When I was a young girl fresh out of high school, I lived in a garage apartment close to downtown Alexandria, Louisiana, 829 ½ Fisk Street, to be exact. My rent was $40 a month and it was the cutest garage apartment, although quite rickety in a freakish sort of way. In other words, the whole place shook when a person crossed the room. The mirror on my dresser slapped the wall with every footstep. But I was young and daring back in 1972 and the price was right. The tiny apartment sat behind the main house which was huge, and full of rich detail work, the kind that you don’t see replicated anymore. The owners, an elderly couple by the name of Moreau, where still very much in love with each other. He called her chic and she called him sweetheart. I fell in love with their old house, especially the elegant staircase that floated up to several bedrooms. In it’s day, the spare bedrooms were boarded out. Quite a history, I’d say. If walls could talk….
I adore bits of architectural history. In those days, I was just starting out and inexperienced in the ways of life but I had already acquired a taste for all things antique. And because I lived nearby, I enjoyed walks to the historic downtown district almost daily . Everybody I knew said that Downtown was a bumpin’ place at one time and I can believe it. The streets are lined with fabulous old buildings. And, back in the day, the shops were equally as fascinating; everything from clothiers, to drug stores, to upscale jewelry stores. Needed a mop, furniture, a diamond ring? You name it, you could get it downtown. It isn’t like that these days. For the most part, buildings stand empty and sad and alone.
But here is the good news: Downtown Alexandria is making a comeback! I think it’s a shame that we lost the atmosphere of a bustling main street America to begin with. But, as they say, you don’t miss something until it’s gone. Thankfully, there are people, only a handful at first, who saw the potential and had a dream. As you know from my previous posts, I can attest that dreams do come true. Therefore, the resurgence of the hip be-there-or-be-square flock-to place is the culmination of the efforts and dreams of many interested parties who dared to care. The real estate downtown is prime once again.
Take, for example, the old Gem Jewelry building. Sandwiched between empty store fronts, it is being restored by Duana Juneau and business partner (and ex-husband) Greg Trotter. The old Gem is undergoing quite an extensive remodel/restoration. Bless her heart, she appreciates the value of quality antique buildings and is taking care to preserve every original element salvageable. Even the outside of the building has it’s share of restoration as it has been painted with colors historically correct to the era in which is was built. It is beautiful; 1908 must have been a good year. The original molding is still in place inside but the only salvageable tin ceiling pieces are preserved in a strip showcased on the first floor ceiling.
Duana has big plans for the old Gem. She took me upstairs and I can’t tell you how comforting the creak and snap sounds of the old steps were. It reminded me of big wooden building my grandparents built to house their business in Kentucky way before I was born. In fact, I think the old Gem building is only 20 or so years older than my grandparents store. Yes, Grandma’s old store still stands as far as I know. Over the years different people have bought it and loved it just like the new ‘down-towners’ are doing in Alexandria. Back to Duana’s project, the entire upstairs, hereby referred to as Loft on 3rd, is the perfect studio for her photography business. It’s huge and I would give my eye teeth to have a space like that! Wow, the things I could do, the art I could create, the books I could write!
The main floor has been renovated for entertaining. It will be available for a variety of gatherings, ie, weddings, receptions, banquets, corporate meetings, art shows, etc. It will be a very exciting venue! There is a warming kitchen available for caterers and room enough for 200 or so people. Duana has maintained an elegant and prestigious ambiance, already discernible despite the fact that renovation won’t be completed until the first part of August. I am quite certain a smidgen of that ambiance remains from days gone by, maybe even from some reticent soul still clinging to the grand old building.
A few modern amenities have been added as well.
I hear tell the Bentley Hotel will open again and perhaps a few more eateries and other local business are in the future as well. The word condominium has been whispered here and there. Can you imagine that? If I were single and planning to move back to Alexandria, I would love a downtown condo!
Personally, I think that downtown Alexandria has more than one Gem. There are many, and to quote one of them:
“It’s up to us to preserve this. Somebody has to step in and save it. It starts with one person and, hopefully, the others will follow.” ~ Duana Juneau