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Louisiana Avenue Revisited
Beauregard Town

By Melissa Landry

Beauregard Town, often described as one of the city's best kept secrets, offers visitors and residents a living history of downtown Baton Rouge. Once plagued by empty houses and overgrown lots, this sleepy neighborhood is now a thriving hot bed of activity that has become a model for neighborhood stabilization.

Founded in 1806 by Captain Elias Beauregard and the French engineer Arsene LaCarriere LaTour, Beauregard Town reflects the style of a miniature European city.
Featuring small blocks and diagonal streets on a naturally hilly terrain, the neighborhood had a distinct character that could not be found anywhere else.

Greg Eaton, a local attorney who owns more than a half dozen properties in Beauregard Town, said the neighborhood declined in the 60's and 70's as families began to move out of the city's center.

Louisiana Ave.

"A perception developed that downtown was unsafe, when in reality crime statistics showed it was one of the safest places to live and work."

Vacancies and foreclosures abounded, turn-of-the century homes fell into disrepair and the city's second oldest neighborhood slipped into a downward spiral.

Eaton recognized the stifling impact this could have on the entire Baton Rouge community. Strong residential neighborhoods are essential to healthy downtowns, and healthy downtowns are essential to growing cities, he says.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, people tend to evaluate entire cities based on their downtowns. You have to have a vibrant meeting place to coordinate government, commercial interests and offer cultural activities."

With that goal in mind, Eaton and a group of concerned citizens began working in the mid-'80s to establish the Downtown Development District. It didn't take long for local leaders to respond. By 1987 they had created the DDD and launched the Baton Rouge 2000 plan, the city's first blueprint for downtown revitalization.

A few years later, the tide began to turn.

Programs such as Restoration Renaissance marketed empty old homes and helped attract new residents, while sidewalk improvements and new wayfinding signs have brought even more charm to the neighborhood. Now, renovated homes and offices line the streets. Families and neighbors gather on front porches. Sounds of children playing and dogs barking fill the night air.

"We're on an upward climb," Eaton says. "Beauregard Town is getting stronger and stronger-it's turning into 'the' place people really want to be."

A Living History

As the city grew, Beauregard Town grew along with it. Today, the neighborhood encompasses more than 60 square blocks in downtown and is adjacent to the central business district. The area still features tree-lined avenues, shaded-sidewalks, and a unique ambiance that's rare in today's suburbs.

Louisiana Ave.

Susan Turner, a professor of landscape architecture at LSU at the time, recognized Beauregard Town's potential back in 1974 when she started working on a plan to redevelop a block in the heart of the neighborhood along Louisiana Avenue.

"I was an 'old urbanist' before new urbanism existed," she says.

"In college I lived outside of Boston in an apartment that was on top of a fish market and across the street from a pizza parlor. It was as if I was going to travel the world everyday, but really I was just going out to lunch." Turner says she wanted to capture that urban lifestyle and sense of community and bring it back to downtown Baton Rouge.

It has taken more than two decades, but Turner's vision is becoming a reality.

With the support of her family and husband Scott Purdin, Turner has restored and repurposed more than a dozen units in the area. Some of the homes date back to over 100 years and several of the properties feature off-street parking and common areas, such as a landscaped courtyard and community vegetable garden.

"In the beginning, the only people who lived here were from out of town-locals really didn't understand why anyone would want to live downtown. But that's all changed now."

Chris Nichols, founder of Medical Management Options, also saw something special in Beauregard Town.

"I was raised in a small town, and this neighborhood has that small town feel."

Upon moving to Baton Rouge in 1991, Nichols moved her company headquarters to a historic building on North Boulevard. Ten years later she restored a home across the way on Saint Joseph Street, and now she enjoys walking to work.

"You can't beat the convenience of living and working in the same area, and its great to be right in the middle of things. From the Shaw Center and the restaurants, to the outdoor concerts and parades, you have it all."

Nichols also notes that public and private investments downtown have helped to improve property values in the area.

"They have gone up significantly in Beauregard Town since I've lived here," said Nichols, who recently purchased two more homes in the neighborhood. "Some renovated properties are selling for $180 to $200 a square foot-that certainly wasn't always the case."

Undeveloped Potential

Louisiana Ave.

While it is clear that Beauregard Town has experienced a renaissance in recent years, some say the neighborhood has even more undeveloped potential.

For example, Nichols says she hopes the community will begin to take advantage of its open spaces. Where graffiti-ridden concrete pillars now sit in an empty lot underneath the interstate at the end of Louisiana Avenue, Nichols sees great potential.

"We could develop a place to display large works of art, such as iron sculptures. We could build a dog park, or create some green space where neighbors can gather for cookouts," she says.

DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer agrees. "This area has the potential to become a beautiful green belt," he says.

"We've seen it work in other cities, and there's no reason we can't do it here. Just look at what has already been accomplished in this neighborhood. With passion, purpose and a little lighting and landscaping, there's no limit to what we can do."


For additional information and a complete diagram of Louisiana Avenue please click on the images within the story or the following link: DIAGRAM OF LOUISIANA AVENUE

If you are interested in downtown living please click on the following link:

Greg Eaton, Chris Nichols, Susan Turner

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