For the J. Arthur Roy House, “when” has become “now.”
Renovation on the 5,000-square-foot, 121-year-old building — the only University of Louisiana at Lafayette building on the National Register of Historic Places — is underway this week more than a year after the initial fundraising goal of $800,000 was reached. JB Mouton LLC, of Lafayette, is the project contractor.
Joshua C. Caffery, director of the Center for Louisiana Studies, said the center and its staff will relocate to the building, located at the intersection of University Avenue and Johnston Street, when the renovation is complete, probably by late fall or early 2023. The Center for Louisiana Studies is currently located on the third floor of the Dupre Library on the UL-Lafayette campus.
“It’s an iconic building for Lafayette,” Caffery said of the Roy House. “People are curious about the house.”
The Roy House was built at 1204 Johnston St. in 1901, the year the campus opened. It was home to J. Arthur Roy and his family, which included his wife Cornelia, the daughter of William B. Bailey, Lafayette’s first mayor, and the couple’s eight children. Among the children was J. Maxime Roy, who was Lafayette mayor from 1936-44.
Architect Arthur Van Dyke designed the two-story, wood-frame home in the Queen Anne and Stick-Eastlake style; George Knapp was the builder. Knapp also built the Gordon Hotel in downtown Lafayette in 1904.
Although the home was built at what was then considered the edge of Lafayette, traffic flow pasts the home at one of the busiest intersections in the city. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development said last year that daily traffic at the intersection is 43,730 vehicles.
Caffery said the renovated home will help beautify the corridor from Interstate 10 to the university.
Prior to this week, Caffery said, the builders did prep work that included lifting the structure to repair porches, windowsills and address decay on one side.
“They will start with the ‘guts’ of the home first,” he said, which includes wiring, new plumbing, addressing heating and cooling systems and restoring some of the attractive features. He said the building has never had a thorough renovation, although it has served in many roles, such as office space and a fraternity house.
Over the years, he said, many of the home’s appealing features, such as the cypress doors, have been painted over. The downstairs foyer, he said, was painted over the varnish; the renovation will return it to stained wood.
“There’s a lot of cypress, the floors are pine, and the doors (are) cypress. That will be restored to natural wood,” he said.
There may be some surprises behind the walls that will be exposed as work progresses. Behind one kitchen wall, Caffery said, was something that looked like a chimney but may have been used to store disposed ash from a coal-burning unit.
He said recent increases in building supplies have driven up the initial price of the renovation to around $1.3 million. While that’s been covered by continuing fundraising, there’s no money for developing the grounds and garden.
That may come later as money becomes available.
“We thought we had money for landscaping,” he said, but inflation “ate up the lagniappe.”
Another surprise: The old home is in “remarkably good shape,” despite having no previous major renovations.
About 70% of the project fundraising was done during the pandemic, he said, and people have continued to be generous. Donors included a “diversity of people” that included longtime Lafayette families, organizations and friends of the humanities.
Some $400,000 came from a foundation in Washington state that is operated by a former visitor to Lafayette who is a Cajun music fan.
“People are interested in the house for different reasons,” Caffery said. “Fundraising for us was great during the pandemic and people wanted to do things that were philanthropic. Philanthropy did well around the country during the pandemic.”
Caffery said The Roy will likely include a “shop front” for the University of Louisiana Press, with UL Press titles and other works — literary and musical — offered for sale. Much of what will be sold will be connected to the center’s work. There will be some digital access to archives, and the site should attract researchers and local enthusiasts of Acadiana culture.
Offices will be located upstairs, where staff members will focus on archival work.
Caffery said the center will explore ways the community and campus can share in using the facility, perhaps for events. He said fundraising to develop the grounds will be low-key, perhaps silent for some time.
“We are fine-tuning our plan of what it should look like,” he said. “Then we may have a public phase of fundraising or continue to seek funding in a silent phase.”