OPEN & COMMONLINK
Welcome to the Architectural walking tour of Shreveport Common. This Uncommon Cultural Community is packed full of unique buildings from Art Deco to Gothic and more. This tour will start at the CommonLink where Texas Avenue, Cotton Street, and Elvis Presley Avenue meet. Called “Line and Sky”, this CommonLink will be (is) the information and transportation hub for Shreveport Common. You can find out about events coming soon as well as learn all about the Shreveport Common from its places in entertainment history to the fantastic sights and sounds of African-American arts to some of the quirkiness that has been around since the beginning of the Common. Designed by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock from Tuscon, Arizona and built in 2016, “Line and Sky” is to bring together transportation and art. The canopy is over 225 feet long steel truss structure clad with polycarbonate and acrylic panels. The lighting can be controlled at the electronic hub. The line drawing under the canopy will be (is) built out of the same material as railings and bike racks – pipes. Just stretched out nearly 2000 feet. Be creative with the line drawing. It’s made to be interpreted in many ways and is a place to show off!
Our next site is south across Texas Avenue to the first of 8 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The Church of the Holy Cross. Please be careful when crossing the street and resume this tour when ready.
CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS
The impressive church before you is (in their words) an unconventional church with an unconventional beginning. The Church of the Holy Cross – Episcopal. This 2 story building with the tall bell tower was constructed in 1905. This church and many others were almost chased out of town. On March 24, 1839, Bishop Leonidas Polk came to the lawless and rough town that was Shreveport and held the first Protestant service. An angry mob tried to stop him and force him back on the riverboat he came in. They did not want religion to ‘spoil’ their town. But Leonidas held service and Saint Mark’s Church was formed in downtown. A second Saint Mark’s Church was built in 1861. Then in 1900, the property here on Cotton Street was purchased and the church opened in 1905. The architect was C.W. Bulger and designed to resemble an English parish church. It combines elements of the Perpendicular and Decorated periods of English Gothic Revival architecture of the 19th century. The is simple and austere and as evident if you walk into the nave, it emphasizes height to inspire you to think heavenly. Inside you will find a single story chapel, a two story wing, the four stage bell tower, and an incredible two story nave with a steeply pitched roof. Stained glass, pews, altar, and many other elements in the nave and chapel came from the 1861 church. In 1919, fire broke out in the church causing damage to the chancel and the large Victorian Parlor pipe organ. Repairs were quickly made.
One of the hidden gems of the church is the historic Skinner Organ. It was purchased following the fire of 1919 from the Skinner Organ Company. It is important to note that it has been restored or reconstructed 3 times since it first was played in 1920. The music from the organ can best be described as powerful and beautiful.
Many parishoners decided in the 1950s that the church was too small for the growing congregation so Saint Mark’s built a larger church south of downtown. However, thanks to a small number of people who wanted to stay downtown, they bought the building in 1954 to keep the church in the community. But everyone involved forgot about the Skinner Organ. Who was going to have it? The current location or take it to the new location. Another deal was struck to keep the organ right here in Shreveport Common. The name of the church changed to the Church of the Holy Cross and has been a wonderful place to worship since then.
Please proceed east on Cotton Street to our next destination, the Providence House.
The Colonial Revival style house on the north side of Cotton Street is home to the Providence House. Once a Victorian style home built in the 1880s, it underwent a complete change into the style you see today and became a boarding house. Now it’s home to a group that believes in “a community where no family is homeless.” They focus on breaking the cycle of homelessness for families with great success: an 85-90% graduation rate of families who enter the program. Donations are welcome to support this organization as they continue their efforts to keep families off of the street.
Next door to the Providence House stands the impressive B’Nai Zion Temple.
