Saving The Past
An old, decrepit building can be restored and act as an anchor around which the community grows and thrives, or it can be torn down in the name of progress. Old buildings can elicit memories of what an area once was, and for many people, they can remind them of who they used to be. You may feel a pang of nostalgia when you realize the mom-and-pop gas station you used to walk to with your friends as a kid got torn down to make way for a new Circle K. As communities progress and areas become more and more developed, old buildings have an uncertain future.
The once-in-shambles building located at 1110 Sam R Fertitta St. in Shreveport, Louisiana is an example of what can happen to a historical building when the community cares about its legacy. It was built in 1925 as Evergreen Baptist Church and was part of the thriving working-class community in the Highland district of Shreveport. The neighborhood consisted mostly of homes, corner grocery stores, businesses and churches that were established post World War 1.
“It was beautiful, a wonderful church, and I was baptized there in 1949,” Ruth Bryant, a member of Evergreen Baptist Church, said. “We had a basement, where the young people could go dance, and they would play dominoes and games down in the basement. We had all the activities there. The church was full of people, and we all walked. It was a neighborhood church, we lived all around.”
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created a 41,000-mile national system of highways. When this Act was signed, it was decided that highway I-20 would run through the Highland neighborhood. In 1959 the federal government bought a section of the church and tore it down to make room for the highway. In June 1959, Evergreen Baptist Church relocated to 804 Allen Ave. in Shreveport, and they sold the remaining building to Frank Bennett, where the remaining building was remodeled with a new masonry wall extending from the basement to the choir loft.
The building was converted from a church into a marketing business studio in 1972 when Harold K. Quinn bought the property. In the 1970s billboards were painted off-site by an artist, deconstructed, and then reconstructed along the highway. The business, which was called Advantage Outdoor Advertising Company, made good use of the church because the high ceilings allowed for the billboard to be fully assembled inside the church while the artist painted it. Advantage Outdoor Advertising Company operated in the building from 1972 until 1980, when he sold his billboard leases to B&B Outdoor Advertising Company. Quinn then leased out the church to several tenants, one of them being a church for a short time, until he passed away in 1988.
The building sat vacant for 28 years, until Thad Thrash, owner of Thrash Construction Services, found out that the building was for sale. The building was filled with trash, debris and was worn down from many years spent at the mercy of the elements. The City of Shreveport building standards stated that the building needed to either be renovated or torn down. Thrash couldn’t bear to see this unusual building torn down, so on March 23, 2016, Thad Thrash and Don Nici formed NITH LLC and purchased the building and immediately began renovations.
The renovations turned out to be tedious and time-consuming. The building had not had electricity since 1987. The building and the surrounding lots were overrun by vegetation, the first floor had collapsed and revealed the flooded basement. A broken water main flooded the basement constantly for the first few months of the renovation. The first two cleanup crews hired to clean the basement quit because they were scared of what was ‘hiding’ in the basement water.
Thrash had a clear vision of how the office space would flow once renovations were completed. The construction crews replaced all of the rotten and damaged lumber with new materials to shape the 4,000 square foot space. The office has 10 workstations with an open layout to promote productivity in the workspace. One of the defining features of the new space is the renovation of the existing choir lofts into an accounting office and conference room, connected by a pedestrian bridge constructed from materials salvaged from the building. The space also includes a break room, a reclaimed and refurbished church pew, and reclaimed and refurbished church chandeliers from the 1940s.
The layout and functioning of the property were challenging due to setbacks stemming from adjacent property owned by the Louisiana Department of Transportation. During the final stages of the renovations, it was decidedly necessary to purchase the north adjacent property in order to meet worksite layout requirements. The Metropolitan Planning Commission, the State Fire Marshall, and the Historic Tax Credits all had certain guidelines that had to be met and sent for approval. What was initially thought to be a 30-60-day process took over six months. Thrash Construction Services now calls this building home!