Revitalizing Mid City

by Chad Calder, The Advocate, Oct. 2, 2006

Lillian Brule has a lot of questions.

Two weeks ago, two cars collided at the intersection near her midcity home, one of them skidding across the corner lot and damaging her carport. And on a Wednesday afternoon, she’s standing in her living room, worried that she’s going to end up on the hook for the damage.

Samuel Sanders, the new director of the Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance, assures her repeatedly that she won’t get stuck with the bill, that a police report needs to be filed and the insurance process needs to work itself out.

Getting into his car a few moments later, Sanders said Brule, a Katrina evacuee who bought a home that Mid-City built last year, is one of several his organization has worked with who are quick to call his office when there’s a problem.

“When they hit her house,” he said, “she called 911, and then I was the second one that she called.”

But Sanders, who moved up from running Mid-City’s Homeownership Center to become its executive director in April, doesn’t seem to mind at all.

“Many of these (residences’ ownership) have turned over,” he said as he drives down Main Street, looking at houses. “So we have to get back out there, knock on doors.”

The Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance was created in 1991 by General Health Inc., which owns Baton Rouge General Medical Center in the heart of midcity. Its mission was and remains to revitalize the area bounded by Choctaw, Foster and College drives and Interstates 10 and 110.

Boo Thomas, now with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s Center for Planning Excellence (formerly Plan Baton Rouge), was the group’s first director. Perry Franklin, who left early this year to form his own company, followed...



A Look At The History Of Government Street

Speech by Mary Ann Caffery, May 29, 2003, at press conference for Government Street corridor project. 

(And below, see photos from the press conference.)

    Approximately a year ago in January, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating my Cheerios when the phone rang at about 7:25.  It was DeeDee Culotta calling to say she didn't like the way Government Street was looking and what it could potentially become if we didn't do something about it.  I told her we were having a Mid City Merchants Board of Directors meeting in 30 minutes and that she needed to get in her car and come to the meeting and say these things to us.  The state of Government Street was something that had been addressed by Mid City Merchants since our founding in 1993.  I have minutes from board meetings in which this was the only topic for the entire meeting.  Anyway DeeDee came to the meeting, was appointed Govt Street committee chairman and a group of about 8 merchants began meeting at Piccadilly Westmoreland for breakfast on a weekly basis.  This was the inception of the Mid City Citizens Coalition. Last year 3 public meetings were held about Government Street–2 at Giamanico's and one with the State DOTD at BRCC.  A lot of positive ideas came about from these meetings and we realized that the general public shared our concerns.  Original members of that committee were DeeDee Culotta, chairman; Keli Culotta, Mid City resident; Ed Fetzer, Goodwood Village Shopping Center; Brenda Payne, Rue Cou Cou; Liz Walker, The Elizabethan Gallery; Ginger Ford, YMCA; Jeremy Hendricks, MCRA; Tad Speegle, and me.  We are extremely appreciative of these original members and hope that the good work they did can continue.

    Government Steet began as a street called Grand Rue in the 1700's.  It was the central street or the Grand Rue of Beauregard Town in the early 1800's. Beauregard Town was laid out based on European planning concepts.  The town was a square bounded by North, South, East Streets and the River,  with a 2-block square Royal Plaza right in the center of the Town.  Grand Rue ran for about 6 blocks and dead ended into this Royal Plaza green space.  It picked up on the other side of the 2 blocks and went to South Boulevard, eventually stretching all the way to Dufroc Street (19th Street today).  On maps from the 1860's where Government Street intersected Park Blvd (then called Goldenrod) on the south side of Government Street and stretching east was the Magnolia Racetrack with a large grandstand. This later became the Roseland Terrace subdivision. In 1891 there was one standard gauge street railway car that went on Government Street to Dufroc, to Main Street to Lafayette Street, and then down North Boulevard and over to St. Louis and back to Government Street.  This rail car route was called the Belt Line and was pulled by a team of mules.  In 1893 the street rail system was electrified and instead of this one loop route there were about 3.    Down Dufroc Street near Main Street was the Schlosh Cotton Gin and the Schlosh Moss Factory.  People used to drive their wagons down Government Street and into the woods of what is now the heart of Mid City to gather black moss and haul it to the moss factory to sell.  The moss factory made mattresses out of the moss.