B’NAI ZION TEMPLE
Here is another one of the 8 buildings in Shreveport Common that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1915, this massive three story building was opened. Architects Edward Neild and Clarence Olschner collaborated to make this place one of the finest examples of Beaux Arts Style in Louisiana. Beaux Arts style is best described as a glamorous take on Greco-Roman architecture with influences from the French. One of the finest examples in the U-S is Grand Central Station in New York City. The first thought that comes to mind are the columns. Several are placed in the front while many more line the interior walls of the main worship space.
You can see the intricate detail and the different depths of the brickwork along every side of the B’Nai Zion Temple. Along each side you can see five stained glass windows. They are two stories tall that to this day are elegant examples of the craftsmanship put into this building. Inside one can see their beauty. Each window is different – focusing an important piece of Judaism from the Ten Commandments to the Ark of the Covenant. The expansive two story center for worship can humble anyone. Below the main space is the basement which housed a kitchen and a fellowship hall.
The temple served the B’nai Zion community from 1915 until the 1950s. The new, more modern temple could not hold the ten stained glass windows. They remain to this day remarkably in excellent condition. The Knights of Columbus took over the temple for a while until it was sold to a private investor. Today it is locked up with no public access. It is hoped that one day it will be reopened so everyone can experience the beauty and grace of this Beaux Arts icon.
Only nine other buildings in the state can be classified as Beaux Arts from the early 20th century. Another excellent example on the opposite corner of Cotton and Common Streets. It’s the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
SCOTTISH RITE CATHEDRAL
Edward Neild was a busy man during the 1910s. Not only did he help with the B’nai Zion Temple, he also was the architect for the Scottish Rite Cathedral as well as being a member of the Shreveport Scottish Rite. Many have noticed a similar motif between the 2 structures. The Scottish Rite Cathedral also falls into the Beaux Arts style. Construction started on October 28, 1915. The cornerstone is placed on the northwest corner of the cathedral instead of the traditional northeast corner just to let more people see it when they traveled down Common Street. Opening day was November 12, 1917 and it continues on today. Notice the double headed eagles. Those are the symbol of the order of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
While the exterior is impressive, the interior takes it up a level. Inside you will find free standing columns associated with the Greco-Roman influence of Beaux Arts, colored marble floors and staircases, and openworked ceilings. The grand display of organ pipes in the auditorium coalesce to the Pilcher and Sons Pipe Organ which was completed in 1921. The auditorium can hold around 500 people. Many of the furnishings used today are from the day it opened. The original 165 lighting fixtures are still in use as are the ceiling fans. Check out the Queen Anne Style furniture. People have been sitting on them since 1917. If you have a special occasion, the Scottish Rite Cathedral is available for rental.
Some notable political figures in Louisiana history were members of the Shreveport Scottish Rite. Governors Jimmy Davis, John McKeithen, and Charles “Buddy” Roemer belonged to order.
The Scottish Rite Foundation helps out in the Shreveport Common community. The Speech and Language Center is dedicated to providing therapy to children who are in need of speech therapy.
KORNER LOUNGE AND FAIRMONT
If you look further down Cotton Street, you will see the Korner Lounge. It’s Shreveport’s oldest continuing running bar and 2nd oldest in Louisiana. Plus, it has one of 5 working Bevador beverage coolers in the United States. Turn north on to Common Street. To the right is the Fairmont Apartments. Built between 1952-1954 it was known originally as the Town Home Apartments. It is the tallest building in Shreveport Common at 15 stories. Continue along Common Street until you come to the corner of Crockett Street.
If you look to the east down Crockett Street. You will see The Strand theater. Abe and Julian Saenger teamed up with Harry and Simon Ehrlich to create a ‘Million Dollar Theater’ in Shreveport. They succeeded with The Strand. In an architectural style best described as eclectic, the building combines many styles that would become the flagship theater for the Saenger Amusement Company with similar but smaller theaters across the U.S., Cuba, Panama, and Jamaica. Based on the Roxy Theater in New York, The Strand actually is incorporated into an office building. The auditorium can be accessed by all 4 floors of the office building and the dressing rooms of the theater go into the same building.
