30 year retrospective
Gone but not forgotten
|Some of Baton Rouge's most beloved icons have closed their doors in the past three decades.|
See a selection of some of the icons that have closed their doors here.
One of Baton Rouge's continuously operating retailers, Kornmeyers Furniture opened its doors in 1882 and through five generations of family ownership reigned supreme among home furnishing businesses. Even as recently as the mid-2000s, the company remained a formidable retailer in the local market, with sales in 2005 estimated at $11 million. In 2006, the company underwent a major expansion and recast itself as Kornmeyers HomeSmart. Just a year later, however, the company ran into severe liquidity problems that it blamed on the failure of new software to keep track of inventory and accounts receivables. Company management tried unsuccessfully to turn things around, and in December 2007 the store closed its doors for good.
Centered on the downtown curve of River Road, Catfish Town was a festival marketplace that promised to breathe new life into the sleepy center of Baton Rouge, with its dilapidated riverfront warehouses. But just 18 months after opening amid much fanfare in 1984, Catfish Town was a virtual ghost town, and in 1987 lenders foreclosed on the
property. Seen through the lens of history, Catfish Town was ahead of its time, and three decades later crowds flock to the growing attractions and nightlife venues downtown. Still, Catfish Town doesn't get much credit for helping to spark that redevelopment, with the exception of The Belle Atrium, which is all that remains of the project.
For generations, Goudchaux's was the nation's largest family-owned department store, and Baton Rouge's most treasured retail outlet. From taking children's pictures with the Easter bunny and Santa Claus to offering selections for the perfect prom gown, Goudchaux's made memories for thousands in Baton Rouge. The Sternberg family, which owned the store chain and later changed its name to Maison Blanche, ran the store and its parent company, expanding their retail empire throughout the South. Changing economic conditions in the 1980s, however, prompted the family to sell the company in the early 1990s, which led to the eventual closure of the store.
The State-Times was the first daily newspaper in Baton Rouge and the first publication in the Manship media empire, which would grow to include The Morning Advocate and WBRZ-TV. The afternoon publication, founded by Charles Manship Sr. in 1909, delivered local news to the city by way of his newly founded Capital City Press. The paper stressed its commitment to truth and fairness in presenting news for nearly a century. In 1991, however, The State-Times, struggling from declining circulation, went the way of other evening dailies and shut down. Much of its staff was assimilated by The Advocate, some of whom still work at the paper today.
In 1973 Charles Brandt opened Chalet Brandt, a small yet refined gourmet restaurant on Old Hammond Highway just off Jefferson, and for the next 30 years the restaurant would serve as one of Baton Rouge's finest dining establishments. Known for its traditional French cuisine, Chalet Brandt was beloved by locals and renowned for its
top-flight service and elegance. In 1995 Brandt sold the restaurant to his son Eric, who continued to operate it until its closing in 2002.
While the heyday of the disco era may have been the late 1970s, Del Lago—Baton Rouge's answer to the national dance craze—was still seeing plenty of action in the early and mid-1980s. Locals may remember it fondly for the elevated dance floor in the center of the club or for its cheesy television commercials. In the late 1980s Del Lago closed and is now the site of Ruth's Chris.
The Bellmont Hotel
From the late 1940s through the 1970s, The Bellmont Hotel was the swankiest hotel in Baton Rouge, the kind of place the movie stars stayed on their rare trips to the city. Even through the 1980s, the Airline Highway hotel was the venue of choice for school proms and wedding receptions, which were held in The Great Hall, a 1984 addition. Over time, however, the hotel became rundown, as did many of the Airline Highway establishments around it. It closed in the 1990s and sat vacant for more than a decade until its demolition earlier this year.
The Cotton Club
If you grew up in Baton Rouge or went to LSU any time from the 1930s till the 1990s, you know The Cotton Club. The down-home dive on Highland Road was a popular bar, seafood restaurant and meeting spot where the gossip flowed as freely as the inexpensive draft beer. Located in historic Old South Baton Rouge, The Cotton Club was renowned for its fried seafood—and crabmeat au gratin—and beloved for its Bloody Marys. As the neighborhood around it began to suffer from crime and neglect, and LSU students continued their off-campus exodus to the east, The Cotton Club gradually fell out of popularity and into disrepair, closing for good in the early 2000s.
