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Longbranch Annex named historic site
August 30, 1983 St. Tammany bureau (Times Picayune)
The Longbranch Annex Hotel, a popular turn-of-the-century Abita Springs resort, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
State Historic Preservation Officer Robert B. DeBlieux said the hotel annex, built about 1890 and located on Louisiana 36 west of Abita Springs, was built to accommodate the overflow of guests from the nearby Longbranch Hotel, which was placed on the National Register last year.
"People from the New Orleans area came to these communities to partake of the supposed health-giving powers of the ozone in the area along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain," BeBlieux said. "Victorian medical theory held that ozone in the air had special recuperative and regenerative powers when inhaled by the infirmed."
The hotel annex building is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Erwin T. Salathe Jr. of New Orleans. Salathe said he and his wife plan to open an antique shop in the building after it is restored.
DeBlieux said that in addition to the ozone and rural surroundings, New Orleanians came to Abita Springs for its mineral spring water.
Abita Springs grew slowly after the Civil War, he said, but with the coming of the railroad in the 1890s, large numbers of people flocked to north shore communities.
Ann Reiley Jones, director of the state Division of Historic Preservation, said the National Register program is dedicated to the preservation of the nation's irreplaceable historical, archaeological and cultural sites. Properties listed on the register also. are eligible for tax breaks and federal protection, she said.
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Owners aim to make historic hotel look the part
July 22, 1982 By JOHN FAHEY - Times Picayune
The Longbranch Hotel outside Abita Springs has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 103-year-old building, near the intersection of Louisiana highways 36 and 59, joins a 50-block area of Abita Springs as part of the National Register.
The announcement came this week from state and federal officials and architect J. Buchanan Blitch of Abita Springs, part owner of the Longbranch and a prime mover in the effort to win historical recognition for the hotel.
A dozen people live at the Long-branch, but will have to find a new home within the next two years.
Blitch said Wednesday that the building, once a flourishing resort spot favored by the well-to-do of New Orleans, will be restored to its former glory as a turn-of-the-century hotel in time for the 1984 world's fair.
The hotel's six owners will meet Saturday in New Orleans to work out the restoration details. The other owners, all New Orleans residents, are American Rent-All president Clayton Charbonnet, Mrs. Clay E. Thomas, Assistant Attorney General Warren Mouledoux, building contractor Richard Schaff and architect Eduardo Camacho.
But Blitch already has an idea of what he wants to do with the place.
The six bought the building three years ago. Since then, Blitch said, he has been planning its restoration down to the last detail, including the kitchenware.
His plans call for it to be reopened as a country inn, with a 130-seat dining room on the ground floor. He also plans a private dining area and a public bar downstairs, be said.
The hotel has community bathrooms, but Blitch said the second floor will be converted into four two-bedroom suites with private baths. A large kitchen will be built in an adjoining building.
The summer cottage, which was the original owner's home, is now occupied by the groundskeeper and will be converted to four two-bedroom suites. A dormitory-style caretaker's building will become small retail shops, according to Blitch's plan.
A date to begin work has not been set, and the cost of the renovation and restoration is not yet known.
But the historical designation brings with it potential tax credits and incentives that will allow as much as $1 million to be spent on the restoration, Blitch said.
Among the incentives for income tax purposes are a five-year period in which the building may be depreciated and a 25 percent investment tax credit on improvements.
"It's a way Uncle Sam says we want to preserve America," Blitch said.
Blitch said he received word June 24 that the hotel had been accepted into the National Register by its Washington D.C.-based governing board, a branch of the Interior Department's National Park Service.
However, he said, officials of the Louisiana Division of Archaelogy and Historic Preservation made the official announcement this week.
"The Longbranch is architecturally significant at the local level as one of the most pretentious and sophisticated structures in St. Tammany Parish," state historical preservation officer Robert B. deBlieux said in a press release. "The two-story, galleried, frame hotel is reminiscent of earlier New Orleans residences that featured a sophisticated Classical Revival facade."
Blitch said Wednesday that the Longbranch Hotel is the last of five resort hotels of its kind built on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in the late 1800s.
