A.C. Bourdier's home is nestled back into the surrounding woods and painted a color that blends with nature. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 03, 2014 4:12 PMPart museum, part hideaway, and nestled back in an area of Moss Bluff with streets aptly named after the forest and its trees, is the home of A.C. (Alfred Charles) Bourdier.
Bourdier was the recent recipient of the preservation leadership award by Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne during the state’s awards ceremony honoring Louisiana’s heritage and the people and groups who generate and support that culture.
He is a member of the Calcasieu Preservation Historical Society and oversees its landmark program. He’s served on the board of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation for many terms. For the last twelve years he’s been part of the Southwest Louisiana Tourist Bureau’s “Step-on-Tours” program.
These bus tours take visitors through historical Margaret Place and the Charpentier District as Bourdier uses his distinctive manner and enviable memory to regale passengers with stories about the different houses and other landmarks based on history, architecture and the lives of the people who once lived in the homes.
Bourdier also led European travel tours for ten years. “Paris was my favorite,” he said.
He has traced his Bourdier and Castex roots to Southern France. (Jean Castex founded the town of Mermentau and had operations in both Jeff Davis and Acadia parish.)
The man has a style all his own. It extends to his dress, his home and his appreciation of art and history.
The exterior of Bourdier’s home seamlessly flows into its surroundings. Twenty-five magnolia trees which are now in bloom, oak, pines and gently curving beds of Asiatic jasmine and iron plants frame the leaf-green-colored cedar house in a perfectly natural manner.
“I always coveted the Snead house on Cricket Lane in Lake Charles. It was truly one of a kind, a treasure,” Bourdier said. The design of the Snead house which he describes as “super contemporary,” a house the Boudiers spotted in a magazine with “lots of glass;” and a concern for the safety of his youngest son who had cerebral palsy led Bourdier and his late wife, Gayle, to design the home they have now.
He remembers the family’s first Christmas in the house, before they actually moved in.
“It was cold. We had a new TV and sound system, but not much else in the house,” he said. “So we loaded up some cushions, hot dogs and cold drinks, built a fire in the fireplace and had what my sons still consider their most fun Christmas, ever.”
The location of the Bourdier’s house is somewhat happenstance. He was working as a vice president in charge of customer service for Calcasieu Marine, the bank that financed the Moss Bluff subdivision. It was suggested that he buy a lot and build. “The bank president said that for lots in the subdivision to sell, people needed to see something,” Bourdier said. Boudier built something.
The year was 1973. The design was finalized and the building began, but not without incident. The builder left out the hall altogether, throwing off the interior’s natural symmetry — including the fireplace design and placement — and eliminating square footage.
“We decorated around it,” Bourdier said. Without him describing how the house, and especially how the fireplace should have been there would have been no way to know that it wasn’t built to specification.
The public rooms of the house are open to an outdoor space, which allowed their youngest son to exit safely in case of an emergency through any one of seven sliding doors. Each of these outdoor spaces is styled differently. Two have water features. All contain plants and a sitting area. There are few window coverings.
In Bourdier’s outdoor living area, there is a Joan of Arc statue that he bought at an estate sale. Once it stood guard over a European convent.
From the head of the brass rhinoceros on the front door (a Feng Shui symbol of protection) to the vintage dresser tray in the master bath, it is a home full of art, sculpture and antiques and each piece has an interesting story.
Bourdier’s tour included every room, but in the library alone was enough of interest for many American Press Home and Real Estate articles.
Frank Thompson designed the leaded glass bi-panel door that opens to the library. At the room’s center is a round glass table flanked by white Parsons chairs. The base is unusual. “It’s not a Donghia, but it’s similar,” Bourdier points out. An antique stained glass window hangs in front of the stationary glass panel of the sliding door that leads to this room’s outdoor sanctuary. A Kosta Boda vase holds several stems of wheat from the first wheat crop ever planted on Bourdier’s family’s farm in Jennings, the Johnson Boudreaux Farm at Castex Landing.
A bar nook contains a Charlotte Robinson original, Baccarat crystal animals and Lalique stemware designed to represent the single smiling angel sculpture of France’s Rheims Cathedral.
Three awards dot the bookshelves: His most recent state preservation trophy, a Lake Charles Mayor 2008 Arts and Humanities Award and a Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitor’s Bureau 2003 award.
Books include Knopf Publishers “most expensive book in its history,” according to a 1991 Ohio newspaper article. It is the two-volume work of the Sistine Chapel (numbered 246) photographed after the Nippon Television Network underwrote the cleaning of the chapel in return for the exclusive photographic, film and television rights, the article explains.
There’s a framed invitation to the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation that helps Bourdier remember one of his favorite events. The food served was created from recipes from the 1800s. John Folse was chef. Dress was evening gown and black tie. Dance club members demonstrated reels and 18th century ballroom dances.
The guest speaker, a petite woman in her 80s, gave her presentation from the upper gallery. She started by saying that she was 12 years old when her grandmother told her the story of what she was doing from that very same spot when she was the same age: Her grandmother was watching the Yankees approaching the front of the house to arrest her father who was escaping by horseback.
One of the room’s many interesting displays is a $20 yard sale find: “I don’t do yard sales. If they’re throwing it away, I don’t want it.” Bourdier said with an ever so slight turn of his head, upward tilt of his nose and flourish of his wrist. (Part of his story-telling persona includes the ability to “put on airs” as needed.)
