Thursday, June 28, 2018

Old Post Office Becomes Garden Hotel Suites

The old post office building at the corner of Boston and Vermont Streets in downtown Covington became a part of the Southern Hotel complex Thursday morning, with a gala ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by dozens of dignitaries, public officials, and community supporters. 

The 1937 post office building had been occupied by the St. Tammany Parish School Board for the past 50 years, but it was sold to the Southern Hotel owners last year, and extensive renovations were completed to convert the open space mail-sorting rooms to several hotel suites, as well as a small conference room.  The project was named "Garden House" because the building is located on the plot of land that at one time was the rose garden of the original Southern Hotel. 

The entrance gate leading to the Southern Hotel

Lisa Condrey-Ward, one of the owners of the Southern Hotel, welcomed all those present and gave the audience for the ribbon-cutting ceremony a brief background on the building and especially its 1939 WPA mural by artist Xavier Gonzales that had been carefully preserved and restored. 

To hear an audio recording of Ms. Condrey-Ward's comments, CLICK HERE.

An artfully-crafted garland stood in for a ribbon and was cut by Ms. Condrey-Ward and her mother with several key figures also taking part.  

Among the speakers were Lacey Toledano, president and CEO of the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce, and Parish President Pat Brister. 

To listen to Ms. Toledano's remarks, CLICK HERE.  

Ms. Toledano thanked all those who came out for the special event. "It's another great day for our parish, we are proud of this preservation project and the Southern Hotel next door. We have a greater and more vibrant downtown Covington, and it has really put us in the spotlight in a great way."

To listen to Ms. Brister's comments about the importance of preserving and caring for old landmark buildings, CLICK HERE.

Ms. Brister said, "It is always wonderful to see new life breathed into a historic building especially one which has been such an integral part of the lives of so many of us in this parish for so many years. Countless of our neighbors and friends have come here to take care of business for their families and loved ones over the years. Now it takes on a new identify, but retains the same history. This companion facility to the absolutely wonderful Southern Hotel will certainly complement its big sister beautifully."

Brister went on to say that as the community moves forward, "we have the innate ability and obligation to retain the defining things of our past. This is what makes our way of life so distinct and why we love where we live. Preservation brings a richness to this community, and the Garden House will only serve to energize this area even further."

"These buildings tell stories," she reminded the audience. "And when we take care to preserve them for the next generation, these stories are retold and come to life for others."

Here are some additional pictures of this morning's event and the interior of the newly-renovated structure. 

A front patio is accessible from one of the rooms.

The Gonzales mural entitled "Tung Oil Industry."

A central hallway

A large number of guests and well-wishers attend the event, including Covington Mayor Mike Cooper, below. 

In her remarks Ms. Condrey-Ward said they had chosen the name "Garden House" because the building sits on what was the original gardens of the Southern Hotel. "Where we are today were tennis courts and formal rose gardens," she said. "It's neat to bring these two properties back together again."

  The post office was located on the New Hampshire Street side inside the Southern Hotel at one time, and when the brick post office building was constructed on the Vermont Street corner in 1937, the post office moved from inside the hotel to the new building. 

 Back when it was a post office

She mentioned that Ralph Menetre, a longtime Covington resident who was present at the day's ceremony, actually worked in the new building when he was young. His father had been the postmaster in the Southern Hotel and served as postmaster again in the new building in the 1940's.

"I love this building, and I especially love the mural painted by Xavier Gonzales," she went on to say. The mural spotlights the hard-working people who took part in the tung oil industry in St. Tammany Parish.  "We are proud to be able to restore it and preserve it going forward."

"I thank the school board for its stewardship of the mural inside the front lobby," she explained. "We worked to restore it, but it really wasn't in too bad of shape."

In 1983 John Kemp wrote a detailed article about Gonzales, who was still living in New York at the time. Click on the image below to read what Kemp wrote about the painting, its creator, and the people portrayed within it.

  Southern Hotel has hosted people from all over the United States and from all over the world, Ms. Condrey-Ward stated. "And they seem to love our little hotel and love our little town."

She said that the conference room may be rented separately or could be part of a package of rooms available to a wedding party or other group. The outside garden area is also available for special events and could even serve as the setting for a small wedding, she noted. 

Superintendent of Schools Trey Folse was impressed with the transition of the structure from a school board annex last year to a number of hotel suites amid a garden setting. "I'm proud the School System was a part of it for so many years, and I appreciate the owners telling how we did our part to take care of it and preserve it." He said it is a special building and it was good to see what improvements had been made to it.

The Southern Hotel website described the Garden House as a spectacular renovation of the 1937 Covington Post Office adjacent to the Southern Hotel. Guests will find "unique, individually appointed suites featuring stunning d├ęcor, original works of art, living areas with wet bars, refrigerators, and coffeemakers. The suites range from 359 to 630 square feet. "

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has in its collection the original "study" artwork that Gonzales created as a forerunner to the finished "Tung Oil Industry" mural in the Covington post office building. That "study" for the mural, produced with pen and ink and pencil on heavy paper, looked like this:

For many years it served as a School Board annex office

See also:

Old Boston Street Post Office