623 Shell Beach Drive is a Scottish Baronial-style home associated with the Balmoral Scottish castle. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 08, 2014 4:36 PM
The stately structure at 623 Shell Beach Drive is home to the Diana and Frank Walker family. In the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society’s 2013 Tour of Homes, “Windows on the Water,” the architectural design of the Walker estate is described as “Scottish Balmoral Tudor-style, which makes use of leaded glass, brick and stucco exteriors and intricate slate roofs.” Multiple front gables, half timbering and casement windows are also featured in this distinctive three-story Shell Beach home.
Though there aren’t many examples of the Tudor influence in Lake Charles, this style was popular in other U.S. regions in the ‘20s. In the ‘70s, “mock” Tudors – a smaller version -- brought the style to the forefront again. It was the Tudor style that attracted the house’s second owner, D.J. Somers. He was from Ohio and in Shaker Heights there were many such fine homes.
Only three families have occupied 623 Shell Beach Drive. Rudolph Edward and Della Bel Krause built the house. According to “Pioneers of Calcasieu Parish” by Nola Mae Wittler Ross, Rudolph was the son of a Prussian immigrant who came to Lake Charles to get a job in the sawmills. He met William Henry Managan, Sr. at the Westlake house where they boarded. They worked hard, bought stock in the business and the Perkins and Miller Lumber Mill for which they labored evolved into Krause and Managan Lumber Company and other companies through the years.
Della was the daughter of Floy Moss and Ernest Bel. Ernest Bel died at the age of 38 from influenza. His father, J.A. Bel, was a well-known lumberman who established vast land holdings in this area, according to Ross’s book.
The construction for the Krause house began in 1925. According to Kay Krause Blake, the daughter of Rudolph and
Della, the house was designed by the famous Houston architect John Staub who designed many of the most important homes in River Oaks and Shadyside in Houston. The contractor was T. Miller and Sons of Lake Charles. The cost was approximately $70,000. Her grandfather, also named Rudolph, built a fine home around this same time.
Adley Cormier, local historical preservation advocate, said, “Most out-of-towners think that the South is just ‘moonlight, magnolias and Greek revival plantation houses’ like a page from “Gone with the Wind”, and this house (623 Shell Beach Dr.) is often commented on as being ‘very unusual’ or ‘very stylish.’ I suppose that it credits the urbane and sophisticated tastes of the builder-owners. A couple of visitors from the UK recently said that it looked a bit like a Scottish castle, at least the materials and styling elements.”
The marble floor, crystal chandelier from Germany, and gently curving stairway make the large entry way of the 8,000-square-foot Walker home an impressive picture. One can easily see why the stairway and landing has been used for many Mardi Gras royalty and wedding photographs.
But it is the library entrance that sets the true tone for the warm, inviting spirit of the Walker home. Diane considers the library, paneled with magnolia and furnished with comfortable oversized leather seating, the TV room. “We’re not a family that has a TV in every room,” she said. “If we watch TV, we do it in here.”The place the family congregates most often is the kitchen. At its center is a beautiful granite-topped island with an uncommon blue hue. Diana cooks and she does it on a vintage Wolf oven and six-burner range in great working order. Framed art created by her children at school and during summer art camps line the kitchen wall and can be found in the stairwell and placed here and there throughout the house.
Some of these displays may have even been produced on the table in the commodious butler’s pantry that Diane calls her breakfast room or all-purpose room. The room is furnished with a long, unfinished pine table that’s marked with scuffs, paint, marker and pen, adding to its character. This table tells the story of a mother more in love with the joy of creativity, crafting and preserving family memories than making sure the paint stays on the poster board. Diane also uses the table to design and craft jewelry.
The Walkers have always appreciated the old beautiful homes of the Lake Charles area. She is the daughter of Worth Moffett and Carolyn Shank. Frank is the son of Frank and Betty Walker. Diane and Frank’s first home was the Gayle House on Pujo Street. It was perfect according to Diana -- until the birth of their fourth child made the layout impractical. “There was no easy way to add on,” Diane recalled.
The Walkers purchased the Shell Beach Drive house in 1998 and went to work to make it their own, knowing that it wouldn’t happen overnight. “We knew we would have to be comfortable with doing a little bit at a time,” she said. “Our goal is to be finished for our daughter’s wedding. (She’s in high school, so that’s a long way off.) Diana admits, “We’ll probably never be finished.”
Currently the third floor is used for storage. They began their work by ripping up all the old carpet that was in the house. The hardwood floors beneath were beautiful. All the walls were white. The Walkers added subtle and unusual color. They used an antiquing technique of combining 16 colors, eight or nine blues and purples with tans and browns and yellows, to make the walls of their living room similar to a bed and breakfast in which they stayed. “It was our very first trip away from the children,” Diana remembers. The result is a warm European patina that sets the backdrop for the richly colored and styled furnishings and accessories of the room.
According to Diana, the large living room was a challenge. “I wanted to arrange it in a way to make sure it was comfortable and homey.” The room is robust with fine furnishings, yet somehow she’s managed to make it a place that anyone would want to relax and linger. She and her husband have been consistently purchasing antiques, one-by-one, as they could, even before they were married. Her sister in law, Frances Walker, handles estate sales and sometimes finds items that she knows suits Diana and Frank’s style. They have also used some pieces that have been in Frank’s family for generations. In a room are a couple of quilts that Diana’s mother made. Diana has salvaged furniture and picked up garage sell collections of interesting colors and shapes.
On the landing is an antique blue velvet settee. Beside it is a black and white vintage photo of Frank as a baby with his mother, on the same settee. It was his grandmother’s. It had been re-upholstered through the years but Frank and Diana brought it back to the original incarnation. Tapestries, some of them heirlooms, co-exist with the children’s art and impressionist art style of local artist Eddie Mormon. Interwoven into the scheme of this room and in other areas of the house are hints of oriental influence, just one of the decorating techniques she has learned from her mother. Window coverings are lace with a vintage feel paired with a formal Jacquard drape. Cherubs are a favorite design element and collectible and can be found protectively gracing different rooms. Frank “has a thing for beautiful, unique table lamps,” which add an unexpected flair.
At one time the porte cochere and screened porch was on the west side of the house. The covered driveway is on the east side now and the screened porch that Kay Krause Blake remembers enjoying as a child is glassed in, making a beautiful sunroom with a view of the rear grounds that include a pool that Diana and Frank didn’t add until all the children were old enough to know how to swim well. Light floods into this space. Hanging from the ceiling fan in the center of the room is a glass dragonfly that catches the light and vibrates with color much like a dragonfly does flitting around in the sun. For some cultures, the dragonfly represents the joy discovered through the lengthy, complex transformation often required before the true nature of a thing finally emerges. (The dragon fly is born in water and goes through stages where it simultaneously sheds and holds on to its old body before finally breaking free and growing its full-sized wings and flying away.)
It’s a fitting symbol for this house. The foundation was poured almost 90 years ago. Its setting is the iconic Shell Beach Drive and this house is on one of the highest points of that street. It is where the Walker family rode out Hurricane Rita without worry. The water didn’t come close and when the house was inspected the verdict was that it would likely last the next 100 years. The architectural style is unusual for the area. And the Walkers have preserved the historical integrity of the house. But those things don’t make it a home.
They’ve made it one by focusing on family and using a style that’s not dictated by trends or other people. They are people who make room for the things they love and those things don’t always fit neatly into a specific period, category, collection or design style. Their home is not finished. It may never be “finished.” Yet it is a home characterized by comfort and punctuated by joy, the perfect allies during any transformation process and a clever design scheme that will never require updating.