner of Blaske's Soft Drink Stand or as it was more commonly known The Old Opera House Saloon, and a young boy named Chaffin who ran errands for Gunn's Bookstore next door noticed a small trash fire behind the Williams Opera House.  The young boy immediately began to throw water to quench the flame and Horton Porter ran to the fire department.  According to the American Press of the day, Luther Sudduth, the fire chief, himself led the first fire wagon to the scene.

Within 15 minutes the fire was fanned by the gale force winds off the lake and the Opera House was engulfed by burning embers.  Wooden outbuildings, fences and scrub trees were ignited as well.  The Opera House had been built of heart pine which is rich in pitch and tar and the floors of the Opera House, like most wooden floors of the era, were regularly oiled and waxed to keep them clean.  Buildings were densely connected and had common walls.  Some buildings were linked by wooden banquettes and awnings.  Most had shingled roofs.  All this dry wood, along with the strong winds made fighting the fire a dangerous and difficult task.

The Opera House was soon a furnace.  The American Press reported that the firefighters and volunteers directed four streams of water on the blaze which came down as steam from the intense heat.  A black billowing cloud of smoke rose from the flames and blowing embers crackled down on adjacent buildings on both sides of the 900 block of Ryan Street.  The fire ignited the Catholic Church then a wooden structure.  Soon the rectory, convent and school on the east side of Ryan blazed as well.

Additional fire hoses and pumps were brought in from the sawmills and more men volunteered to try to fight off the flames.  The Opera House had nearly exploded in a torrent of embers.  The shower of embers leapt North Court Street to land on the window casings of the courthouse.  Fire fighters scrambled to both fight the expanding fire, to evacuate the buildings.  Parish employees tried to save the records and furniture, however most records both criminal and civil were destroyed by flame.

Within hours the wind had spread the inferno from its start in the 900 block of Ryan to as far north as Division Street, as far south as Clarence and as far east as Kirkman.  One hundred and nine buildings were destroyed by the flames.  Over one hundred families were displaced.  The New York Times reported that the fire made 5,000 people homeless and destroyed some four million dollars worth of real estate.  To give you some idea of the value in today's money:  a well-appointed three bedroom house cost under two thousand dollars, and a gallon of gasoline cost 7 (seven) cents.

Please follow our guide to the next stop.

The Fire Walk - Script for the First Stop: 1911 Memorial Plaza

The story starts like this.  It was a sunny, windy and hot April 23, in 1910 in Lake Charles.  On the lake, cypress and pine logs floated in corrals waiting for the log wranglers to skid them on land for processing in one of the several sawmills that still operated.  Although the height of the timber industry had been some years earlier, lumber was still a big employer in Calcasieu.  Indeed, Calcasieu had produced much of the lumber, millwork and shingles that rebuilt Galveston ten years earlier after a great storm devastated that coastal city.

This lakeshore town was also busy with the hustle and bustle of rail.  For the last 25 or so years, ever since Lake Charles linked up to New Orleans, Shreveport, Houston and the rest of the United States by rail, traveling to Southwest Louisiana had been much improved.  By 1910, three major rail companies operated passenger and freight service out of the city.  Prior to the coming of the train, travelers wrote of 8 and 12 day trips just to get to New Orleans.  Now by rail it was just a breezy five hours, with as many as twelve trains a day making runs to just New Orleans.

Steamboats and ferries connected Lake Charles with Westlake and Bagdad, Lockport and Deesport.  Regular steamer service brought in Cameron beef and citrus to Lake Charles for processing and shipment by rail.  Rice as well was shipped by rail as Lake Charles was the epicenter of the American rice industry which priced American rice, for a time, from its Lake Charles hub.

But even with all this.  Lake Charles was generally a quiet southern town of about 15,000.  The Calcasieu River was a slow, winding stream to the Gulf and the lake was still freshwater edged with cypresses.  Electricity, ice service, and piped in water were new and popular services of Gulf States Utilities and the telegraph and telephone were well established and well used.  The new St. Patrick's sanitarium had opened south of town a few years earlier.  The public city schools were operating with a wooden Central Schools just blocks away at Kirkman Street.