    Numerous cemeteries were located in Mid City because the residents of the town didn't want the cemeteries in town but rather out in the country. Florida Blvd used to be called Shell Road because it was paved with little white shells to keep the funeral processions from getting stuck in the mud.

    In 1908 when Louisiana Governor Sanders was inaugurated, he personally oversaw the extension of Government Street.  He said that this road would be the model for all roads in the state.  In fact Government Street was almost called Model Road because of this project

    By the early 1940's Calandro's Supermarket opened on Government Street in their present location.  Mrs. Calandro told me that Calandro's in the early 40's was the end of the trolly line.  It was out in the country.   Later, Government Street was the corridor that lead to the airport when it was at Independence Park.  Government Street was a shopping mecca in the 60's and 70's.  D.H. Holmes, Tic Toc Shoes, and Goldrings were at Government Street and Acadian. People still today come to Government Street to spend the day shopping and dining.

    Government Street and the Mid City area have a rich history.  Many Baton Rougeans grew up in Mid City.  Today Government Street borders on numerous different neighborhoods: The Garden District, Ogden Park, Bernard Terrace, Capital Heights, Steele Place, Old Goodwood.  The Govt Street corridor encompasses both blue collar and white collar neighborhoods and businesses. Government Street is not a gated community, it is all-inclusive.  We embrace its culturally rich and diverse heritage.  It is a meeting of the old North Baton Rouge and South Baton Rouge.  People live on Government Street and work on Government Sreet.  Government Street has antique shops, retail and boutique shops, art galleries, grocers, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, designers, tatoo parlors, halfway houses, washeterias, a catering hall, restaurants, florists, a camera shop, hardware store, banks. People do business on Government Street.  Government Street is an important arts district in Baton Rouge.  It is a city within a city.  Government Street has sidewalks and a healthy amount of foot traffic.  It is a combination of rich and poor, of people waiting at the bus stops, and people in big cars parking at the front doors of shops.  There are 3/4 of a million dollars homes within blocks of $100,000 homes, and the homes are all unique, not cookie cutter.   Government Street has Baton Rouge Magnet High School, and we claim Catholic High and St. Joseph's Academy.  People who have moved to the suburbs send their children back to Mid City to attend these quality high schools.  A majority of the businesses on Government Street are family-owned, as opposed to the big-box national chain stores that spring up in the suburbs.  Diversity is our strength.  Mid City Merchants are very excited about this grant and want Government Street again to become not only  the Grand Rue of Beauregard Town, but a Grand Street in Baton Rouge.

--Mary Ann Caffery


"Changing Times Meant Street Name Chaos Here," Beverly Wolter, The Morning Advocate 8/30/48

Hennick, Louis C., Louisiana -Its Street and Interurban Railways, Vol. I, Shreveport, 1965

"A Story Of Our Streets," Joe Blanchard, The Morning Advocate 10/15/54

Carleton, Mark, River Capital: An Illustrated History of Baton Rouge

See also this story on the renewed project for planning in the New Orleans downtown area:
A Man, A Plan, A Canal .... Street (okay, that's not really the name of the article, but webmeister couldn't resist)

     Clickety click on pix for more pixels.  From top left, photos from May 29, 2003, Mid City Press Conference at Ca. 1857, announcing grants from state and Baton Rouge Area Foundation for Government Street corridor study: Urban planner Jeremy Hendricks of Mid City Redevelopment Alliance greets visitors and VIPs; Perry Franklin of Mid City Redevelopment Alliance kicks off the proceedings; Visitor looks at giant aerial photo of Government Street; Rev. Charles T. Smith gives invocation; Reporters, residents, developers, business owners and more listen to the brief speeches; Mary Ann Caffery thanks the original planning committee members; Mayor-President Pro Tem Lorri Burgess shows support for neighborhood development; Mayor-President Bobby Simpson gives more encouragement; State Rep. Michael Jackson promises to keep an eagle eye on the legislature; Dr. Frank Bosworth of LSU Office of Community Design and Development introduces his planning team; Davis Rohrer of Downtown Development talks to the camera: Sister Judith Brun of St. Joseph's Academy with Ashley Shelton of Baton Rouge Area Foundation while daughter enjoys cake from the reception; W.T. Winnfield, President, Mid City Historical Cemeteries Coalition invites participation.