Lang House

The 160-year-old Jean Baptiste Lang House sits in disrepair years after being damaged by Hurricane Katrina on Lakeshore Drive in Mandeville. Credit: Old Mandeville Historic Association
The 160-year-old Jean Baptiste Lang House sits in disrepair years after being damaged by Hurricane Katrina on Lakeshore Drive in Mandeville. Credit: Old Mandeville Historic Association

By Caroline Gerde | LSU Student

The dispute surrounding the 160-year-old historic Mandeville lakefront home has been laid to rest — on Carroll Street.

The Jean Baptiste Lang House sat at 2603 Lakeshore Drive in a state of "damage and neglect" since the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But it is being rescued and relocated to Carroll Street, where it will become a museum.

In what Adele Foster, vice president of the Old Mandeville Historic Assn. (OMHA), calls "a treasure trove of historic homes," the Lang House stands out in Mandeville as one of the oldest. It also boasts of a quintessential Anglo-Creole architectural style, she says. On about a dozen such houses still stand in Mandeville, many modified over the years.

Foster says the framing for this home is "a lost art." The Lang House was constructed with mortise and tenon joints ( male and female parts), she explained.

Belgian tobacco merchant Jean Baptiste Lang purchased land for the home after a bitter 1849 divorce. Construction was finished by at least1852 (probably earlier), according to the OMHA website.

OMHA says Lang kept the summer cottage until his death in 1861, but the Civil War postponed sale of the home until 1866. At this time, an archival drawing was made to advertise the Lang House.

This watercolor still exists. Archivist and historian Sally Reeves describes the Lang House as "the sole example of a house in Mandeville still standing with an archival elevation to document that it remains substantially as built … It deserves restoration."

Foster also called the tattered cottage "a house worth saving," as she explained the decision to move the Lang House from Lakeshore Drive to the nearby Kierr Family Gardens on Carroll Street.

Not everyone thought it a good idea. Did the city have the money? But in the end, Foster said, OMHA partnered with the city for the move and the rehabilitation.

Patterson Structural Shoring and Moving stabilized and moved the home to its new site, near the Trailhead Museum.

Foster said the community has also been involved, and OMHA events have helped raise funds for the home. Foster said OMHA holds two walking tours per year -- the next one will on Dec. 11.

Another debate at the start of the year, concerned if the home should be dismantled with the intention of rebuilding later. The historic association opposed this option on the grounds it would degrade the home's integrity. "It would lose all its ghosts," said Foster.

In the end, said Foster, only the roof was removed to make the move easier. She was glad to see the home preserved, as deconstructing the house would have "[Lost] all its ghosts."

Foster said keeping the historic home in its original location at the corner of Lakeshore Drive and Wilkinson Street would have been ideal, but the owner donated the home only — not the original lot.

The historic association searched to find donated property for the home. They found a match in the Kierr land, a few blocks from the original Lang House address.

The Kierr Estate is better known to locals as the site of the 1970s style tree house. The Kierrs donated this brown house (that stood on one center leg in the tree tops) to the city. Many would have liked to preserve the home, including Foster, but during a mayoral administrative change, someone in the department decided it would be cheaper to tear down the home.

This empty lot was, however, a good home for the damaged Lang cabin. Now, Foster said, the Lang House (restored to its original white color) sits nestled blocks off the lake, safe from another big storm.

The Lang House will become a museum, reception venue and Mandeville headquarters for heritage tourism, akin to the historical draw of the French Quarter or Natchez, Foster said.