The Nellie Lutcher Cultural District was recognized in 2015 and received the official title of Cultural District from the state of Louisiana in 2016. The district is bounded by 7th Street and Railroad Avenue to the north and south, and Ryan Street and Enterprise Boulevard to the east and west. The desire to recognize Nellie started as a grassroots effort; the area of Enterprise between Broad and Interstate 10 was first named the Nellie Lutcher Memorial Parkway. Local activists believed strongly that the influence Nellie had not only in Lake Charles but also on the music industry as a whole deserved recognition of some sort. Lori Marinovich with the City of Lake Charles said, “When we went through the city of Lake Charles, this area of town was identified. Nellie Lutcher was a key personality that bubbled to the top of the list of who we wanted to recognize.”
The area along the I-10 corridor itself served as a major artery for southwest Louisiana. In the late 19th century the area boomed and became a true microcosm of the American melting pot, with immigrants from Syria, Hungary, Lebanon and Italy working alongside African Americans operating the businesses in that area. While Nellie serves as the namesake of the district, there are several notable buildings in the area that feature prominently in the history of Lake Charles. Learn more about the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District here.
Historic Structures of the District
Here are some of the notable buildings in the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District:
Cash & Carry Building
The Cash & Carry building was built on what is now the corner of Enterprise and Broad Street in the 1930s as a warehouse that originally housed booths for smaller markets to sell fresh produce and products under one roof. Wholesale goods were sold to local businesses who then went on to sell goods to consumers throughout the city. Eventually, however, it was abandoned and closed officially in 1992. It was even put on the Eleven Most Endangered Sites List by the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society. It was eventually rescued and restored by Rick and Donna Richard as part of their organization, Empire of the Seed. It now serves as one of Southwest Louisiana’s most prolific wedding venues. With exposed brick and ductwork that harkens back to its warehouse days, the Cash & Carry also hosts a Farmer’s Market every Tuesday evening, which means this building has truly come full circle in its journey as a historic landmark.
Lake Charles High School
This Enterprise Boulevard building has gone through many incarnations in history of over a century. In 1903, Lake Charles High School split from the central school which was housed in, appropriately, the Central School building on Kirby Street and began operating as a separate high school. The school chose the Wildcats as their mascot and had several championship-winning football teams as well as the much-lauded marching team known as the Kilties. During war times, students led efforts to sell war bonds and collect recyclables. In 1983, W.O. Boston and Lake Charles High merged to form Lake Charles-Boston High School. Sadly, this school would close in 2007 and became the Lake Charles-Boston Academy of Learning, which offered extended learning services for students throughout Calcasieu Parish.
Lake Charles Little Theatre
Lake Charles Little Theatre (LCLT) was formed in 1927, the brainchild of Emma Michie, Mrs. J.W. Gardiner, Mary Gayle Porter, and Rosa Hart. In its first year of existence, the group had over 150 members and raised over $700. They put on three plays in their first year. The stock market crash in 1926 meant that things perceived as luxuries went to the wayside—theatre included. In 1938, the little troupe relocated to Bilbo Street in its Stable Playhouse. This was sadly destroyed in a fire in 1958. They finally relocated to the current building, New Stable Playhouse on Enterprise Boulevard in time for the 1986-87 season.
Run entirely by volunteers, the LCLT has remained a vital part of the Southwest Louisiana arts community for nearly 100 years, putting on over 300 plays and musicals over its illustrious career.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Sacred Heart Catholic Church recently celebrated its centennial anniversary in October of 2019. Originally built as a schoolhouse in 1908, the African American community petitioned the diocese of Lafayette for an official church with the support of white religious leaders. The church primarily served African Americans, but it was part of the first integrated parish in the Lake Charles Diocese. The church met the needs of the African American community and the attendance showed—in the mid 20th century, the parish served over 9,000 parishioners and held six services every Sunday. Sacred Heart’s popularity eventually bred smaller Catholic congregations in other areas of Southwest Louisiana.
The growth and connections fostered within the church led to a boom in the black middle class of Lake Charles, but it was not always smooth sailing. When McNeese integrated and church leaders helped black students apply, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses outside the church. The parishioners were undeterred. They continued to view their church as a place where faith, family, and friendships could prosper. They now have two services every Sunday at their building on Mill Street.