A. Hays Town’s new book shows how a revered architect became in the middle of his career building houses in Louisiana | education
“A. Hays Town and the Architectural Image of Louisiana” by Carol McMichael Reese provides vital insights into the “how” and “where” and “why” of an architect, whose work in and around Lafayette and throughout the Louisiana he loved is appreciated.
Its pages contain brilliant photographs and copies of blueprints relating to some of Town’s residential masterpieces, many in or around Lafayette. It gives readers a glimpse into the city’s architectural preferences for building homes that draw on lush landscapes and a rich cultural heritage. That’s the how and where and why.
In addition, the book, published by UL Press through the Hilliard Art Museum of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, also offers the “who” – insights from family members and owners of town residences in Louisiana – about their friend “Hays,” who had planned their homes with them, bought antique stores for home furnishings in New Orleans with them, and continued their warm friendships long after the building contest.
Giving Tuesday received a generous response from some of the participating nonprofits in Acadiana.
The book will be released on Saturday at the museum’s annual Jingle Bells sale, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The book follows the exhibition of Town’s work in 2018 at the Hilliard Art Museum and draws on the research conducted for it. In a way, said LouAnne Greenwald, director of the Hilliard Museum, the closures imposed by COVID-19 gave the author and her team the opportunity to put the book, a companion to the exhibition, together.
Author Reese, a Tulane art historian who has taught time on the East, West and Gulf Coasts, provides ample background on Town’s entire career and focuses on his work as a residential architect. The exhibition celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Art Center for Southwestern Louisiana in 1968, housed in the Town Building on Girard Park Drive and East St. Mary Boulevard, a gateway to the University of Louisiana on the Lafayette campus . It is now part of the Hilliard Art Museum.
Around the time Town was creating this first museum building – the second, an exhibition hall, was also planned – he turned from his long and successful career in commercial and institutional architecture to the second part of his career, which focused primarily on residential architecture concentrated.
For the residents of Lafayette and Acadiana, the influence of Town always stays alive. His long and mutually beneficial relationship with businessman and philanthropist Maurice Heymann dates back to the 1920s. Back then, Town, who graduated from Lafayette with an engineering degree before studying architecture in Tulane, shared his vision of a second business center in Lafayette with Heymann.
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It was a cheeky thought: The city in the 1920s and 30s was too small for Town to have its own office and business – fewer than 20,000 residents – but big enough for two business districts that Town was proposed to locate in Located east of campus and west of Pinhook. In the next few years Heymann bought this plot of land, which he initially used for a nursery and on which he later developed the Oil Center – with Town as his architect.
Consider Town’s influence on East St. Mary itself: he designed Heymann’s house in the mid-1930s, the Oil Center from the 1950s, and the plantation-based museum in the 1960s. His volume of work reflected a long life – he died in 2005 at the age of 101 – and a range of interests and talents. In an interview conducted by Reese, Steve Dumez, design director for Hilliard Art Museum, spoke of “multiple arcs” in Town’s career: a commercial practice followed by a residential practice with very different styles. Usually, said Dumez, architects have a single arch.
It hardly seems possible that the architect would build houses with brick floors and old cypress trees, restored beams and antique furniture for the Bailey Middle School in Jackson and the Iberia Parish Court Building in New Iberia – modernism or Art Deco as one architect called them . But Town also participated in the Historic American Buildings Survey, a federal program from the Great Depression that documented historic buildings that later inspired Town’s practice.
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Baton Rouge architect Kevin Harris said in an interview that Town views the entire home – the exterior, furnishings, and landscape – as its professional responsibility. He was incessantly tinkering with paints and materials, sometimes tearing out entire walls or chimneys that did not suit him.
Harris recalled in one of the book’s interviews accompanying Town on a walk from his Stanford Avenue home to the LSU Lakes. They went to a stake by the lake; Town pulled it up and there was a moldy picture frame hanging on a string that was meant to be part of the furnishings of a house.
“Do you think it’s ready yet?” Asked Town Harris.
“What do you mean?” asked Harris.
“I don’t think so, either,” Town replied, submerging the frame again.
That was part of Town, but that was also the man who loved dogs and took his grandchildren to meet customers. Everyone called him “Hays”, this thin man with a great career – he designed perhaps a thousand houses. He was the man who designed houses until the 1990s, who got up at 2 a.m. to work, and cared nothing about clothes or anything he built.
He had easy access everywhere: he took new customers to the homes of old customers and asked if he could view the house – immediately. Of course he could. He shopped at antique stores in New Orleans with customers and then took them to Galatoire with no reservation required.
“A. Hays Town and the Architectural Image of Louisiana” gives Louisians easy access to A. Hays Town, a treasure in itself, according to friends and clients who were often one and the same.