Many remember The Village as one of Baton Rouge's first fine dining establishments, founded at a time when New
Orleans had the exclusive on Louisiana's gourmet eateries. Vince Distefano had set out to change that. Opening his
restaurant on Airline Highway in 1945, Distefano and his wife, Stephanie, grew their upscale Italian eatery into a favorite place for special occasion meals. Though Distefano died in the 1960s, his widow continued to operate the restaurant until her retirement in 1992, when it closed permanently. It has been succeeded by The Little Village, which today has both downtown and Airline Highway locations, and remains true in ambience and cuisine to the spirit of the original.
Tabby's Blues Box
Tabby Thomas, one of the best-known blues artists in Baton Rouge, opened the first blues club in Baton Rouge in 1979, appropriately named Tabby's Blues Box. Over the next 20-plus years it would feature regular performances from Thomas, as well as from local and national favorites when they were in Baton Rouge. It was a favorite of tourists and students, and is noted for the famous faces that stopped through, including Mike Tyson and Bruce Springsteen. Although it survived relocation from North Boulevard to Lafayette Street in 2000, Thomas closed his club in 2004 after suffering a major stroke.
Fun Fair Park
If you grew up in Baton Rouge between the 1960s and 1990s, you likely remember Fun Fair Park on Florida Boulevard. Every kid had a birthday party there. Every summer camp and Cub Scout den took a field trip there. It was a small-scale amusement park, nothing compared to the mega-theme parks of our era, yet providing big-time fun to two genera- tions of Baton Rouge children and their families. Best known for rides like the Galaxi and Wild Mouse, Fun Fair Park also had an on-site pet chimpanzee named Candi, who famously got loose and bit a park patron, or so the urban legend goes. The park closed in 1999, but owner Sam Haynes relocated much of Fun Fair, including the Galaxi and Candi, to Dixie Landin' amusement park, which is attached to his water park, Blue Bayou.
Latil's, a local retailer that sold stationery and writing materials from the 1930s through the 1990s, holds the distinction of being the first Hallmark store in the South. But the Third Street store, founded by Claude J. Latil in 1933, was really best known for being the favorite place for businesses and local families to buy their monogrammed stationery, embossed note cards, business cards and wedding invitations. In the pre-digital days of pen-and-ink, every city had a Latil's or two, and in Baton Rouge this family-owned establishment held its own even as recently as the late 1990s.
Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours
One of Baton Rouge's favorite tourist attractions in the 2000s was Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours. Located just minutes off Interstate 10 from the Highland Road exit, the swamp felt as if it were light years from the city and the subdivisions that were built nearby with increasing frequency. Visitors could take a flat-bottom boat tour through mossy swamps and actually see a gator or two along the way. The adjacent Gator Bar was another popular spot, where LSU sororities and fraternities held crawfish boils on warm spring nights. Both now sit dormant, however, as the bayou was effectively drained when the governments of Ascension and Iberville parishes opened the floodgates between Alligator Bayou and Bayou Manchac.
University Shopping Center
For decades the University Shopping Center—just outside the north gates of the LSU campus—housed some of the area's most popular establishments, including an A&P supermarket, Mary Lee Donuts, Co-op Bookstore, local clothiers Todd Garland and RFD, and Murphy's bar. Adjacent to the center on outparcels were two other institutions favored by the collegiate set: a 24-hour IHOP and the University Cinema. In 1997 the center was tainted by the alcohol-poisoning death of a 20-year-old university student who had binged at Murphy's; immediately afterward the center began to decay. In the early 2000s, it was torn down and redeveloped, and today houses apartments, a CVS and several chain restaurants.
Village Square Shopping Center
From the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s, Village Square Shopping Center was one of the most popular retail centers in south Baton Rouge. With a variety of restaurants—like the iconic, late-'70s fern bar, Poet's—a Super Fresh supermarket, Service Merchandise and a variety of local retailers like The Panhandler, Village Square thrived for years, until changing economic conditions forced the closure or relocation of its main anchor tenants in 1999. In the early 2000s, the center was redeveloped and now houses a Walmart Supercenter, which opened in 2004.
For music lovers in Baton Rouge, The Caterie was a revered local hangout from the 1970s until 2010. Located in the Acadian-Perkins Plaza at Perkins Road and Acadian Thruway, the late-night music venue, bar and restaurant was better known for the acts it welcomed to its grungy stage than for its greasy fried food and typical pub fare. It was the kind of place that always reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke, but also a place that gave startup bands and alternative acts a place to perform where the crowd was always interesting and diverse. The Caterie burned to the ground on Jan. 1, 2010, but local business owners David Mandina and Dwaine Henderson, who both frequented the joint, plan to open a similar style business, appropriately named The Catarie, in the newly rebuilt Acadian-Perkins Plaza.
