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1401 Shell Beach Drive has been home to the Hoffpauir family since 2012. (Rita LeBleu / American Press

1401 Shell Beach Drive has been home to the Hoffpauir family since 2012. (Rita LeBleu / American Press

Family turns historic house into home

Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 11:39 AM

By Rita LeBleu / American Press

Editor’s Note: In an effort to preserve some of the history of one of Lake Charles’ oldest neighborhoods for future generations, including information about the people who live there, as well as throw open the door to these beautiful homes, The American Press has been interviewing property owners along Shell Beach Drive.

Down-to-earth and family-focused describe the Hoffpauir family that resides at 1401 Shell Beach Drive. “I had a hard time envisioning us living here at first, said Kathryn Hoffpauir. This property had been in the same (Burton) family for generations and was full of beautiful heirloom antiques,” she said. “I’ve tried to honor its history and the integrity of the original architecture, but I shop at TJ Maxx. It took about two weeks of living here before I was comfortable enough to walk around in my pajamas,” Hoffpauir said, laughing. I felt like I was in a museum for a while.

Before the move, the Hoffpauir family lived down the street at 221 Shell Beach Dr. for 15 years in a “Charleston single” Drew built. Their first house was a major fixer-upper on Hodges for which they paid $20,000. Drew and Kathryn were bicycling by 1401 Shell Beach Dr. one evening when she jokingly told her husband, “You should buy that for me.” Drew surprised Kathryn by making an appointment to see the house and after serious consideration; they made an offer, which was accepted.

The Hoffpauirs were hesitant to open their home to the American Press, but finally decided to do it to share with readers how the family came to live in such a beautiful historic property. “We don’t feel like it’s because of who we are or anything we’ve done on our own. We do work hard and pray hard – like a lot of people we know. We each have a high school education. This house had been on the market a while. We prayed about it and God made it possible,” she said. “I don’t believe in luck.” Kathryn said. “We’re blessed.”

A Family Project

Kathryn also credits having a building contractor husband who is able to do the work, someone she describes as a perfectionist who actually asks about honey-dos before he makes plans to go hunting or fishing. “He can do anything except paint,” Kathryn said. “Fortunately we have people on the payroll for that,” Drew added. White-painted wood in humid Southwestern Louisiana that faces north -- and the lake -- requires near constant cleaning and touch-up, the Hoffpauirs admit. But they believe the advantages of living in a historical home outweigh the downside.

It’s not just Drew and his crew who did the work. Kathryn and their children, Drew, Jr., Rebekah and Hayden, helped too. “We now pick our friends according to their skill set,” she joked. It’s not all work with the Hoffpauirs. The family plays together. “One of the first things we did after we moved in was put up a volleyball net,” she said.

According to research provided by the Hoffpauir’s oldest son, Drew, Jr., the property – now seven acres with a house, a guest cottage, a “carriage” house and other outbuildings -- was originally part of the Bartheleme LeBleu land grant and in seven different names after that until George Law purchased it in 1913. The exact date the house was built is not known. According to records there was a house on the property before the great storm of 1918. The original blueprints for the house say “Westlake” because it wasn’t until 1949 that Lake Charles incorporated all of the lake, according to Drew. The architect was I.C. Carter.

Law was “born in London and came to Lake Charles in 1882 as a 16-year-old youth and became associated with his cousin, Capt. George Lock, pioneer lumberman….” reads his 1957 obituary from the American Press.

W.T. Burton, a prominent Lake Charles businessman and philanthropist, purchased the property from Law in 1941. He also owned both houses next door.

The house at 1401 Shell Beach Dr. was placed on the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society landmark list as “The George Law House” in 1987.

One of Burton’s great granddaughters, Mary Woosley, has fond memories of visiting her grandmother, Edith Burton Plauche, who lived in the home for 50 years. It was dubbed the “Calcasieu Manor” at that time.

