06 October 2008

Urbanism in Baton Rouge, Part III: Beauregard Town

Baton Rouge's second oldest neighborhood, Beauregard Town comprises the third portion of the inner core precinct reckoned as "downtown", defined by the gray elevated slabs of the Interstates to the east and south, the Mississippi River to the west, and the Capitol complex to the north. Located immediately south of the central business district, Beauregard Town is perhaps the most mixed use area in Baton Rouge, comprising a fine melange of residential, commercial, office, entertainment, and governmental areas. Because of this diversity, Beauregard Town has often been called upon to play home to some of the city's more questionable urban development schemes, and thus a large amount of what was historic in the neighborhood has been lost over time. Beauregard Town is an instructive lesson in the alteration in Baton Rouge's developed landscape from an urban fabric into a suburban paradigm.

North Boulevard, a wide, pleasing oak lined arterial, separates B-Town from the downtown area:

This thoroughfare's origins as a quiet residential street are still quite evident. Even today the predominant use of the street in this area is low intensity office use. (Notwithstanding the addition of the brand new ugly parking garage at left.)  Of the three wide directionally named boulevards - North, East, and South - that define B-Town's historical land edges, only North Blvd. retains its originally intended look and feel of a green 'fence' for the community.

Beauregard Town was intended by its founders as a seat of government. While not quite working out as planned from a spatial standpoint, B-Town harbors a significant amount of public sector and civic land use. At B-Town's northwest corner stands the Old State Capitol:

This structure served as the seat of Louisiana state government from the 1830s, with War of Northern Aggression and Reconstruction related interruptions, until 1932 when the fascist-inspired skyscraper at the north end of downtown was completed.

The White House-inspired Old Governor's Mansion housed Louisiana governors from Huey Long's reign until the new Mansion near the Capitol lakes was completed in the mid-1960s.

Beauregard Town's primary use is residential mixed with commercial and office establishments. The quiet tree lined streets are scaled to pedestrian use and invite visitor and resident alike to partake in the wonder of the built landscape:

Due to the nearby presence of the courts, many, many law offices are situated in the precinct:

Most of these firms adaptively reuse existing historic housing stock skillfully.

B-Town's physical layout was inspired by Law of the Indies-style colonial planning, and to this end there are four diagonal streets which converge on a central square (which has unfortunately not been preserved in the modern urban landscape). Odd intersections such as the above can be glimpsed where these diagonal streets cross the perpendicular grid.

East Boulevard comprises the east boundary of the historical neighborhood:

History does not lie far from the surface as long abandoned streetcar tracks may be glimpsed in the pavement of the neutral ground:

The Interstates (1o and 110) were built on alignments that place them essentially at B-Town's edges. Here the I-110 freeway is located one block to the east of East Boulevard, in essence de facto extending in concrete the B-Town neighborhood one block eastward of its historical extent:

Closer to the river, the neighborhood takes on a drastically different and decidedly more negative character. Here it was that the local solons (of past and present) decided to impose the brunt of the various urban redevelopment schemes inflicted upon the Capital City over the years.

With the presence of Interstate ramps nearby, streets have been widened to accommodate the almighty machine. This roadway funnels traffic from downtown to the ramp for the Interstate bridge.

Hardy stragglers of a different age exist as best they can among the creeping autopia.

A local landmark, Pastime restaurant on South Boulevard is a favorite among Baton Rouge residents, but as to its physical environment much is to be desired. Cowering in the shadow of the approach to the Mississippi River bridge (the rear of the structure was removed in the 1960s to construct an onramp to the bridge) and surrounded by a parking xeriscape, the Pastime can only contribute so much for its historic landmark status.

Adjacent to the river we find the entertainment complex, centered on the Belle of Baton Rouge casino and the adjacent Sheraton hotel. (The sky-high parking garage is a brand new addition.) This area, christened Catfish Town (though it is part of Beauregard Town by definition and by history) by our local solons in a feeble effort to attract people to the city center, more or less succeeds in its purpose, but at a high cost to the urban landscape.

