History isn’t as bland of a subject as it’s sometimes portrayed. Many people probably think of a stack of dusty books taking up space in a classroom or library, but I envision a vibrant picture of stories preserved by people, places, and culture.
My fascination with learning and preserving the past is the reason I pursued a career in journalism. I’ve often said this was my chance to help write the first draft of local history, as a witness to significant events and sharing the stories of real people.
Helping shape that passion — my grandfather, who was a great storyteller. A World War II veteran who in local government for many years, he was a very friendly man with a memorable persona. I was convinced he knew every person living in Lake Charles, Louisiana and had an interesting story to go along with each name. Now that I think about it, I’m still wondering if this was reality.
Growing up, I’d go along with him to run errands or visit friends and I’d soak up every second of it. From trips to city hall or someone’s home, there was always a story to go along with the location. Somewhere along the way, I developed a fixation with the buildings.
A form of art, the architecture of significant structures is often a snapshot of the period when it was built. You can extrapolate so much information from appearance — availability of materials, the priorities of the community, and even the builder’s taste. Many public spaces incorporate forms of art into structural and decorative elements of the building. Notable figures, local geography, indigenous peoples, natural resources, and historical influences are weaved throughout architectural designs.
Two examples are the Calcasieu Parish District Courthouse and the Historic Lake Charles City Hall, which were always among my favorite places to visit with my grandfather. Aside from their functional purposes, the imposing buildings also serve as a living museum, capturing the history of region. From war artifacts, art, memorials, and live oak trees, there’s so much to take-in on any visit. The buildings themselves are impressive, which is a fitting description, considering the parish (county) was once known as “Imperial Calcasieu” due to its size prior to being split into five parishes.
Courthouses and government buildings aren’t the only places that capture my attention, but are often a great starting point when visiting any new city. So many stories are waiting to be told by these buildings if you take the time to look within their walls.