- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - Save the Dairy Barn at Buhlow Lake is pushing to raise $70,000 for the Pineville landmark.

Also in Pineville, a push from private citizens recently landed the former Huey P. Long Memorial Hospital building on the National Register of Historic Places.

Outside Alexandria, the Rosalie Sugarmill will play host to a music festival that organizers hope will call attention to work needed to stabilize the structure.

Those are just a few of the efforts under way locally to raise money and awareness for historic sites that are in danger of future decay and possible demolition, efforts that several local preservationists say mark a change in the way preservation is viewed in Alexandria.

“I’m hugely optimistic about the future of historic preservation in Alexandria,” said Paul Smith, owner of Paul Smith Historic Preservation Consulting.

“Alexandria has this mentality that we don’t have this history, we’re not interesting,” said Sarah Mason, director of the Alexandria Historic Preservation Commission. “But I think that’s definitely shifting.”

Progress can be seen in sites in Alexandria-Pineville that have made the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Most Endangered” list. The sites are chosen from nominations of historic sites that “are significantly threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development or other threats.”

Alexandria-Pineville has been a regular presence on the list since Conerly House made it in 2000. Since 2005, the area has had multiple sites on the list in every year but one.

Look at those sites, though, and you’ll find several success stories. More than half of them have been rehabilitated. Those buildings are now used for housing, offices and museums.

A few need major renovations and a plan for reuse, but are still salvageable. Only two - the Armour Building on 3rd Street and Thompson-Hargis House on Florence Avenue, both in Alexandria - have been lost.

Local preservationists have nominated at least four sites for the upcoming most endangered list - the Central Dairy Barn and Huey P. Long Memorial Hospital, which have both been on the list before, as well as the former Hot Wells Resort and Rapides Cemetery.

“We have had a ‘tear-it-down’ mentality, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case at present,” said Charles Charrier with Central Louisiana Historical Society. “Fortunately, that mentality that existed in Alexandria-Pineville is no more. Historic preservation is now a part of our civic consciousness in Central Louisiana.”

Smith started his business consulting on preservation projects about five years ago. Since then, clients have invested more than $12 million into various projects, aided by more than $2 million in historic preservation tax credits. Smith and others point to tax credits, which are available from both the state and federal governments, as one of the keys to present and future preservation activity.

“That, to me, is the real value of historic preservation,” Smith said. “It’s an extremely viable means of economic development.”

The most endangered list is a concrete way to track preservation activity in the area, but its success stories are not the only ones.

The Garden District in Alexandria has seen renewed activity in recent years, with developers and homeowners renovating several properties and renewed interest from younger buyers. The historic neighborhood, which sits on both sides of Jackson Street south of Bolton Avenue, is one of two districts in Alexandria on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Garden District Neighborhood Foundation relaunched in 2014 and sponsors events such as community gardening, home tours, yard sales and a running and biking group.

“You don’t have the same feeling of: ‘it’s old, it’s whipped, let’s get rid of it,’” said Joe Betty Sterkx, president of the Alexandria Historic Preservation Commission. “People are seeing old things can be of value.”

For the first time in decades, downtown Alexandria is showing real signs of a comeback.

Several formerly shuttered buildings along 3rd Street have been redone and now contain small businesses. With the planned reopening of both downtown hotels, and the convention business that could spark, and a new campus for Central Louisiana Technical Community College slated to be built downtown, many believe the potential for the neighborhood is higher than it has been since it lost its status as a major commercial center.

“Downtown revitalization was something we talked about as early as the ‘70s,” Smith said.

The built history of Alexandria-Pineville essentially starts after the Civil War, since nearly everything burned when Union troops pulled out of Alexandria in 1864.

Many of the buildings that went up when Alexandria experienced population booms in the first two decades of the 20th Century and after World War II - buildings such as the former Gemiluth Chassodim Synagogue, Paramount Theater or the stately homes that once lined Bolton Avenue - were lost to disaster and neglect.

“It’s bittersweet,” Mason said. “Some days I’ll walk around and see all these gaps between buildings or empty spaces where buildings used to be and it really hits me how much we’ve lost. At the same time, we have so much left.”

That’s the focus now.

“When you look at pictures, especially from the Huie Dellmon collection, and you see buildings that are gone like the old city hall or the old courthouse, it really tugs at my heart,” Lord said.

“The fact is there’s plenty of history around here in lots of different ways,” Smith said. “It’s a connection with our forebears. They left us with a lot of really good stuff we ought to preserve, in my opinion.”


Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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