Historic neighborhood one of America’s first planned communities
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of occasional features on neighborhoods in the Baton Rouge area.
Beauregard Town today is a bustling community of homes, businesses and offices.
When it was planned more than 200 years ago, it was designed to be an American version of a grand European city.
Located in the heart of downtown Baton Rouge, Beauregard Town is bounded by the Mississippi River on the west, North Boulevard on the north, East Boulevard on the east and South Boulevard on the south.
Its streets are lined with late 19th-century and traditional turn-of-the-century houses. Many have been restored for use as law offices.
The neighborhood includes Catfish Town, a former warehouse district in the southwest corner, now mainly adapted for other uses.
Melissa and David Savario have lived in Beauregard Town for two years, but they say they wouldn’t live anywhere else.
“I love the diversity,” David Savario said. “I love the fact that I know all of my neighbors. It’s a lot of walking, a lot of talking and a lot of visiting.”
Like many of Beauregard Town’s residents, David Savario works downtown. Their son, Jack, 8, attends FLAIM, the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet School on Mayflower Street, two blocks from their home. Their church is First United Methodist on North Boulevard.
“I love being able to walk to school, walk to church, ride bikes to the community garden, ride our bikes to the (Charles W. Lamar Jr.) YMCA,” Melissa Savario said. “Sometimes I park my car and won’t move it for days. I don’t spend hours in traffic. I don’t think I could ever live another way.”
The Savarios take advantage of downtown restaurants and such activities as Live After Five, downtown runs and parades.
Most of the buildings in Beauregard Town are well maintained, but from about the 1960s and for several decades, it was a neighborhood in distress.
Suzanne Turner, professor emeritus of the LSU School of Landscape Architecture, was one of the first to see the potential for restoring Beauregard Town.
“My grandmother lived in the neighborhood,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood.”
Turner, a Baton Rouge native, lived and studied in other parts of the country. She knew that if she returned to Baton Rouge, it would have to be to an urban area.
“I wanted that pedestrian quality,” she said. “I wanted that neighborhood feel.”
One of her graduate projects was a plan for the section of Beauregard Town in which she now lives.
“When I came back to teach at LSU, I came home and built the project,” she said.
Beauregard Town, Baton Rouge’s second neighborhood (behind Spanish Town), was one of America’s first planned communities. It was the vision of Elias Beauregard, a retired captain of the Infantry of Louisiana.
In the early 1800s, Baton Rouge was a part of West Florida and under Spanish rule. Beauregard believed that Baton Rouge, the capital of West Florida, should be a city “in the grand European manner.”
He owned a large plantation south of town. In 1806, with permission of Don Carlos de GrandPre, governor of West Florida, Beauregard adopted a grandiose design created by Arsene LaCarriere LaTour, a French engineer, for a 9-by-12-block area fronting the Mississippi River.
The plan included a central cathedral square with four radiating diagonal streets leading to public institutions and open spaces.
“It was thought proper to fix the Church in the middle of this square, in order to have a Monument to the first dignity to stand by itself and in a central point,” Beauregard wrote in a public document announcing his plan.
The diagonal streets were named for Bishop Luis de Penalvert, head of the Catholic Church in Louisiana during the last years of Spanish rule; the Marquis de Somerulos, captain-general of Cuba; GrandPre and Beauregard.
At the center, running east to west, was Rue Grande, a 100-foot-wide street (now Government Street) “with trees planted on each side, at the end of which stands a Government House,” Beauregard wrote.
Six of the smaller east-west streets were named for continents or countries — America, Africa (now Louisiana), Spain, France, Europe and Asia (now Mayflower).
Most of the north to south streets were named for European royals — James, Phillip, Louis, Ferdinand, Charles, Napoleon, Joseph and Maximilian.
Sometime in the last 200 years, a sign painter misinterpreted the Spanish and accidentally changed the names of six of the streets to St. James, St. Phillip, St. Louis, St. Ferdinand, St. Charles and St. Joseph.
Although many of Elias Beauregard’s “grand” plans such as the central cathedral and other public buildings never came to fruition, the blocks are laid out as Beauregard planned and most of the streets still carry his original names.
According to the National Register of Historic Places database, members of Baton Rouge’s French community were among the early settlers to the neighborhood with French the principal language.
After the Old State Capitol was built from 1847-1849, other families moved in.
