Sunday, January 21, 2018

Old Mandeville Griffin Bakery

The Griffin Bakery was a landmark in early Mandeville, a central gathering place for the community. The building was constructed in stages, and then all linked together for the various purposes it filled throughout its 100-year-plus history.

In 1996 Mandeville resident John Fineran took on the task of renovating and restoring the building at the corner of  Lafitte and Jefferson streets in old Mandeville.  Here is the story of the original bakery and the efforts 22 years ago to restore the building. Click on the images to make them larger. 

A 1997 View of the Structure

Below is the 1997 article in the St. Tammany Farmer telling about the renovation of the building and its significance in Mandeville history. 

Old Mandeville Bakery Is Being Restored

The aroma of fresh-baked bread still lingers in the memories of many older Mandeville residents who used to frequent a bakery located at the corner of Lafitte and Jefferson Streets. They remember lining up at the side door of Griffin's Bakery, waiting to fetch home a hot loaf of French bread for a late night snack.

That scene may soon be re-enacted as the building that housed the bakery in the 1920's and '30's is being extensively restored, including the huge oven that baked the bread.

John Fineran is project manager for the meticulously-accurate historic restoration of the building, a project that has been underway for the past two months. He is working for his sister, Carolyn Fineran, who bought the building last last year, saving it from destruction. She lives in Denver. After Carolyn Finerans bought the place, she told John to come fix it up.

For the past twenty years, the structure has been used as a remedial educational facility.

John said the front of the original building was constructed sometime between the Civil War and 1900, "or shortly thereafter, the best we can figure."

The Finerans have talked to a number of older residents who remember what the building looked like years ago. Ernest Griffin, 79, has been a great source of information.

They actually held a reception where the recollections of older residents were video-taped for later reference in the reconstruction of the building.

The structure is thought to have been built originally as a general store by the Dutz Baudot family. John has been told. In 1920, the Griffin familv bought the property and built the bakery in the back.

"This was the second Griffin bakery in Mandeville," John Fineran said. "The first Griffin bakery was actually located across Lafitte one block closer to Lake Pontchartrain." In 1938, it was sold to another family and continued operation as a bakery.

One person told John of a wing, since demolished, built on the east side. With his help, John was able to determine the size of the addition. "There was a room with a bay window, a gallery ran along the front, with Victorian columns and gingerbread," he explains. The informant happened to be a drafts-man and was able to sketch the layout of the structure.

The wing was torn down during the depression, and Fineran has determined that pieces of it were sold to various other homeowners around town. "We are tracking down braces and other pieces that were sold off so we take measurements and replace them here with exact duplicates."

Looking For Photos
Even though Fineran has found quite a bit of information about the structure, he is still looking for photographs and verbal descriptions to help round out the project.

One Mandeville oldtimer was able to point out the location of the cistern, which made the Griffin family one of the first in the area to have their own indoor plumbing and water.The bakery was powered by a gasoline engine located on the porch that ran the mixers and other bakery equipment through a pulley and belt arrangement through the wall. The engine also ran an electric generator when needed.

Built in 1921, the oven measured 15 feet across and deep and seven feet tall. It could bake 150 loaves of bread at a time. The walls are eight bricks thick. "I'm looking for people who can tell me about these old ovens," Fineran commented.

"They would start firing the oven at 11 in the morning and would be ready to start cooking around 9 p.m. At first, this oven was heated by wood, then they went to diesel for a while." But they had a problem with the diesel when it exploded and blew out the back of the oven in 1925, Fineran was told.

Once he gets the original building back the way it was in the mid-1920's, he hopes to gain recognition for the structure on the Registry of Historic Places. Certain tax breaks are available through that process.

The remainder of the building will be restored to they way it looked in the mid-1930's. To the best of John's knowledge, there aren't any other commercial properties in Mandeville on the historic registry.

Keith Villere, mayor of Covington, has consulted with John concerning restoration of the landscaping on the 150 by 140 foot lot. Fineran plans to wind an existing wisteria bush along a series of trellises, from one end of the property to the other.

Fineran is impressed with the way Columbia Street in Covington has successfully rebounded, with cafe tables on the sidewalks and a leisurely community "feel." He hopes the bakery will be able to do the same kind of thing for Mandeville.

While the scheduled completion date is mid-February, much work remains to be done. For instance, to gain access to replace the rotting sills and floor joists, workers had to remove the flooring in many rooms. Fineran is pleased to use Florida Parish lumber in the project, getting it from Jenkins Sawmill north of Folsom.

The roof will be restored to the original tin metal, he said, something he had to talk the local planning commission into permitting.

Some of the front rooms may be converted to offices, and the Finerans are even thinking about a bed and breakfast arrangement. "Think of how neat it would be to spend the night in a historic bakery," John said.

"It's been a fun project. I've learned a lot doing this," he admitted. "Learning how they did things back then. Actually, I've become computer literate on this job. The state has been
very helpful, and there's a lot of information on-line about this kind of thing."

Visions of Hot Bread

Already, people are stopping in to say hello and see how the project is progressing. They seem eager for the day when loafs of hot bread will be available fresh from the oven.
Years ago, the bakery was a hub of the community, providing many Mandeville homes and weekend visitors with bread, with many customers coming across the street from Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church after each Mass.

"You look around in different southern Louisiana towns, and you usually find a bakery located next to the Catholic church," Fineran reported.

He points out several noteworthy landmarks in the immediate neighborhood. "We have to preserve old buildings like this," he concluded. "Everything is starting to look so plastic over here. It's changing too fast."

St. Tammany Farmer Jan. 2, 1997

Today the structure is occupied by 
Lama's St. Roch Family Restaurant and Market

The History of Griffin's Bakery

A 1919 Article in the Farmer, above

The following account comes from a printed history in the window of the building:

The three separate buildings that were connected together to make Griffin's Bakery were built sometime beginning in 1900 and developed into its current layout around the middle of the 1930's. One of the first references to the structure took place when the building was indicated on the 1915 Sanborn map of businesses. 

The Griffin family bought the property from the E. H. Baudot family in 1920 and turned it into a bakery. The Sanborn map for 1926 showed an attached structure called "the bakehouse," located a few feet in back of the main group of buildings.

Although the exact construction date of the main building is not known, it looks to be around the turn of the century as indicated by the style of architecture. 

The two bay windows are "something of a mystery" since they are supported by highly-decorative brackets in the "Italianate tradition," with a scalloped band ornament at the top. These would seem to have been popular around 1900, according to architectural research, but they may have been added to the building later. 

The gallery front porch, wrapping around the corner front entrance, was a common feature of Louisiana commercial structures. 

A photo from 1932 provided by Ernest J. Griffin Jr.
Shown is his grandfather and the delivery truck


The Griffins sold the bakery to the Roquettes in the 1940's, and many older Mandeville residents remember going to the Roquette bakery on a regular basis.

It is one of the few buildings left that give an indication of the once vibrant commercial section of Olde Mandeville. That distinction allows it to be a unique representative of the historic downtown character of Mandeville. The Old Mandeville Griffin's Bakery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places database on December 1, 1997. 

 Photos from 1997

The brick oven

Photos from 2018
301 Lafitte Street, Mandeville
Lama's St. Roch Family Restaurant