The idea for The Strand started in 1919. Groundbreaking took place in 1923. A production of the comic opera, The Chocolate Soldier opened The Strand on July 3, 1925. This building is one of architect Emile Weil’s largest and unchanged works in the United States. Both sets of brothers invested a lot of creativity to help Weil bring to life The Strand. The estimated cost of construction was $750,000.
It was money well spent to create a masterpiece. From the beginning, patrons enjoyed performance after performance in the wonderfully air conditioned theater. A 939 “Golden Voice” organ played alongside a full time orchestra. The organ still exists today. The interior can be described as elegant, stunning, luxurious, glitzy. Everything you would expect from a grand theater.
During the 1950s, the opera boxes were removed to allow the introduction of motion pictures. Unfortunately, The Strand started to fall into decline and in the mid 70’s, it closed.
To save it from demolition, a group of Shreveporters founded the Strand Theater of Shreveport Corporation. They received The Strand as a donation from ABC-Interstate Theaters and began a 7 year restoration process. Northwest Louisiana celebrated in 1984 when the “Million Dollar Theater” reopened with the Shreveport Symphony playing to a standing room only crowd. Today, The Strand continues the tradition of bringing top quality entertainment to Shreveport Common.
If you like you can walk down to see the colors and styles of The Strand. Or you can turn around to see the fifth Shreveport Common building on the National Register of Historic Places.
CENTRAL ARTS STATION
This magnificent example of Italian Renaissance combined with Beaux Arts played an important role in the past and now is a beacon of the arts for the future. The Central Fire Station was built in 1922 on the designs of architect Clarence King. The Italian Renaissance can be seen in the tripped roof made to resemble of a Renaissance palace, the style of the relief panels with the griffins and urns above the bay doors, and the detail of the overhanging eaves. Another building in the southwest corner of the property was built to dry hoses.
It served as the base of operations for the Shreveport Fire Department. There are two stories to the stucco over brick building. The first floor housed the engine room which could house 5 engines. Because of elevation changes, there is a mezzanine level at the rear of the building. The second floor housed fire department offices and an area for firefighters to live. 1971 saw a renovation to the Central Fire Station. Fire engines and related equipment had grown in size so the engine room saw the number of bays reduced to four, many of the windows were replaced and a large “Central Fire Station” sign covered the relief panels. As the 20th century drew to a close, the Shreveport Fire Department needed a new, more modern Central Fire Station. By 2004, the fire department had completed and moved to a new home just north of downtown Shreveport. The old Central Fire Station was abandoned.
5 years later a fire destroyed the Shreveport Regional Arts Council office. In an ironic twist, it was decided that the old Central Fire Station would become the new home to the arts. LeBlanc and Young Architects and Hand Construction worked with local artists and the Arts Council to bring the building back to life. The 1971 was removed and the bays were expanded back to the original five. February 2012 was a huge day as the Central Arts Station opened as a state-of-the-art arts headquarters. The hose drying tower was turned into a residence for visiting artists to stay during their time in Shreveport instead of staying in a hotel. Atop the new Kallenburg tower sits “The Flame” sculpture. Other local artists and Shreveport Common businesses contributed to the look inside including Electric Supply Company on Texas Avenue. On the west side of the building sits one of the newest sites to Shreveport Common. Academy Award winning visual artists William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg created “Art the Dalmatian.” Say hi to Art before continuing this tour heading north along Common Street. Stop when you come to the intersection where Common, Milam and Texas Avenue meet.
One might not expect a Shinto shrine to be a part of the Shreveport Common, but it is the gateway to the Aseana Gardens. In 1982, the city of Shreveport created Municipal Park to spark interest in this part of downtown. However, it did not really catch on. A group of citizens called the Aseana Foundation took over the park and turned it into a center for Asian culture. Twice a year a fun festival takes place. You can enjoy street food, listen to music from a particular far East nation, and enjoy an evening with friends from all different backgrounds. The Aseana Gardens have added to the rich cultural heritage and history to the Shreveport Common. Feel free to explore the different Oriental styles in the gardens. Then proceed west down Texas Avenue.
