● By Robert Frey
Honoring A. Hays Town’s Local LegacyBy Shanna P. Dickens | Photos by Phillip Gould
A. Hays Town is considered the father of Louisiana architecture. His style has been deemed “The Louisiana style.” If you aren’t familiar with his name, you are certainly well accustomed to his work, which is comprised of some of Acadiana’s most recognizable buildings. To honor the life, legacy and 65-year architectural career of Town, The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Museum has put together an exhibit set to open on June 15.
This year, 2018, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Hilliard Museum’s very own A. Hays Town designed building. The stately white Antebellum style structure that sits on the museum’s property was originally designed by Town in 1967 and served as the original museum.
“We’re excited to present an exhibition on the work of the architecture,” explains museum director Louanne Greenwald. “His style is referred to as the ‘Louisiana style of architecture,’ and we view him as the father of that movement. This exhibition really intends to secure that aspect of his legacy.”
The museum began working on the exhibit two years ago, and the first person they reached out to was Carol McMichael Reese, Ph.D., Professor of Architecture at Tulane School of Architecture. Reese signed on as the guest curator of the exhibit and her graduate students are also helping with the project. Additional students will be lending their hands and talents to the showcase. UL’s design department will be contributing exhibition material as well. An entire cast of creatives, historians and architecture experts eagerly aligned themselves with the museum’s efforts to bring the exhibit to fruition.
“When we started this exhibition, one of the burning questions was what should be used as exhibition materials,” Greenwald recalls. “We started talking to owners of A. Hays Town homes and discovered what an important part of Town’s legacy these oral histories are. Those stories will be included along with original blueprints, sketches, architectural models, drawings and many other items that represent who Town was as an artist.”
The Parich Home
The curators of the exhibit spoke to several homeowners throughout Acadiana. Through all of their stories there is one clear theme: you don’t decide to buy an A. Hays Town home. The universe conspires to give you one. This is evident in the case of Mike and Wendy Parich, who shared their personal story with the museum.
“I told God that I wasn’t going to look for a house anymore,” Wendy says of the time spent looking for the perfect family home. “I told God I knew he would give me a house if he wanted me to have one. Then, a man called my husband and said, ‘I hear you want to buy my house.’”
Through a series of chance encounters Wendy and Mike once ended up in their future home on the Old Jeanerette Road. While they fell in love with the space, they didn’t pursue the matter until that fateful phone call. They purchased the home in 2006, put in 10 months of work and moved in on March 1 of 2007.
The home was built in 1939, meaning that it was Town’s first home he completed from the ground up. Walking through the space you can see where his signature style was beginning to develop.
“We are not the owners of this home,” Wendy professes. “We are the caretakers.”
She explains the experience of living in her home as a peaceful one, but also as something more, a life changing one. Wendy recounts that each former occupant of the home was in some way an artist. Upon moving into her home, Wendy joined their ranks. She almost immediately became involved in her community and in the arts, like IPAL for example. She directly attributes this to her belief that A. Hays Town homes were designed to foster personal creativity.
The Voorhies Home
The A. Hays Town serendipity struck again when Donald “Doc” Voorhies realized it was time for him to purchase a home and told his friend that if he had not found a home by Christmas, he wanted her to find one for him and charge it to him. As fate would have it, she ended up at a function in the McMahon home and learned that it was (very privately) for sale. She took Voorhies to see the home the day after Christmas. The former owners sold the house to Voorhies because they believed he would take good care of it – a responsibility he’s taken very seriously over the years.
“Every day living in my house is different,” he explains of his A. Hays Town experience. “My house is not at all formal, not pretentious. It’s a very comfortable house. I frequently have company over and host parties as easily and as comfortably as if my home were the size of a football stadium. The flow and the layout are wonderful.”
The reason the home is so suitable for entertaining could possibly be because it was quite literally built on friendship and love. The house was built in 1975 when a local family commissioned Town to build their dream home. He accepted the job because his former college friend (who was now widowed and Town himself was a widower) had retired in New Iberia, giving him an opportunity to spend time with her while working on the project. Then of course, the feeling of warmth can also be attributed to Town’s masterful use of woodwork and light.
“The previous owner, Dick McMahon, said to me after I bought it, ‘This is not a house. It’s a work of art,’” Voorhies recalls. “He told me to take notice throughout the course of the year of how the house changes colors and moods as the sun moved. The house is set precisely north, south, east, west and living in it you notice the patterns of the sun the way the Greeks and Babylonians did.”
To hear more stories like these, and have an opportunity to tour select A. Hays Town properties, visit hilliardmuseum.org for all of the latest news regarding the exhibit set to open in June.