The large low-hanging branch of the oak that she used to shimmy up the tree is still there and the tree has been registered by the Live Oak Society of the Louisiana Garden Club. The Hoffpauirs purchased the property from the W.T. Burton family in 2012.

Old House in a New Light

The house has a Lutyens-style pergola facade and porte cochere side entrance. The three-storied exterior is English manor and is constructed of cypress.

Ceilings are 11-feet on the main floor and coffered. Doorways are eight feet. Kathryn replaced the dark blue damask draperies throughout the first floor with a lighter fabric. She uses a lot of white throughout the rooms of the house. “I love white – or anything that can be cleaned with bleach,” she said.

The furnishings and decor are a combination of heirlooms mixed with flea market finds and she even purchased a couple of items from the property owners’ estate sale.

The floors are original pine and most of the trim is original including windows, transoms and french doors with original glass. Of the five fireplaces, only one still worked when they purchased the property. Kathryn and her daughter, Rebekah, attempted to clean these themselves, realized it was too big a job and called in a chimney sweep. Now all five fireplaces are in working order.

How to furnish the dining area posed a challenge. The room’s dimensions were originally 17’ x 17’ as built by George Law. At some point, the room was expanded to over 30’ x 17’.

A massive lead crystal chandelier hung at the center of this expanse. The table in this room when the Hoffpauir’s first toured seated 24. Kathryn joked that her family doesn’t even know that many people. Her solution was to split the room into two areas -- one for dining and one for seating, and she put the Grand Piano that her son, Drew, plays in the room too. She moved the chandelier to hang over the dining table, a particularly tricky undertaking. Drew built special scaffolding for the project.

The family room was added by Plauche. The ‘70s-style dark walls were painted a creamy white and the south wall is made up of windows with a view of the grounds and shaded by a centuries-old oak.

The kitchen features all modern appliances while still keeping with the historical context of the house. The ceiling is white baked enamel “pressed tin.” Previously it had been a drop-down slatted ceiling, which let light through. The Hoffpauirs salvaged the black walnut, sent it to the mill shop and repurposed it as the countertop of the kitchen’s large center island.

Throughout the tour, Kathryn mentions her grandmother’s home, Edna Blickensderfer-Brown. For Kathryn it was her growing-up model of what “home” should be. That included home-cooked meals, fresh-cut flowers from the yard and football games in the backyard with cousins. “Grandmother Brown taught us that you don’t have to have or spend a lot of money to decorate and entertain,” Kathryn said. She purchased the ladder back chairs in her eat-in kitchen to remind her of those days at her grandmother’s table.

In the bathrooms the Hoffpauirs kept the hexagon and subway tile, popular in the 20s.

The carriage house and guest quarters have been totally remodeled. The Hoffpauirs lived in the small upstairs apartment of the carriage house during the major kitchen remodel of the house. Kathryn covered these dark, unfinished wood walls with white, too and took a colorful, bold approach to décor and furnishings, something that she felt would not do justice to the main house. Downstairs, where the coaches of yesteryear would have been kept, is a home gym and Hayden’s drum room.

As the Hoffpauirs were preserving as much of the home’s past as possible, they combed old floor plans to understand how rooms were used and what, if any, changes had been made. Trim, when necessary, was moved piece by piece, and put back. Round openings at the base of the walls of the upstairs room were a mystery but when the Hoffpauirs investigated the basement or boiler room (for the radiators which provided heat), they discovered that the Law home had a central vac system, very progressive for the 1900s which dates the first use of these devices.

“For years I would walk or ride my bike past this home and daydream about having large family gatherings and all the things I would do if this place was mine. Even though the amount of work necessary to maintain the structures and gardens is staggering at times, being here is truly a dream come true,” Kathryn said.

Along with the vision, time, hard work, design and decorating decisions made by the Hoffpauirs, Kathryn adds memories — of birthday parties, Christmases, family celebrations and even a wedding — that have contributed to the transformation of the once-empty historical house on Shell Beach Drive into a place called “home.”

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