It’s hard to believe that Texas Avenue back in the 1920s and 1930s was the main street for commerce. Buildings like the ones along the 800 block stretched all the way down both sides of Texas Avenue. The only ones to survive are the ones you are walking along now. The building closest to downtown is numbered 824 but the City Directories of Shreveport did show that there was an 800 Texas Avenue. All of these buildings were constructed next to each other between 1908-1917 by a variety of architects including Edward Neild who did the B’Nai Zion Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral. Six of the 10 buildings display the Renaissance Revival style of architecture. Each of these two story buildings are unique in their own way. This is how urban architecture was at the time. The buildings are narrow but they extended back quite a bit. Today you can’t find a stretch of businesses like this anywhere else in Louisiana.
The businesses that once populated this part of town was as diverse as the community. Segregation was the norm back in the heyday of Shreveport Common in the 20s and 30s. But African-American entrepeneurs opened up stores next to white business owners who were next to stores who were run by people with Middle Eastern lineage. There have been grocers, tailors, dry good stores, restaurants, a newspaper dedicated to the African-American community, doctors and dentists who called the Texas Avenue home. Most businesses had their store on the first floor and residences on the 2nd floor. Stores changed over time. In the 40s through the 70s, furniture stores were the main occupants. As with the rest of Shreveport Common, the downturn in the last half of the 20th century meant the abandoning of a lot of these businesses. Most of these buildings were torn down and turned into used car dealerships until they folded and all that remains are the concrete slabs. Most of the existing parts of 800 Texas Avenue were boarded up.
Now Shreveport Common hopes to change that and bring new opportunities. A few of the spaces have been filled with businesses. And a number of art pieces can be seen as you walk down the length of commercial center. The most prominent is called Forty-eight Feet. It’s a community mural by artist Stephen D. Porter.
Once you pass this mural you will see an imposing grand structure to your right. Please proceed towards this world famous piece of Art Deco wonder.
SHREVEPORT MUNICIPAL MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM
Welcome to the finest example of Art Deco architecture in the state and one of the greatest treasures in Shreveport Common, the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium. During the 1920s, architectural firm of Jones, Roessle, Olschner and Wiener came up with the magnificent design of intricate brickwork and stunning interior. Limestone and over a million bricks were used in construction and all of the bricks were made on site. A quote from President Woodrow Wilson and a passage from the book of Isaiah flank a central frieze that says “Dedicated to those who served in the World War.” The Municipal, as its commonly known, opened on Armistice Day to celebrate the end of the World War 1, November 11, 1929. It was a welcome respite from the upheaval going on since the stock market crashed almost 2 weeks earlier. Violinist Fritz Kreisler opened the Municipal with a concert.
Inside the Municipal, it’s just as beautiful as the outside. Art Deco elements and a Modernist style continue everywhere. Stylized Egyptian and Mayan influences from the 20s can be seen. Especially in the reliefs above the stage. Designers wanted lively and geometrically rich compositions to make the Municipal a stunning piece of art in itself.
Since its opening, the Municipal has been a part of Shreveport. A show called the Louisiana Hayride started in 1948. It became the launching point for musical careers. Hank Williams Sr. played on the Hayride as did Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and a man named Elvis Presley was introduced to radio listeners on the stage at the Municipal. There was more than just the Louisiana Hayride. Notable black artists included Ike and Tina Turner, jazz great Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, and local blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. Symphonies performed. Wrestling matches occurred every Monday for a while. The ballroom on the upper floor hosted many parties and debutante balls.
This place has been more than just a performance hall. During the 2nd World War, troops were housed and an early aircraft warning system installation. Medical research was done in the basement at one time. More recently, Hollywood has used the Municipal for the silver screen. Comedian Bernie Mac worked in the basement of the Municipal for one of his last roles in “Soul Man”. The jail cells from the movie still exist today. Hank Williams’ biopic “I Saw the Light” filmed several scenes on the Municipal stage and was even redressed to look the Grand Ol’ Opry.