Many buildings here are renovated cotton warehouses associated with the neighborhood's historical maritime/industrial orientation. Give the developers points for that, at least...

An indoor atrium has been constructed in the space between renovated warehouses that links the hotel, casino, parking garages, and other facilities. Most of this space is tastelessly cluttered in this fashion.

Since the hotel and casino proper hold no historic value and sit as interlopers in this area, we move on:

History is never too far away as brick paved streets are encountered along the slope of the riverfront bluffline.

North of the Catfish Town district and situated directly between the hotel on the south, the Old State Capitol to the north, the neighborhood to the east, and the riverfront to the west lies the civic center complex, perhaps Baton Rouge's most misguided inner city development project of all time.

The parking structures loom over the neighborhood like a bad odor.

Enter the dragon we go. Bad architecture from the 1970s ahead. Don't say you weren't warned.

AAAAHHH!!! The sterile cubist Brutalist disaster of the City-Parish Governmental Building constrasts not so delightfully with the lower profile and warmer lines of the 1920s-era old Parish Courthouse.

By the way, those blank walls on the upper stories directly face the river. What a waste.

Scenes like this remind me of Jane Jacobs' laments about civic centers that are hardly central to civic life.

Even on a weekday the scene is not appreciably similar. The lone individual is too exposed to the elements here.

The arena portion of the River Center, the city's convention facility (formerly the Centroplex) is situated riverward of the previous scene. A newer, more modern and more tasteful addition (not pictured) is attached to this building on the south.

The Performing Arts Center poses a Stalinist scene upon the bleak and barren Brutalist landscape.

This very space consisted of a dense residential neighborhood before clearance in the mid-1970s. The mind boggles.

Galvez Plaza, situated between the Old State Capitol and the downtown branch of the library (the main library is, not surprisingly, located in a "more central" suburban locale), is actually somewhat more intelligent in its design, and makes a useful public gathering space for the seasonal Live After Five concerts. (Of course, it is more or less empty otherwise.) The Old State Capitol provides an inviting backdrop, in any case.

Note the fascist inspired lighting fixtures. They somehow bring to mind spread eagle wings...

Public art. Yeah, I didn't know what it was at first glance, either. The aforementioned library sits in the background, sharing the thematic style of poured concrete common to the vicinity.

With the leftover space between the various public buildings and the Old State Cap, a semi-attractive public green space (Repentance Park), replete with water features, has been generously provided by our solons. Quite popular, the hobos and other homeless use it frequently.

The pleasant domed structure in the background is the Irene Pennington Planetarium, one of downtown's better attractions.

The tomfoolery of Brutalism extends to the nearby riverfront. This poured concrete erector set is intended to represent the historic red stick for which Baton Rouge owes its name.

The River Center, showing the 1970s section in foreground and the later addition behind it. In the background can be glimpsed the Catfish Town complex. The River Center addition involved eliminating and "traffic calming" a high speed curve where Government Street flows into River Road, as well as narrowing River Road in the vicinity. Score one for the forces of urbanism!

Overall, the riverfront presents a dramatic display:

The destroyer is the USS Kidd, a floating tourist attraction. Actually there are various interesting things to see and do downtown. However, the same half a dozen things get old over time.

Heading back into the neighborhood, we see that autopia has again leached its unsavory tentacles into the urban fabric. Government Street is the main east-west arterial through the neighborhood and facilitates traffic flow between the Interstate and the riverfront/civic/governmental area:

The busy four lane artery creates an ugly scar of commercial strip development which slices directly through the neighborhood's center and essentially divides Beauregard Town into two pieces.

An example of modernist intrusion. For some reason there is a cluster of communications related uses situated along the Government Street corridor within B-Town. This tower is home to a number of radio stations, and WAFB Channel 9 makes its offices only one block away.

We leave Beauregard Town with this sight of the construction of the new high-rise 19th Judicial District courthouse as this section of the tour ends.

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