A new beginning: American Press moving back downtown

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 12, 2021

Newspapers are the eyes and ears of the world; they are how the world comes to know about itself.

In Southwest Louisiana, those eyes and ears are the American Press, which has reached another milestone in its 126-year history.

For more than 30 years the American Press has conducted business at 4900 U.S. 90. No longer. Today, the historic newspaper has returned to the heart of downtown Lake Charles — where we were founded in 1895 — in the newly refurbished offices at 715 Ryan St.

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Our new home has a robust history of its own, having initially served as the shopping epicenter The Fair Store and later as the headquarters for the Girl Scouts Bayou Council, Parkinson Foundation of the South and the United Way of Southwest Louisiana.

We are excited to return to the place where it all started.

The oldest member of the Southwest Louisiana Chamber of Commerce, the newspaper’s earliest roots can be traced to August of 1893 when Joseph F. Reed created a weekly publication in Lake Charles. He would form a partnership with Guy Beatty the next year, creating Press Publishing Co. In that partnership, Reed oversaw the editorial department of the publication and Beatty handled business management.

Two years later, on Feb. 4, 1895, the Weekly Press became the Daily Press and the organization purchased a new printing press.

“With the exception of the large publishing houses of New Orleans, there is nowhere, in all the state of Louisiana, or the adjacent South, a printing establishment that will compare, in point of costly and efficient equipment, with the plant of the daily and weekly Press,” reads an 1895 article in the Lake Charles Daily Press announcing the purchase.

The article said the design of the then-afternoon edition was complete at 3 p.m. each day and by 4 p.m. the carriers started making their deliveries.

In 1910, the Daily Press merged with the Daily American, which Beatty was also publishing at the time, to form the Lake Charles Daily American-Press.

By 1912, the newspaper shortened its name, removing “Daily” and the hyphen from its masthead.

Eight years later, Beatty moved the paper to a brick building on the 300 block of Broad Street — now the location of the Lake Charles Children’s Museum — where it was headquartered for the next 34 years.

It was in the midst of World War II that Thomas B. Shearman Sr., on Dec. 21, 1943, purchased the newspaper, four months after Beatty’s death. Shearman, who was a Chicago-based national advertising salesman at the Inland Newspaper Representatives firm, had represented the Lake Charles American Press in national advertising for about 12 years and had formed a friendship with Beatty.

“After his death, his daughter told me that he had told her that I should be offered the paper,” Shearman recounted in a 1967 article.

Shearman bought the business from Beatty’s heirs for $300,000.

“It shall be my purpose to endeavor to continue the progressive, alert, and friendly type of newspaper which (the previous owners) created here,” Shearman said in a 1943 announcement in the newspaper. “Every effort will be made to keep the American Press close to the people of Southwest Louisiana and a paper that will stand firmly for every sound improvement in the area.

“Investment in the newspaper field in Lake Charles has a double attraction,” he continued. “Already a modern daily in operation, it has one of the brightest futures of any paper in the South because of the prospective growth of this city. It is a city in which it will be a pleasure to make a home, and I shall look forward to moving my family here.”

Nearly 55 years after Shearman purchased the paper, the organization shortened its name once more to the American Press.

The Shearman family continued to own the publication until 2021 when Carpenter Newsmedia, an affiliate of Boone Newspapers, purchased the publication.

BNI and CNL own and/or manage 76related newspapers along with websites, shopping guides and magazines in communities in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Louisiana newspapers include the Bogalusa Daily News, Southwest Daily News, L’Observateur in LaPlace and, as of October, the Leesville Leader and Beauregard News. They also publish the Orange Leader and the Port Arthur News, which are printed in Lake Charles.

The American Press has shined among Louisiana newspapers during its history, earning Pulitzer Prize nominations for reporting and photography and winning hundreds of national and regional awards for its journalism.

The mission of the American Press is simple, but profound — educate the citizenry, which Thomas Jefferson said was so vital to a healthy, functioning democratic republic.

The American Press is committed to doing just that with on-the-ground, neighborhood reporting — the kind of journalism that keeps you up to date on everything local. We’re here to tell your incredible stories and shine a spotlight on the amazing communities that encompass Southwest Louisiana.

When Carpenter Newsmedia purchased the American Press, their plan was to move as close to the heart of Lake Charles as possible.

“We want to be part of the community and part of the revitalization efforts of the downtown area,” Publisher Dan Phelan said. “We also want to support the downtown revitalization financially. We are bringing 32 employees who will be spending money in the restaurants and stores in the surrounding area.

“We are looking forward to rejoining the downtown community, especially at this juncture in its history. Although we are officially moving Monday, we will still have a transition phase over the next week. We will ‘look’ much better the following week.”