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Saturday, October 25, 2014
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Antique decoys silently keep each other company and watch over the Boyer library and reading room. Also of note in this room are articles and campaign material from Sam Houston Jones, Louisiana’s 46th governor who ran against and defeated Earl Long. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Antique decoys silently keep each other company and watch over the Boyer library and reading room. Also of note in this room are articles and campaign material from Sam Houston Jones, Louisiana’s 46th governor who ran against and defeated Earl Long. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Boyer home tells story of history, culture, family

Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 11:56 AM

By Rita LeBleu / American Press

From the street, the two-story house at 823 Shell Beach Dr. — home to the Jim and Claudia Boyer family — seems imposing with its symmetrical lines and soaring classical columns. It’s architect, John M. Gabriel, was well known in the area when the home was built in 1947. According to local historical home preservation advocate Adley Cormier, the design can be described as “an updated Greek-revival plantation style with massive order Tuscan columns and red-brick.”

Gabriel’s architectural impact can be found throughout Louisiana and Texas and a few of his Lake Charles homes have been on the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society’s Palm Sunday Tour through the years.

He designed this one for Dr. Lucas and Tillie Digiglia, who, along with their children, Ellie and J.W., called this house home for nearly 50 years.

Claudia Boyer noted that the home’s design, from the backyard view, is more visually interesting, and that the interior views favor the backyard rather than the lake.

“I’ve been told that Tillie Digiglia loved the yard, had a full-time gardener and helped lay the many brick pathways by hand,” she said. “Her daughter, Ellie, said that the gardens were English-style, everything laid out in an orderly fashion.” The Digiglias had a tennis court, Boyer said. Ellie also shared with Boyer that the pool was added for the benefit of the first DiGillia grandchild — much to Ellie’s chagrin who was headed off to college at the time.

The Digiglias purchased the property from A. O. King who was the 42nd governor of Louisiana after Huey P. Long assumed a U.S. Senate role. (To build the present structure, a home was moved from the Shell Beach Drive location and can now be found at 1925 Barbe St.) In 1995 the Pardo family purchased the property.

It was the summer of 2001 when its current owners assumed ownership of this approximately 3,800-square-foot estate.

The inside style mimics the outside character — to a degree. However, the unassuming personality of Claudia Boyer, the natural light flooding through the home, and the judicial use of earthy elements lend an open and inviting warmth to the tailored furnishings and classic design style.

Boyer, who is the daughter of well-known Lake Charles ophthalmologist Dr. Clinton Hart, said that although she grew up on St. Anthony Street, crabbed off the Shell Beach wharf and her family had a boat docked at the Shell Beach Pleasure Pier, she had never been in the home or on the property until she and her husband bought it.

She is a graduate of St. Louis High School and her husband, also a native of Lake Charles, graduated from Lake Charles High School.

The Boyer children are Leigh, Anna, Sam and Jack. Their portrait hangs over the sitting room’s fireplace, one of the things that the Boyer’s have changed since they’ve moved in. “We deepened it and added the bookshelves,” Boyer said. “Russell Stutes’ daughter, Christi Clark, designed it.” Local artist Della Pigott painted the portrait. This room opens to a dining area that features a large 1800s oak dining table that easily seats 10. “But we manage to squeeze in more chairs when needed,” Boyer said. Extended family lives close by, children come home during holidays and all sit down for meals so the dining area is not just for “show.” When asked about cooking, Boyer laughed and said “I heat. Jim cooks.”

Her home somehow manages to be both down-to-earth and orderly at the same time. A Clementine Hunter, which Boyer said was collected before the artist became so popular, hangs behind neatly stacked ledgers that chronicle the happenings at the duck camp that has been in her husband’s family since 1953. The ledgers serve as perfect pedestals for Boyer’s cloche glassware collections.

Her husband’s passion for the outdoors is found throughout the home. Boyer shared that the Hart family did not participate in hunting and fishing to the same degree as the Boyer’s, yet she quickly rattled off a few of the names of the various hunting trophies displayed — a snow goose, a speckle belly, wood ducks and a squealer.

Her husband has one of the few complete collections of the Federal Duck Stamp prints. (These prints feature the stamps issued since 1934 placed on waterfowl hunting licenses.)

Antique decoys silently keep each other company and watch over the Boyer library and reading room. Also in this room are articles and campaign material from Sam Houston Jones, Louisiana’s 46th governor who ran against and defeated Earl Long. (Jim’s father was Billy Boyer. Jones was Billy’s stepfather. So the home has a “double-Long” connection.)

Another notable framed keepsake in this room is a 1966 New Yorker Hiram Walker ad that features a photo of the Shell Beach Drive house and the message, “Tonight in Lake Charles, Louisiana, they’re serving Hiram Walker Cordials.”

Many areas of the Boyer home sparkle with light but the kitchen is particularly bright. The colors are mainly shades of white. The kitchen has modern appliances, updated cabinetry and surfaces. But overhead, the baskets collected by Boyer and her sister soften the atmosphere with their well-worn natural patina. Some are stuffed with dried cotton plants. Antique wooden bread plates are displayed over the kitchen’s banquette.

In a nook of the kitchen are three cloches. Under the first are stainless steel cookie cutters that had been recently used for Christmas sugar cookies. Under the second are wooden vintage butter stamps. Boyer and her sister love checking out antique stores and flea markets. Under the third, Boyer’s children’s engraved silver baby cups “with teeth marks, bangs, dents and all.”

It was a collection of memories — under glass — a technique of displaying keepsakes that could work for anyone, no matter which street they call home and the perfect still life to represent the warm, family-focused, sunshine-filled home at 823 Shell Beach Drive.

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