Thursday, February 12, 2015

SERENDIPITY ON A SECOND TRIP

"No, serendipity is not an exotic dancer from Egypt...or a new kind of turnip greens either," Charlie Price told students in an Agricultural Journalism course I once scheduled. He explained that in their travels, the three Princes of Serendip possessed a great facility for discovering, by chance, or sagacity, valuable things for which they weren't looking. When they stumbled across something worthwhile, they always recognized it and wrote about it.

When we made a second trip to Lake Arthur, Louisiana this week, we discovered two notable "serendips" worthy of blogging. The first serendip, L'Banca Albergo, (The Bank Hotel), is actually a restored bank building within walking distance of the lake and park. An eight-suite hotel patterned after Old New Orleans architecture, The Bank Hotel stands in sharp contrast to other buildings on the avenue, many of which have been boarded up or windows blackened. The hotel boasts a wine cellar in its vault and a second-story balcony reminiscent of the French Quarter. The eight suites are spacious and well appointed, and the entire building is often rented to families that enjoy reunions with their relatives that they call "Love-Ins."

Lake Arthur, now a depressed village, was once a charming lakeside resort in the late 19th and early 20th century. Another hotel, The Live Oak Hotel, thrived and welcomed notable U.S. visitors until 1922 when it became the famous Lake Arthur Hunting Club, which no longer exists. Before Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with polio, he visited Lake Arthur during hunting season, and Dorothy Dix was another famous visitor to the lakeside town.

Actually, early residents in the area settled at Lakeside, across the lake to the south, but when freezes killed the settlers' small crops and orchards, they moved to the north side of the lake, and the village of Lake Arthur began to develop, according to Kathy Lacombe-Tell. By the time, my great-grandfather Marquart moved to the area, railroads and other commercial projects had come to Lake Arthur, and his land company prospered until the onset of the Great Depression.

In addition to The Bank Hotel, the town boasts The Regatta, a restaurant touted for its seafood dishes and lakeside ambience. It was built on the site of the old Wave Restaurant that was destroyed by Hurricane Audrey in 1957. As a teen-ager, I remember dining at the  Wave before its demise, and I've included a photograph taken of a painting of the old restaurant now hanging in The Regatta.

I've also included a photo of my brother and me on the wharf leading from my grandfather's home out to the lake where we're showing off a small catch of fish (and I emphasize the word "small"). Bass,
crappie, and catfish abound in Lake Arthur, and it's still a fisherman's paradise. Although I was only five at the time of the Flood of 1940, I remember visiting my grandparents and seeing houseboats submerged in lake waters. In later years, I read that during the storm of 1940, within twenty-four hours, sixteen inches of rain had fallen in Lake Arthur and thirteen oil derricks were blown down in Cameron. I have no idea why we were visiting the area during such a storm. As a postscript to floods that often inundate the Gulf Coast area, Bobby Palermo, owner of The Bank Hotel, says the old bank building has never flooded.

We found the second serendip near Lacassine where a large rum distilling operation, Bayou Rum Company, has been built on twenty-two acres. I'm not a tippler of rum, but I was amazed to see this operation that has utilized sugar and molasses from M.A. Patout and Sons Sugar Mill of New Iberia. Trey Litel, his brother Tim, and business partner Skip Cortese opened the distillery in 2013, and the $12 million investment has burgeoned into an industry that serves Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Canada. The state-of-the-art facility also utilizes another Louisiana product—satsumas—in the production of a liqueur.


Although the two sites I've mentioned weren't the objectives of my mission to Lake Arthur, they are landmarks that reflect some courageous entrepeneurship taking place in Jeff Davis parish and offer interesting serendips for travelers to the area.
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