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Thursday, November 27, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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The deCordova home on North Cutting Avenue in Jennings was designed by Dunn and Quinn Architects and is one of the first homes in the area built on a concrete slab. It was constructed in 1938. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

The deCordova home on North Cutting Avenue in Jennings was designed by Dunn and Quinn Architects and is one of the first homes in the area built on a concrete slab. It was constructed in 1938. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Exploring foundations of Jennings deCordovas

Last Modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 5:00 PM

By Rita LeBleu / American Press

The concrete slab foundation, common today in home building, didn’t become popular until after World War II. That’s when veterans returned home to start families and houses were needed quickly. Construction methods evolved to keep up with demand. In the northern United States, plans for basements were ignored. It was faster and less expensive to simply pour “a slab.” The method caught on throughout the U.S.

One of the first houses built on a concrete slab in Jennings is on North Cutting Avenue and was built in 1938.

Wanda and James deCordova noticed it when they were looking for a place to live in 1964.

James had been offered a job with Jeff Davis Electric and retired from there as general manager in 1993. He is the great grandson of S.O. Shattuck for whom the Lake Charles street is named and a graduate of what he calls “the real Lake Charles High” which he said means the original school and not the newer version that was built after the fire.

“I would love to see the inside of that house. I wonder if we could rent it?” Wanda remembered telling her husband about the charming little Cape Cod. He said, “It was a love affair with that house from first sight.”

They were able to rent it and did so for a few years, then bought the home and added on to the 1,800-square-foot structure. Though the deCordova’s added 1,500 more square feet, they retained the integrity of the design and much of the footprint, adding the two-story addition to the back of the house.

“I have people tell me that it’s their favorite house in Jennings and it was a former Better Homes and Garden Home of the Year,” Wanda said.

One beautiful spring day it caught the eye of the late Frank Gallaugher, Jeff Davis Bank CEO, 1947 – 1981. Gallaugher was an avid photographer and asked the deCordovas if he could take a picture of the house with the redbuds in bloom. Conversation ensued. The deCordovas told Frank that Dunn and Quinn designed the house. Frank told the deCordovas about his connection to that firm through his brother, Patrick, who was by then a partner.

A few weeks later they got the original hand-drawn plans in the mail, a complete surprise.

Along the side of the addition is a sunroom that looks out into a courtyard garden that Wanda keeps up herself. Mexican cacti bloom inside.

In addition to the natural light from the windows of the sunroom, the deCordovas used the area over the heating, vent and air-conditioning ductwork build-out to install indirect lighting, which adds to the ambiance and overall design of the layout.

The ceiling is made up of stained cedar that the deCordovas had milled into narrow boards. “That’s Wanda’s ceiling,” James said. “She saw it in Biloxi. I wanted the fireplace,” he says about the things that he and his wife insisted upon and agreed each would have in their addition.

The couple is solicitous toward each other, taking turns talking about the home they both appreciate and lovingly attentive when the other is sharing a story that they’ve heard many times before.

Items of lasting quality fill the rooms and both remember stories about the purchase of their favorites. Leaded glass windows from Cincinnati flank the fireplace. Three openings in a large downstairs room hold stained glass from 1830s England.

In the master bedroom is the furniture they bought from Hemenways in Lake Charles, as elegant and stylish as the day they picked it out in the ‘60s. One of S.O. Shattuck’s rockers flanks the living room sofa. In a china cabinet are dishes that James’s grandfather gave his grandmother on his wedding day. A young version of the de Cordova’s s, smile from behind the sofa, their wedding photo.

Wanda was one of only three young women recruited from the southern United States to work at Foley’s in Houston when she completed her Home Economics program at LSU. She credits her husband with “rescuing her” from a way of life that didn’t correspond with her idea of home and family.

She said that for her, making a house into a home involved having a place for her children to grow up and feel safe where there were hot home-cooked meals served around the dining table every evening. Now that her children are grown, it is the place the deCordova’s are making more comfortable and easier to negotiate, like they did for James’ mother when she lived there. Both have close ties with the community and their church.

“It’s the way I was taught, the way I grew up,” Wanda said, adding that she grew up during the depression, but didn’t realize they were poor.

When her grown son – now 53 – visits the home where he grew up, he tells Wanda there’s no place he sleeps better.

The de Cordova residence was one of the first houses built on a concrete slab in the Jennings area, but what makes it a home are the lasting values of its owners -- and those were laid long before 1938.


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