Both the City and Parish had recently remodeled and enlarged their modest seats of government.  For the Parish, a brick-and-wood courthouse had been erected in 1902 just to the east of the earlier courthouse and connected to it.  The courthouse served the immense parish of Imperial Calcasieu.  The City had constructed its first City Hall in 1903.  Before that, City council met at homes, hotels, and even on the second floor of the city's modest fire station at Iris and Cole streets.

It had been a long time, over 70 years, that Lake Charles jumped ahead of other communities in Imperial Calcasieu.  Early town fathers determined that for the fledgling hamlet to progress, it must boldly act to capture the seat of parish government.

Samuel Kirby (the region's first lawyer) and Jacob Ryan (an early sheriff and Father of Lake Charles) determined that no out-of-the-way hamlet named Marion would be the parish seat of the newly established Calcasieu Parish.  One of the very first things they did in 1851 was to commandeer the modest courthouse and relocate it on Charley's Lake.  Ten years later, Charley's Lake incorporated as Charleston, and a little later as Lake Charles.  It could be viewed that the relocated courthouse established Lake Charles as a place to be reckoned with.

But by 1910, that was the ancient past of 60 years earlier.  Lake Charles served as the modest center of commerce for the immense Imperial Calcasieu Parish.  Even though the ambitious real estate frenzy created by J B Watkins brought thousands to Southwest Louisiana, and Lake Charles was the center for that frenzy, most of the new settlers dispersed on the wide Calcasieu Prairie lands where they grew rice and cattle, and built small farm-centered towns like Iowa, Kinder, and Vinton.  The Watkins vision of Southwest Louisiana was essentially that of a rural paradise, not an urban one.  Towns were built to serve the country and not as economic generators themselves.

Lake Charles was relatively compact in size.  Downtown was pretty much defined by the lake and Pithon Coulee on the west and south, Hodges Street on the east and Railroad Avenue on the north.  In this tight corridor were some 350 businesses including several hotels and boarding houses, cafes, vaudeville houses and theatres, railroad terminals, fabrication shops, warehouses, department stores, professional and medical offices, private homes and apartments.  Even City Hall shared a busy downtown block with the fire station, a livery stable, and an assortment of businesses and homes along Ryan Street.

Most of those buildings on Ryan Street as well as most of the remainder of the town were built of cypress and pine harvested right here in Southwest Louisiana.  Wooden sidewalks lined the streets.  Wooden shingles made up roofs.  Wooden shutters, windows and doors were also manufactured right here in Lake Charles.  At its height, over 28 mills produced lumber, millwork, railroad ties, windows and shingles, and had for over 75 years.  From the early Germans who settled in Goosport, through the Civil War and the era of the Michigan Men in the 1870's and '80's, lumber had been king, and wood was used everywhere.  There were a few modern brick buildings like Gordon and Van Phul's Drug Store, the Calcasieu State Bank, the Majestic Hotel, and the Carnegie Library, but they were few indeed.

To give you the image of what this spot looked like in 1910:  The Courthouse was located on its own Courthouse Square made up of Ryan, South Court Street (now part of the Courthouse grounds), Front Street, and North Court Street (now West Kirby).  The Courthouse was made up of two parts, an earlier 1890 courthouse and a 1902 addition which doubled the size and faced Kirby Street.  You can check out the double cornerstones right there.  The working lakefront was one block away, and was covered by warehouses, docks, rail spurs, and piers.

On this block where we are standing, was the Walden Hotel and business College, the home and office of Leon Sugar, the 1903 City Hall (facing Kirby Street) and Central Fire Station along with its stales (facing Cole, now Bilbo Street).

Directly north were the Catholic Church, school, rectory, convent, and a very densely built block of businesses including restaurants, shops, professional offices, and homes.  On the northwest, in what is now a vacant parking lot were Gunn's Bookstore, the old Williams Opera House and the Opera House Saloon, and The Lake House Hotel which would have been behind the vine covered office building at the corner.

Please follow our guide to the next stop.

Newspaper Article Commerorating The Great Fire of 1910

Swift recovery, Debris removal, rebuilding started quickly

On the night of April 23, 1910, hundreds of newly homeless people gathered in Lake Charles homes, hotels and camps to contemplate what had just happened to them and how they would have to rebuild from scratch. Photos of the Firewalk.

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