Sunday, January 22, 2012

Closed Masonic Home for Children in Alexandria to become site of high-end apartments



Sidney Gremillion, a local developer working with Atlanta developer Roger Landry, explains plans to incorporate the long-closed Masonic Home for Children in Alexandria (background) into Mason Estates, a development that will include 169 apartments. The project will involve refurbishment of the main building and construction of new buildings. Leandro Huebner/lhuebner@thetowntalk.com
Sidney Gremillion, a local developer working with Atlanta developer Roger Landry, explains plans to incorporate the long-closed Masonic Home for Children in Alexandria (background) into Mason Estates, a development that will include 169 apartments. The project will involve refurbishment of the main building and construction of new buildings. Leandro Huebner/lhuebner@thetowntalk.com

The Masonic Home history

Louisiana Masons built the home in 1925, according to home's history contained in a booklet now kept at the new Masonic Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana building that houses archives.

The language reflects the official and proper nature of the Masons. The history book is titled "A Historical Review of the Masonic Home for Children of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana Free and Accepted Masons."

Building the home came after a few years of internal debates, but in the early 1920s Louisiana Masons had made a decision.

"The majority of our Grand Lodges advocate and believe in the Home, contending that the child will receive better care and training and will be afforded a much greater opportunity to achieve success in life and that a Masonic Home does not experience the objections which arise in connection with many State and other Institutions of a similar character," states the book.

The home's first orphans -- six of them -- came from the Legion family whose patriarch was a Mason -- "Bro. Robert B. Legion of Wm. Baker Lodge No. 388, located in Mangham, Louisiana," the book states. "He and his good wife both passed to the 'Great Beyond' on March 14th, 1924, of pneumonia. They were laid to rest on the same day, leaving six fatherless and motherless children ..."

The children, ages 3 to 15, became the first of many children who lived and learned at the instructions of the Masons.

"Their father and mother must look down with grateful appreciation to the Masons of Louisiana for their tender care of their dear children," the book states.

According to Barbara Clay with the Masonic Lodge, some 776 children lived at the home through the years.

In 1987, there were 38 children, but fewer than 10 when the doors were closed in May -- the end of the school year -- of 1994, according to press accounts.

Louisiana Masons did not rely on government money in any of the home's 69 years.
Less

After sitting empty for almost 20 years, the former Masonic Home for Children in Alexandria is scheduled to undergo a $17 million conversion starting in March to 169 high-end apartments.
The gated community to be known as Mason Estates will be completed in 2013, the developer said.
Roger Landry, an Atlanta developer originally from Lake Charles, said Mason Estates would include 25 loft apartments with high ceilings, and that the monthly rental on the units will average $850 to $900. All the units will have electric fireplaces, washers and dryers, and there will be a swimming pool for residents, he said.
The land and buildings in which orphaned children once were housed and taught is at the corner of Masonic and Horseshoe drives, near the South Traffic Circle. Plans call for demolition of the boys and girls dormitory buildings. The building that housed the infirmary will become the leasing office.
"This development will breathe new life into the Masonic corridor that we hope will spur new development activity in the area," Landry said. "By providing a solid anchor at the south end of Masonic, we hope to create a new front door for the southern entrance into Alexandria."
On Feb. 28, Landry is scheduled to officially purchase some of the property and buildings at the site. Current owners Ray and Judi Proctor of Woodworth will retain the land that fronts Masonic Drive for possible commercial development.
Landry would not disclose the price of the land and buildings, including the three-story main building that will be refurbished and turned into the 25 loft apartments. He said six more buildings would be built for the remaining apartments.
Landry applied for and received tax credits for the development, and the loan is backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A Dallas lender is loaning the money for the property purchase and construction.
"The development team is working closely with the state's division of Historic Preservation to ensure that many of the historic elements remain intact throughout the rehabilitation process," Landry said in a news release.
Landry has a track record redeveloping historic buildings into residential units, including the Mollers Building in downtown Lake Charles.
Sidney Gremillion, a local developer working with Landry and the Proctors, said subcontractors interested in bidding on work can get plans, specifications and other information on Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Mason Estates site.

Traffic concerns

The project is almost three years in the making and attracted controversy in December 2010 when nearby residents told the Alexandria City Council they had concerns about traffic coming out of Mason Estates and entering Horseshoe Drive.
Council members eventually OK'd the project with a 4-3 vote, and pledged money to construct a left-turn lane at the traffic light at Horseshoe and Masonic.
Alexandria Planning Department Director James Branch said construction of the turn lane will start in March and be completed in early summer at an estimated cost of $430,000 in city and federal funds.
When it's completed, Mason Estates residents will have one way in and out of Mason Estates, through Horseshoe Drive. During construction, the entrance from Masonic Drive will remain open.
Branch noted there also are plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Jackson Street Extension, Lodi Road, Horseshoe Drive and Twin Bridges Road to the west of the development. He said the project is in the planning stages.
Both road projects are meant to help the flow of traffic on the heavily traveled section of Horseshoe Drive, which residents of the upscale Landmark and Tennyson Oaks subdivisions use.
"Anything that is required on behalf of the municipality as well as (District 4) has been taken care of," said City Council President Harry B. Silver, whose District 4 includes Mason Estates. "The ball is in the court of the developers to be sure they have the wherewithal to make (Mason Estates) happen."

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