We recently came across a Facebook page/group called Lafayette Memories. It’s exactly what you’d expect: a trove of old photographs of the Hub City going back 100 years and more. Many if not all of the photos can be seen at the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office, although they are likely in storage right now as the parish courthouse is getting renovated.
The photos underscore two phenomena that are probably not unique to Lafayette: A) As the city’s commerce migrated south we weren’t sentimental about our history — we tore down buildings, even buildings that today would be considered stately and historic, with abandon; and B) Buildings in the urban core that managed to survive often look remarkably different and in almost every case no longer fulfill their original purpose.
Downtown used to be, simply, Lafayette. It was the commercial hub around which what our oldest neighborhoods — Freetown, McComb-Veazey, Sterling Grove, etc. — emanated. But as the automobile made us mobile and suburbia began to spread south along the skirts of the Abbeville highway (Johnston Street), we left Downtown to its own devices, mainly as the governmental and judicial hub of the parish. Eventually even Lafayette’s City Hall, which used to stand at the Jefferson-Lee intersection in an Art Deco building, jumped to the outskirts of the district and moved into the Sears-Roebuck building when Sears hopped south to Acadiana Mall. (I might be off a little in my chronology here.)
There are no Chase Tower — what many of us in Lafayette of a certain vintage still call the First National Bank Building, or FNB Tower — or IberiaBank building. The tallest structure is a gawdy parking garage jutting up in the center of the photo. Farther left is the Evangeline Hotel, which looks the same but is now subsidized housing for the elderly. That parking tower is now the Jefferson Tower at the Jefferson-Vermilion intersection — the glass building with the iconic Robert Dafford mural of classic car hubcaps, tail lamps and fenders running up its side.
We thought it would be cool to do some before/after images of buildings within the Downtown that still stand. Some, like the classic old Guaranty Bank building and the Sans Souci bookstore, look remarkably the same. Others, like the Heymann Food Store or the Conoco service station across the from the old City Hall, retain much of their architectural character. Others not so much.
You can see a bunch of these photos of Lafayette’s history in architecture and commerce by clicking here.