His sister-in-law’s cousin does do yard sales and according to Bourdier, no matter how low the item is priced she always complains that it’s too much. When she spotted a framed New Orleans scene, she brought it for Eva Bourdier, Bourdier’s sister. Eva and her husband gave it to Bourdier because of his appreciation for the New Orleans area.
It just so happened to be an original of the late Robert Kleindschmidt. His wife, Cathy, confirmed that her husband often went on New Orleans painting sprees to do quick watercolors. On some of these he would include notations for how to create similar pieces, she told Bourdier.
Bourdier started his college studies in commercial art. He remembers when life drawing models were replaced by Shetland ponies, dogs, cats and skeletons after the housemother of the girls dormitory called Lether Frazer late one night.
“She always wanted to see what the girls were doing and when she saw their drawings, she went nuts. She called the president and explained to him what she had seen,” Bourdier told.
The art teacher was replaced. “Rice University in Houston hired him immediately,” Bourdier said.
Bourdier was one of the original members of the art associates of Lake Charles. It was begun in the 50s and is still in existence today. Their current gallery is at Central School.
He changed majors, but never lost his appreciation for art. “But I have helped hang shows from time to time that I was tempted to turn the right side of the painting toward the wall,” he related.
After he left the art program, Bourdier began studies in history and English but changed to business administration after he realized that high school students might not be as interested in study as he’d expect them to be.
After 35 years, he retired from Calcasieu Marine National Bank as VP in charge of customer service. It was in his role at the bank that he learned more about antiques and was often called on to give visitors tours of some of the beautiful pieces on display there.
His library is chock-full of items of interest, but it is the living area that is most reminiscent of a museum.
One of the most dynamic works hanging in the living room is a piece that was intended for a professional athlete that wound up hanging at McFillan Art Gallery. It is a framed sculpture by local artist Melinda Antoon.
Almost every piece of the warrior-looking tunic is made of paper (though the casual observer would probably not realize it) and was influenced by actual Samurai, Greek and Roman combat attire.
There is a bench constructed of recycled barn material from Ireland, Windsor chairs, a Lincoln rocker that belonged to Bourdier’s grandmother. “She got it when she was two years and I remember sitting in it by the fireplace in her bedroom,” he said.
There is a Gerard Sellers landscape, Turkish water jugs, a woven textile wall hanging, Indian fabric printing blocks, an enormous handmade copper kettle which Boudier uses for a planter, decommissioned church candle sticks, pre-Columbian artifacts and a seahorse skeleton that belonged to his aunt. “She gave it to me when I was eight. She used to keep it in a box with a little cotton pad under it.”
Perched atop a tester bedside table that once discreetly held a chamber pot and napkins sits a Florence Kushner dove sculpture. He had admired it over Kushner’s favorite – a praying mantis. Marsha Kushner remembered how much he had liked it and made a gift of the sculpture to Bourdier.
He also has a sofa table that he claims doesn’t match a thing, but his wife wanted it, so he bought it. In her powder room, in a vintage glass tray set, are some of the bath beads he gave her as a Christmas present. They were married in 1963 and she died in 2008. His love of fine things is not the only element that makes his house a home.
Boudier has his passed down his love of art and culture to his sons, Andre and Chris, taking them along when he hung exhibits and to Lake Charles Symphony performances when they were four and five years old. “We had seats on the front row and they were just enthralled by the performance. If we had been sitting any further back, the audience would have probably been a distraction,” he said.
Both sons are still active in the arts community where they now live and Bourdier displays wood sculptures created by his son, Andre, in his home. Andre also conducted European tours with his father.
A.C. Bourdier’s love of his family, history, art, and culture can be found throughout his house – and that’s what makes it special.
Posted By: J. Chris Bourdier On: 6/11/2014
Title: That Great Christmas
We had been living in a mobile home park on Hwy 171 while the house was being built, and it was virtually finished by Christmas. When Christmas came, Mom and Dad didn't want to have it in the mobile home. So we loaded up the car and went to the new house. The only thing in the Den was the new sound system: matching TV and stereo in these white plastic pedestal enclosures that would be considered tacky today, but I loved them because they "looked so futuristic."
The floor was freezing. It was a new concept. Instead of tiles, hardwood, or some other typical flooring, the house's slab was scored to look like great big tiles and stained brown. The builders mistakenly used a wood stain on the floor instead on a concrete stain that has an acid base and seeps into the concrete. The first time they waxed the floor, the wax pulled up the stain, giving the floor a brown, almost-marble-like look that was a lot uglier than it sounds. There were also boot prints and animal tracks permanently embedded in the dry concrete. But the result was that the slab was the floor, and as I said, it was freezing. Just imagine getting out of bed on a cold winter morning and putting your bare feet on an ice-cold concrete slab. That was the floor.
There wasn't much for presents that year. I don't remember what Andre got. While I'm sure we each got more than one thing, the only thing I remember was a little Lego police car that I loved - my first Lego set. Christmas dinner was hot dogs and Coke in front of the fireplace. We started moving in the next day. Getting out of that trailer park and into our own new house was a most fantastic Christmas present all by itself.
Definitely my favorite Christmas.