One was in Mandeville, and the other three were in the Abita Springs area, Blitch said. All four are either no longer standing or are not used as residences.
A document by the Longbranch's six owners says the hotel was opened by Frank Lenel on Dec. 6, 1879, and was operated by him as a 16-room hotel until his disappearance two years later.
Lenel, 80, started walking toward Abita Springs one day, the reports says, and was never seen again.
Lenel's heirs and the Michaelis family later used Lenel's home next to the hotel for lodging apace and reopened 'he hotel, the report says.
The Longbranch has not been used as a hotel since the 1940's, although it has served as a boarding house off and on.
The upper floor was damaged by fire last January, when only three people — including the groundskeeper and his mother — lived there. Today, although the fire damage has not been fully repaired, the Long-branch is filled to its capacity of 12 residents.
In May, a 50-block area of Abita Springs that included 150 houses and several businesses was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the homes were built in the late 1800s.
The Abita Springs Tourist Park" Pavilion was listed on the National Register in 1975.
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Renovation Planned For Long Branch
ABITA SPRINGS — Plans are underway to restore the old Long Branch Hotel near Abita Springs into a luxury resort and gourmet country restaurant, according to architect J.B. Blitch, who is part owner of the historic property.
Blitch revealed some of the plans for the complex following an announcement by State Historic Preservation Officer Robert B. DeBlieux that the Long Branch complex has been officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
The complex consists of a hotel, a guest house, and a pavilion, along with grounds. Inclusion of the complex into the historic register was crucial to restoration plans, said Blitch, because tax exemptions are granted to registered buildings which are renovated.
The consortium of owners, said Blitch, plans to spend $900,000 on the initial restoration of the property, which is expected to be complete six months before the opening of the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair.
The fair, Blitch said, will provide, "an opportunity to get national recognition for the Long Branch as a fine old country inn."
According to the 1980 historical survey of Abita Springs prepared by the St. Tammany Parish Planning Commission, the hotel was completed in June of 1880, and was the first of the large Abita resort hotels. Owned by Frank Lenel, the complex was built by Joseph Gazin of New Orleans.
The main building, essentially a Louisiana country building with a Greek Revival facade, is a five-bay raised cottage with a central hall and 16 rooms, with eight baths.
Eight other rooms are in an annex building next to the main structure. Blitch said his architectural research indicates that the annex may be older than the main building, and could have been built prior to the Civil War.
A release from the State Office of Historic Preservation, which calls the Long Branch "one of the most pretentious and sophisticated structures in St. Tammany Parish", said the complex is significant not only architecturally, but also has a local scientific importance.
"The Long Branch Hotel," the release said, "materially illustrates a specific era and once prevalent philosophy of American health care. It is the only remaining example of the once numerous hotels in Abita Springs which served the people of the New Orleans area who sought the curative powers of the clean air and mineral water offered at the town's resorts".
During the Yellow Fever epidemics which decimated New Orleans in the late 19th Century, historians have noted, St. Tammany Parish, unlike some other areas. did not restrict entry, and in fact welcomed refugees from the disease.
Blitch said Tuesday that some changes in the interior of the old buildings will have to be made to accommodate the tastes of modern travelers. While the original hotel had 16 rooms and eight baths, he said, the restoration will convert the upstairs of the main building into four suites, each with private bath.
Downstairs in the main building, he said, the old rooms will be converted to administrative offices, and the old dining hall will be renovated into a gourmet country restaurant and lounge.
The guest house adjacent to the main building will be converted into four suites, said Blitch.
Plans are also being made to restore the hotel gardens to their former elegance, he said. A stately drive along a crape myrtle trail will be retrieved from the brush, as will an ancient circle of oaks now hidden in the woods.
The oak circle, said Blitch, predates the hotel by many years, and may have been a meeting place for the Choctaw Indians who used to inhabit Abita Springs, and who gave the town its name. In Choctaw, "Ibetab Okla Chitto" meant "large settlement by fountain".
According to legend, said Blitch, "Gentleman Jim" Corbett trained in the circle of oaks for his famed fist fight with John L. Sullivan, held on September 7. 1892, at the Old Olympic Club in New Orleans.