August 3, 2023

A Home for the Arts: Lake Charles Central School Building Restored

A Home for the Arts: Lake Charles Central School Building Restored

An old school building in downtown Lake Charles, Louisiana, has reopened its doors after years of repairs following the damage caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020. According to this article from The Advocate, the historic Central School building, which served as a cultural hub for the city, is once again becoming a thriving center for arts, nonprofits, and cultural organizations.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter expressed his excitement about the reopening, emphasizing the vital role Central School played in fostering arts and cultural activities. The building served as an incubator for aspiring artists, musicians, and performers, providing a space for them to work, collaborate, and inspire one another. Kari Casey, the director of outreach and programming for the Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana, highlighted the benefits of having everyone in one place, enabling the exchange of ideas and a sense of community among the organizations.

The Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana, which lost its space due to Hurricane Laura, is currently awaiting the construction of its new building. Casey emphasized the collective effort to revitalize Lake Charles, particularly in the arts and humanities sector. The reopening of Central School is a significant step in that direction, as it reignites the city’s cultural spirit and provides a platform for artists to carry on the tradition.

The Lake Charles Little Theater, founded in 1926, also found a temporary home at Central School. After losing its original location to Hurricane Laura, the theater had been operating in borrowed and temporary spaces. With Central School reopening, the theater now has a permanent home, at least until it can rebuild at its old location. Brett Downer,the director of the theater’s board, expressed gratitude for the stability the school building offers, providing space for rehearsals, auditions, offices, and future shows.

In addition to longstanding organizations like the Children’s Museum and the Little Theater, newer organizations have also found a place within the historic school building. Smoke & Barrel, a nonprofit responsible for hosting the Smoke & Barrel whiskey and barbecue festival, as well as other events, now has an office in Central School. Saige Mestayer,the marketing and campaign director for Smoke & Barrel, praised the vintage ambiance of the building and highlighted the positive impact of having a dedicated workspace. The nonprofit is currently planning an early childhood education program in collaboration with the United Way of Southwest Louisiana.

The restoration of Central School was a challenging endeavor that required extensive care, as emphasized by Mayor Nic Hunter. Repairing a historic structure like Central School after a disaster is no easy task. The restoration project took nearly three years and cost the city $4.8 million. The city is hopeful to receive reimbursement from FEMA for the restoration expenses. Despite the challenges, the mayor stressed the significance of preserving historic buildings like Central School and the nearby historic city hall, which now hosts art exhibits and events. The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana has established a special fund dedicated to the preservation of these historic landmarks.

Lake Charles has faced the dilemma of balancing historic preservation with economic redevelopment. Many historic buildings, such as the Majestic Hotel and the Arcade Theater, have been lost over time, leaving only memories captured in historic photographs. Historian Adley Cormier acknowledged the difficulties posed by recurring hurricanes but commended the city for its commitment to preserving Central School and other historic structures. The mayor expressed gratitude for the community’s embrace of these landmarks, ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

For more Louisiana-related articles, click here.

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