Magdalen Square Circa 1930
Cost: $150 Framed
Beautiful Magdalen Square is the focal point of this scene; the buildings and cars in the background play secondary roles in spotlighting the Square.
The scene–circa 1930–shows but one step in the decades-long metamorphosis that Magdalen Square has gone through to become the sanctuary for rest and recreation that we know today. It has come a long way from the amorphous shape seen on Father Megret’s 1846 map of the town. The Square has been significantly reduced in size over the years. There has also been a change in the Square’s elevation. In 1904, hundreds of loads of dirt were dumped on the low spots.
Over the years, various structures and vegetation have occupied the Square. In the early 1900s, hay was harvested on it. A two-story pagoda served as a band stand, and in 1918, a War Service Building occupied space on the Square. Briefly, after a fire destroyed a saloon, its owner carried on his business under a tent on the Square. In 1957, the municipal government had begun to build a city hall on the northeast part of the Square. This plan was stopped after a court battle between the town council and the police jury over the ownership of the square.
Trees of various kinds have grown here. The tree with its whitewashed trunk once provided shade for people and shelter for birds. That tree is no more; now our oaks drape much of the Square in their cool shadows. For a time, there was a Camellia Tree Memorial Grove on the Square. Over 50 such trees were planted, each in memory of deceased individuals of the town.
In 1925, there were two unique light poles with five globes on top located in Magdalen Square. These light poles, and four others like them on the Courthouse Square, were installed in 1915. Only one remains today, located on the northwest corner of the Courthouse Square.
The Square has served many functions over the last 150-plus years. Fountains, and a well for the use of the volunteer firemen, were once located in the Square. In its earlier days, it served as a pasture that had to be maintained and fenced in by the person renting it. Later, it was a major center for recreation of various kinds. There were band concerts; the showing of silent films; an Indian Medicine Man show; baseball was practiced here; at least one football game was played here; a cock fight bloodied the Square. Photographers pitched their tents and captured the images of townsfolk on film Politicians served up barbecue, speeches, and promises to the crowds. In 1898, a huge American flag was hoisted up a 90 foot pole in support of the Spanish-American War efforts. On February 19, 1903, the Square served as a location for an awestricken crowd watching a roaring, gluttonous fire devour buildings on the south side of Concord Street.
The Bank of Abbeville & Trust Company building was constructed in 1903. This bank’s original building, near the southern end of the current one, was destroyed in the 1903 fire. Originally, the bank occupied only a small portion of the building while the remainder of the ground floor was used as retail stores.
Midway Sandwich Shop, on the corner across from the bank, served up meals and beverages to its customers for many years, beginning in 1929. According to Mr. Paul Bergeron, “The Midway was the people center of Abbeville for
decades. People from all walks of life flocked there. I can’t remember a time when they were not open 24/7. The food was good, the prices reasonable. Harry’s chili was the best around and people would go out of their way to get some. There was a lounge with a dance floor and a juke box. There was a large parking lot and “carhops” to give curb
service. It was well managed and high standards of conduct were strictly enforced.”
To the east of, and next to the Midway, around 1916, was a movie theatre called the Triangle Airdome. In 1918, another theater called the Victor moved into it and expanded it to have a seating capacity of 1000. In 1923, it became Frank’s Theatre. Silent films were shown in this building for most of its short existence, and then in 1929 some of the films were talkies. In 1931, Frank’s Theatre was destroyed by fire as was the Landry Stansbury building which housed the City Pool Hall and a lunchroom between it and the Audrey Hotel.
On the left side of Concord Street was the majestic Audrey Hotel with its terra cotta walls and electric lamps. The grand opening took place on October 27, 1928. This hotel provided dining and dancing on its Spanish-tile floor roof garden.
Across State Street can be seen but a glimpse of the courthouse, the one built in 1890 and first used at the beginning of 1891. Although we cannot see it well, it had its own enchantment and charm.
Magdalen Square, then, is not only our dream catcher, it is the repository of our history, the archive of our hopes, joys, triumphs and defeats: our reality.
Historical Accounting by Ken Dupuy: [paraphrased]
“Magdalen Square has been witness to Abbeville’s entire history. It has seen glorious parades and solemn, tearful funeral processions. It has seen furtive glances of love and passion, and unbridled sneers of contempt and hatred.
The Square has watched brave, naive, and patriotic boys and men leave for every war since the Civil War. Magdalen Square watched breathlessly as most of these men returned with spirits bent and bruised, but essentially unbroken. With tears, and bitter anguish, the Square watched helplessly as other servicemen were brought back after they had made their final sacrifices for freedom.” – Ken Dupuy
This painting was dedicated to those men and women of Vermilion Parish who served in the Conflict in Iraq. We thank them for their courage and bravery to keep our country free. And we thank their families for their sacrifices.
A note from the artist: In the late 1980’s, I came to Abbeville for the first time and was amazed at beauty of the town. I began painting scenes of Abbeville as they existed at that time. Several paintings were put into print and some were painted as “originals only” for private collectors. In the Spring of 2003, I saw various old photos of Abbeville and suddenly I just had to paint “Historical” Abbeville”. I fell in love with the history and charm of those earlier times. I have been blessed with help from many people to accomplish this project. Ken Dupuy, historian, has provided historical facts and obtained many of the pictures from which these scenes were painted. I am grateful to him for the untiring help he has given me on this project, to those who donated their photos for my use, and to the many people who provided their “stories”. I hope you enjoy this painting as much as I have enjoyed creating this series.