by Amanda Bedgood Photo by Robin May
For certain homeowners a kind of intangible feeling, a distinct character of home far outweighs the joys of a slick new build.
"Even with warts, it's still charming," says downtown homeowner Bill Bacqué.
So charming are these older homes and downtown living that Bacqué, chief executive officer at Van Eaton & Romero, and his wife, Stephanie, have called their 6,000-square-foot property on Souvenir Gate home for nearly two decades. And they don't plan on leaving.
"We call our house bliss. We raised our kids there and now they're gone. And now it's just our German Shepherds and 6,000 square feet. I couldn't envision myself somewhere else. It's not just the location. But, also the house."
The house built in the 1920s was not what Bill and Stephanie were looking for in 1992 when they went house hunting. They had lived for 10 years in the old Billeaud home in Broussard after a stint in an older home in Lake Charles.
"My wife said, I want a newer home. I'm tired of living in an older home' ... I said pick what you want," Bill says.
What Stephanie found was a lot of nothing that appealed to her. Someone mentioned the home on Souvenir, Stephanie drove by and was interested enough to want a tour.
"We walked in and we loved it," Bacqué recalls.
The home had been renovated in the 1970s by the homeowner leaving little for the Bacqués to change. They added a courtyard in the back, redid floors and upgraded the bathroom.
"We just enhanced the beauty of it," he says.
The beauty of these homes is just one of the things that appealed to Katie Culbert, who recently moved less than a block from one downtown home to another.
"You feel like you're in more of a European city or New Orleans. You can walk and get coffee in the morning; my friends all live in the Saint Streets," Culbert says.
In March of 2010 she moved from the south side of town near River Ranch and her work at kiki to an older home on Evangeline. But when a house just down the block was available, Culbert, now a newlywed, packed up again. While the drive was convenient on the south side, Culbert spent most of her time after hours in the downtown area and very much wanted a home with more character.
"My house before was brand new, one owner before me and in a neighborhood where every house on the block looks the same. There are no trees. It was a nice house and super new with a nice bathroom and big closet. The yard was nothing. It's not where I wanted to be," she says.
The home on Evangeline remains a work in progress. She and husband Denny, a professional food photographer, purchased it in June and have spent a few months renovating before moving in. They're renovating the kitchen and bathroom and added air conditioning upstairs.
The couple plans to have a vegetable garden in the yard, which is filled with old trees. And Culbert enjoys being able to walk or ride her bike to see shows at the Blue Moon and visit friends. "The downtown areas have a certain appeal to a certain segment of the population," Bacqué says.
And he says with the addition of River Ranch people understand more and more the advantages of an urban living environment.
"That's [River Ranch] showed people to appreciate more what downtown offers as a living space and environment. We refer to it as the original River Ranch," he says.
In the last decade, he's seen more of a resurgence in the area and no signs of slowing.
"There is an appeal for people to go into that downtown area, find homes that are architecturally unique and offer spaciousness and cuteness and you have the proximity to downtown," Bacqué says. "They have done a remarkable job in the last 10 years in reinventing and invigorating it, and that's spilling out in to the surrounding areas."