The Stanford Group
Baton Rouge investors thought they'd hit the big time when R. Allen Stanford's investment firm opened its headquarters here in the mid-1990s. For more than a decade Capital City retirees, investors, foundations and nonprofits raked in record returns—or at least they thought they did. But Stanford's Ponzi scheme was revealed in 2009, having robbed hundreds of clients of billions, much of which they'll never see again. The city's nonprofit community also took a hit, losing funds that would have helped countless agencies and organizations serve the needy.
The Times-Picayune (daily)
Though The Times-Picayune never enjoyed widespread circulation in Baton Rouge, the 157-year- old New Orleans daily newspaper has had a loyal following over the years in these parts, not only among the many transplanted New Orleanians who now call Baton Rouge home but among the state legislators and government employees who come from around the Crescent City but spend much of their workday life here. Earlier this year, The Times-Picayune's parent company announced it will begin publishing the printed edition of the paper just three times a week, though nola.com will continue a much-changed online edition.
Jack Sabin's Restaurant and Lounge
Jack Sabin's was the see-and-be-seen steak- house of the 1970s and early 1980s, the Ruth's Chris of its day, where local politicos and those who hoped to influence them went to hatch their deals over meals of martinis and sirloin strip. The eponymous owner was a colorful character in his own right, known for his signature vest and also for occasionally serenading patrons. Like many Airline Highway eateries at the time, Sabin's closed in the mid-1980s. It gave way to a Chinese buffet restaurant that has since also closed.
Opening in 1960, Bon Marche— French for "good deal"—was the first open-air mall in Baton Rouge and home to such popular department stores as J.C. Penney, Maison Blanche, D.H. Holmes and Montgomery Ward. But when Cortana Mall opened in 1976, many retailers abandoned the Mid City shopping center, and in the 1980s it was converted into a movie theater. In 1991 it underwent a $3 million renovation but was forced to close just eight years later. The mall was subsequently transformed into what today are Bon Carré office park and the Louisiana Technology Park.
Happy Note Lounge
Established in 1976, the original Happy Note Lounge, located near Baton Rouge Community College on Foster Drive, was a popular hangout in the 1980s and early 1990s with neighborhood locals and LSU students, who went for the cheap, strong cocktails. Today, the original owners operate Uncle Earls, which has become a popular nightclub for a new generation of college students, and has been welcomed by many of the previous Happy Note regulars. A new Happy Note, meanwhile, is located on Perkins Road near South Acadian Thruway.
Phil's Oyster Bar
Phil's Oyster Bar was launched in the mid-1950s as a restaurant attached to Phil Tuminello's Seafood Market. It became a true local favorite in the mid-1970s when former LSU football team manager Gus Piazza bought a stake in the business and took up its management. It was a small place on Government Street, known as much as a haunt for local movers-and-shakers as for its oyster and fried seafood fare. To surmount the limited dining space and parking, Piazza moved Phil's to a more spacious location on College Drive in 2002. But the new location lacked the charm and ambience that made the original Phil's a classic neighborhood haunt, and in 2007 Piazza closed the restaurant after deciding to retire.
In the 1980s and 1990s, New Generation was the retail outlet where Baton Rouge shopped for electronics, appliances, PCs and even VHS tapes. Back in the dawn of the digital age—before Best Buy and way before online retailers and content providers like amazon.com and Netflix—New Generation was the place for home entertainment equipment and other consumer electronics products. In a sense, the company was ahead of its time, and for a decade it dominated the local market. But as the industry grew, so did competition from big-box retail chains, and New Generation was unable to keep up, closing for good in 1995.
If you wanted really good, Southern-style Italian food, or fried seafood po-boys served with a beer or a soft drink in a big frosty mug, Giamanco's was your place. South Baton Rouge natives went there with such frequency, most of the regular wait staff knew customers by name, and families reserved the spacious back-rooms for birthdays and special occasion meals. The restaurant closed in the early 2000s, much to the dismay of its patrons, and the building was demolished, though the slab still stands, reminding many of favorite meals of yesteryear.
Perkins Road Hardware
Long after Lowe's and Home Depot had driven most independent hardware stores out of business, Perkins Road Hardware remained a thriving independent retailer and favorite local establishment among residents of the Garden District, Southdowns and University Gardens. For more than 50 years, the family-owned business provided its loyal clientele with personalized customer service. In late 2006 an electrical fire demolished the building and the business. Owner Jeff Canady had plans to rebuild, but the damage was extensive and the property was sold to developer Donnie Jarreau, who converted the site into a trendy, mixed-use development that houses restaurants, retailers and condominiums.
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