Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Historical Hammond Hotel and Its Unexpected Role in the Birth of a Business

The classically built Citizen's National Bank Building in Hammond, LA.
The grand facade of the Citizen's National Bank Building (currently Regions Bank) in Hammond, LA plays a prominent role in downtown Hammond, Louisiana. But before the red brick, classically inspired building with white ionic columns was built, the site was home to another renowned structure in the heart of Hammond, The Oaks Hotel.

Rich in its history and dating back to 1893, the hotel was at one time the "place to go" in Hammond. Originally called The Oaks, the wood hotel was damaged during a fire, rebuilt and called The Second Oaks, only to be damaged once more by fire and resurface as Casa de Fresa. Built entirely from Southern Long Leaf Pine, Casa de Fresa (the Strawberry House) became the place to be seen for the elite of the area. Hammond as known as the Strawberry Capital and the Casa de Fresa acted as the auction house for the annual strawberry auctions. Casa de Fresa was a buzz of activity during the spring strawberry season and attracted a slew of traveling salesmen and military officers for their officers club in the off season. The hotel boasted "60 rooms, 40 baths and 5 completely furnished efficiency apartments, in the strawberry capital of the world." The Casa de Fresa was not only popular among travelers but among local residents as well. Hammond citizens would dine in the dining room and coffee shop regularly, which sold "Northern Coffee" and "Louisiana Coffee".

Casa de Fresa in its glory days. The Citizens National Bank building was styled
 after the hotel with the red and white facade pictured here. 
Cases de Fresa Hotel stayed open until 1966 when economic hardship forced it to close. For the next 10 years, the building lay in disuse for years with several key Hammond citizens lobbying for it to be salvaged and brought back to its former glory. However, a final fire in 1979 laid the hotel to rest but gave a new business a chance! 

Richard Woods, owner and operator of a local leather business, Rainbow Lotus, was in the middle of growing his new venture. He had the idea of using reclaimed wood as a building material. He knew that the virgin growth wood that could be salvaged from dilapidated building would make a strong, stable, beautifully aged building resource that is environmentally friendly. Woods bought doors and beams from what was salvageable from the burned Casa de Fresa, allowing the glory of this celebrated hotel to live on. The purchase helped Albany Woodworks begin building its inventory to allow it to continue to grow. Now with its 40th anniversary on the horizon, Albany Woodworks recognizes how the historical hotel that played such a prominent role in the community allowed it to grow into a mainstay of the Hammond area.