The Center for Louisiana Studies is working to restore and find a new home in a 118-year-old mansion on the corner of University Avenue and Johnston Street.
With a rich history, university ties and impressive architecture, the Roy House seemed the perfect fit for a new, more visible home for the Center for Louisiana Studies, which now operates out of the third floor of the Edith Garland Dupré Library, according to Center for Louisiana Studies Director Joshua Caffery, Ph.D.
“It’s a historical building. The Center for Louisiana Studies is charged with the study of Louisiana culture and history. It’s also a very prominent building,” Caffery said, adding visibility is crucial to making the center accessible to the public.
The Center for Louisiana Studies is under the University of Louisiana at Lafayette College of Liberal Arts and works to preserve and give public access to archived materials regarding Louisiana history. One of the most common materials the Center works with are tape recordings of oral histories and Cajun folk songs.
“Since 1973, the center has worked not only to preserve the state’s rich heritage, but also to make it accessible to scholars, students and the general public,” the center’s website reads.
Caffery said the center will set up a reading room in the Roy House for students to access, read and listen to archived materials, as well as a bookstore for the UL Press to sell published works.
“In here will be a reading room and a storefront for the UL Press which is a part of the Center for Louisiana Studies,” Caffery said while gesturing to two rooms at the front of the house, adding the grounds behind the house might be used as a concert space and the upstairs will be used for offices.
According to Caffery, the Roy House was built in 1901 by local businessman J. Arthur Roy as a private home, the same year UL Lafayette opened. Today, it is the only property on the National Register of Historic Places owned by the university.
“It’s all pretty amazing that it’s all still intact. At one time this was used as a frat house,” Caffery said, referring to the delicate woodwork around the staircase.
Caffery said the restoration project is mainly funded through private donations, meaning the move-in date for the center is uncertain until the project is fully-funded.
“Once we raise the money, it will be about a year. We would love to raise the money within the next two years,” Caffery said, “That’s all contingent on whether or not we can find people that will give to us.”
Elijah List, a sophomore communications major, said he noticed the mansion was under construction, but didn’t give it much thought.
“I saw (the Roy House) when I first moved here. It was just an old, dilapidated building. It didn’t attract much attention at all,” List said.
List said he thinks students will find the building useful after it is restored and after the Center for Louisiana Studies moves in.
“You have all of these students in anthropology and stuff like that. They don’t have anywhere to study and research other than Mouton Hall. To have a place where they can go and research Louisiana history … It’s a really smart move on behalf of the university,” List said.
Contractor Geoffrey Thompson, who has restored century-old houses for 15 years and is partnered with GFP Construction to restore the Roy House, said the house is in remarkable condition for its age.
“The intact original materials are overwhelmingly good. To have all that there ... Now I know I can put it back to the way it was,” Thompson said.
However, Thompson said the house is challenging to work on in a number of ways, including water damage to the brick foundation and widespread brick insulation which weighs down the house and causes damage to the wooden columns supporting it.
“There’s some environmental things that have caused structural damage to the house. That’s why it looks the way it does now because part of the house has actually started to settle and collapse a little bit from rotting out,” Thompson said, adding the team has lifted up the house to work on the foundation and bottom pillars.
Thompson said the project is interesting to him on a personal level.
“We’re trying to save this house and get it back into shape. It’s a fascinating-looking house and it does have a good story. Its relationship with the university is significant,” Thompson said.
History professor Michael Martin, Ph.D., who is the former director of the Center for Louisiana Studies, said the idea to move the center to the Roy House came from the lack of visibility at its current location.
“I started as director in 2011. In 2012, we started discussions with the university for some other place for the center because, where it is now, there’s no visibility and it’s hard to get to,” Martin said, adding the move to the Roy House coincided with the UL Lafayette master plan, which was unveiled in 2013.
Martin said the center had to choose between several historic buildings owned by the university before settling on the Roy House.
“The Roy House was that happy medium, where we knew it would take some work, but once the work was done, it would be a showpiece for the university and for the center,” Martin said.
Dean of Liberal Arts Jordan Kellman, Ph.D., said the Roy House will help the center be on full display as an asset to students, faculty and the public.
“The Center for Louisiana Studies has often been called one of the best-hidden gems of the university,” Kellman said, “Since then, it’s taken on a much broader mission of public awareness of programming.”
Kellman also said the Roy House will serve as a gateway to the university once restored.
“We really don’t have a front door to the university. The discussion was that the Roy House could serve that function. What a better organization to be that front door than the Center for Louisiana Studies?”