Jan. 8, 2016 11:25 AM

Oh, Internets, how we love thee.

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.)

Downtown Lafayette looking east from the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Photo by Joe Riehl
Check out the photo above of Downtown Lafayette taken in probably the late 1950s. It was shot from the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Striking, first, is the abundance of single-family residential homes. The broad avenue to the right is Main Street, interrupted by the old Lafayette Parish Courthouse, a classic turn-of-the-century columned building that was razed in the 1960s and replaced by the ugly seven-story structure that stands today.

Once the tallest structure in Lafayette, Jefferson Tower used to be an ugly parking garage.
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.

The above photo from the 1950s shows Bell Brothers Shoes and the Darling Store on the 500 block of Jefferson, which are now home to Architects Southwest and Whoojoo Glass respectively.

Guaranty Bank & Trust at the corner of Jefferson and Congress, now Jefferson Street Pub, looks very much the same as it did in the mid 20th century.

San Souci Bookstore, shown above in 1968, was opened by retired English professor Edith Dupre, after whom UL’s library is named. It is now home to the Louisiana Crafts Guild’s shop. It's located adjacent to Parc Sans Souci, which for many years was a parking lot.

The former Lafayette Public Library, shown in 1957, had several incarnations over the last few decades. It was home to the Acadiana Arts Council for many years and now, more or less, is a city-owned storage building that most recently housed the defunct Acadiana Center for Film and Media.

The Conoco service station at the corner of Lee and Jefferson remained in business until the early to mid 1990s. It is now The Filling Station restaurant. Photo by Bryan LeBlanc

The Heymann Food Center, shown in 1938, was the first supermarket in Lafayette. Skirted by Congress, Polk and Taylor streets between Parc International and Parc Sans Souci, it is now the Children’s Museum of Acadiana. (We miss you, Griff!)


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