Recent renovations have made the Municipal a place for people to come and see concerts, comedy, and more. The Art Deco and Modernist looks were kept and this grand structure will continue to delight and wow well into the future.
To the north is our next stop on the tour. Oakland Cemetery.
Here is the oldest part of Shreveport Common. Oakland Cemetery was the first place people were buried after the city was founded in 1839. On July 20, 1849 the city officially adopted the cemetery. Then known as City Cemetery until 1905, it served the community for years until Greenwood Cemetery opened in 1893. Oakland is laid out in a grid pattern. This was common in the 19th century. Squares were sold to communities in Shreveport like the Jewish section and a place for those who were friendless. Sixteen Shreveport mayors lie here. Many pioneers as well as hundreds of Confederate soldiers and a few Union soldiers are buried within this 10 acre site. One portion of Oakland is a mass grave for the great yellow fever epidemic of 1873. Over 800 victims share this space marked by a single plaque. If you walk on the grounds you will see a number of different monuments. Each with their own style from simple headstones to Victorian-inspired monuments to baroque pedestals. Some graves are not marked at all. Wood was a common material to mark graves and those wore away or decayed from the elements.
Work continues to bring back Oakland Cemetery from decades of neglect. Some of the improvements include new street paving, new water drainage system and a new security fence. Gravesites have been stabilized and the cemetery is now a nice place to remember the history of this great city of the South and enjoy some great views of downtown.
All of the space has been taken up or sold. One of the more recent burials was that of Eric J. Brock. He was one of the best historians on Shreveport. You can find his books on the city in bookstores and online. Oakland Cemetery is the place to find the who’s who of Shreveport’s past. Thousands of ordinary citizens from all walks of life lie here. All of Shreveport can thank them for the city that surrounds us and them today.
From the Milam Street entrance, please proceed west along Milam and then turn left on to Austen Place and stop at the 2 Victorian houses.
AUSTEN PLACE HOMES AND BUSINESSES AND THE CALANTHEAN
The two Victorian era mansions you see are examples of what the wealthy in Shreveport built back in the late 1890s. Shreveport Common was first a wealthy neighborhood. Grand mansions appeared. The Ogilvie-Weiner House was built in in 1896 by architect Luther McNabb. This mansion featured several styles popular during that time. The porch was originally opened before a later owner enclosed it. The siding on the house was called Shreveport Style Siding. Restoration continues on this house and the siding is being redone in the original style.
Across the street is the Logan Mansion. Built in 1897 for a brewery owner, this wonderful example of Victorian style architecture is home to a nice family that occasionally hosts a murder mystery dinner and tea parties for children.
Continuing down Austen Place are more examples of Victorian homes. Some are used for social service organizations like House Hope. These places help low income and homeless people and families try to get back on their feet. At the end of the street is the McAdoo building. It used to be the York Hotel. Today it’s a rental property for low income individuals.
There is a big empty lot on the east side of Austen Place. A new development called the Grand is planned for this space for the future.
At the corner of Austen Place and Texas Avenue is the last stop on our tour.
Across Texas Avenue stands an important piece of cultural and historical significance. The Calanthean Temple. In 1923, the Court of Calanthe requested that a building be constructed that could benefit the black community. An elite group of African-American men along with Somdal Associates designed and built this great Colonial Revival structure. It’s most famous for the Roof Garden. Legends in jazz and blues entertained thousands throughout the years. But we can’t forget about the other importance of the Calanthean. This place served as a center for African-American businesses throughout the years. Today work is being done to clean up this center and maybe one day new businesses can flourish in this historic building.
So ends the architectural walking tour of Shreveport Common. You can walk east on Texas Avenue to return to the CommonLink. Don’t forget about the walking tour of the Cultural Heritage and Music of Shreveport Common. Thank you for listening.