Residents of Beauregard Town were strong supporters of the Confederate cause especially at the beginning of the Civil War. Their overt patriotism for the South was curtailed when, in 1862, Baton Rouge was occupied by Union troops and bombarded by Union gunboats.
Gen. Benjamin Butler, the Union commander in New Orleans, ordered the town destroyed. Even though the order was not completely carried out, some buildings in Beauregard Town were burned.
It took decades for the South to recover from the war. The warehouse district at the riverfront led to a redevelopment of Beauregard Town that peaked at the turn of the last century.
The coming of Standard Oil in 1909 shifted the town center away from Beauregard Town. In the 1960s, Government Street was redeveloped commercially, and many of the residential areas in the neighborhood showed signs of decay.
In the 1970s, local attorneys began moving to Beauregard Town and restoring the fine old houses for offices “making it one of the first neighborhoods for adaptive restoration,” said Carolyn Bennett, executive director of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, which is housed in the Old Governor’s Mansion on North Boulevard.
Beauregard Town residents like the hustle and bustle the mix of commercial and residential properties creates.
“There’s moving in the neighborhood in the day and moving in the evenings,” David Savario said.
Brian Goad, president of the Beauregard Town Civic Association, sees the residential and commercial areas as working “hand in hand.”
“We are developing a strong residential core to support all of those downtown businesses,” he said.
Janet Mansur Terrell owns and operates the Beauregard Gallery & Bistro at 715 Europe St. In an earlier life, the building was the popular CC Fish & Oyster Market.
“My great-aunt Corinne Mansur opened the CC Fish Market in 1932,” Terrell said. “I was born and raised down here.”
Her restaurant is a neighborhood favorite.
“I’m French, Irish, Lebanese and Italian,” Terrell said. “We know how to cook.”
She considers the mix of commercial and residential as important to the quality of life.
“There’s not an area in this town with so many banks, churches and museums,” she said. “How many neighborhoods have a funeral home (Rabenhorst)? We can live here until we die.”
She likes the access to the interstate, to LSU and to the CATS shuttle before and after LSU home games.
Like all neighborhoods, Beauregard Town has had its share of problems, most recently the senseless slaying of Alexandra Engler and the wounding of her 9-year-old daughter in a home invasion in September 2010.
Neighbors say they feel that the area is safe.
“To be honest, I think it’s extremely safe,” Terrell said. “Crime can happen in any neighborhood. You can have car robberies in gated communities. The murder had absolutely no effect on my business.’’
Phillip LaFargue walks to and from his office at the Shaw Center for the Arts and often comes home for lunch.
“All the people in the neighborhood have eyes out for you,” he said.
One regret neighbors do have is that Government Street, one of downtown’s major commercial thoroughfares, divides Beauregard Town into two sections nicknamed by residents as NoGo (north of Government) and SoGo (south of Government).
Although David Savario likes the mix of residential and commercial that presently exists, he “wouldn’t like it to get more commercialized,” he said.
His wife, Melissa Savario, disagrees. She would like to see a neighborhood pharmacy and a grocery store. She would also like to see more families with children and a dog park for the many neighborhood dogs.
Goad said that the advantages of the mixed-use neighborhood far outweigh the disadvantages.
“People here are working to preserve the neighborhood’s residential core and quality,” he said. “A healthy neighborhood is the backbone of a healthy city center.”
One of the healthiest new additions to the neighborhood is the Beauregarden, a community garden partnership between the Beauregard Town Civic Association and First United Methodist Church.
The civic association is also putting together an audio tour of the neighborhood focusing on the architecture, culture and some of the unique history.
And Beauregard Town is hoping for a new downtown library and anticipating the opening of the North Boulevard Town Square and Galvez Plaza.
On Aug. 18, Beauregard Town was recognized by the AARP, the Center for Planning Excellence and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor as one of the Great Places in Louisiana. The statewide award was presented at the Smart Growth Summit at the Shaw Center for the Arts.
“The award recognizes a community for its housing options, its transportation options, its access to support services and its amenities,” LaFargue said.
Turner said that the last five years have been great for the neighborhood. “Now people in Baton Rouge are seeing the potential,” she said.
Terrell said the influx of young people has made a big difference.
In the past, many of the homes were owned by elderly people who lived in other parts of town and rented their properties to students or others who often did not maintain them.
“I’ve seen it up and down so many times,” Terrell said. “Now I think it’s going to stay this time.” .