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Modernizing Honors: Historic French House Undergoes Extensive Renovation

Long-anticipated renovations of the interior of the French House, home of the LSU Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College, began in December 2014. The $5 million renovation is being funded through capital outlay funds allocated in early 2014 by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Laville Honors House, the Ogden Honors College residence hall adjacent to the French House, underwent an extensive $40 million renovation in 2012. When complete, French House renovations will bring to fruition a fully modernized Honors campus at the heart of LSU.

The residential college environment of the Ogden Honors campus is unique among Honors programs nationwide both for its historical provenance and its current architectural significance. As one of LSU’s landmark buildings, the French House has always been a source of pride for the Tiger community. The building is located at the center of campus, diagonally across Highland Road from the Student Union. It was constructed in the 1930s in a style meant to evoke a French chateau—a form unique among the predominantly Mission Revival architecture of LSU’s campus. The French House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which in citing the building’s significance notes, “it is highly unusual for the chateau idiom to be used in the design of an American institutional building.” The French House cornerstone bears the name of Huey P. Long, who dedicated the building, along with French Ambassador André de Laboulaye, in 1935. Inside the cornerstone is enclosed a piece of wood from Fort de la Boulaye, the first French settlement in Louisiana. 

The Ogden Honors College moved into the French House in 1999, and since then the building has become headquarters for the Honors community. Honors seminars, student advising, and many extracurricular activities are conducted in its classrooms, offices, and the Grand Salon, which is sometimes referred to as LSU’s “formal living room.” The French House is connected to the Laville Honors House by a grove of oaks, creating a residential college “campus within a campus.”

"The interior renovations of the French House will finally make it possible to have a world-class Honors campus for the Ogden Honors College here at LSU," said Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle. "It's the last, and most important, piece of the puzzle. First we renovated the Laville Honors House, then we shored up the roof and windows of the French House, and now we're going to transform the interior spaces to meet the needs of every Ogden Honors student, staff member, and faculty instructor. We can't wait to move back in!"

The French House contains about 19,000 square feet, but due to its original design as a residence hall, much of that space is currently cordoned into small rooms and hallways. Renovations will include a piece-by-piece remodeling of each floor, including a reconfiguring of hallways, classrooms, entrances, and the creation of a central atrium space. All Ogden Honors College advisor and staff offices will move to the third floor of the building.

“The design provides modern amenities and technologies and creates optimum learning environments that can adapt to the needs of tomorrow’s students—all while respecting the legacy of the historic building,” said plan architect Kenneth Tipton.

The Grand Salon will be refurbished (rather than renovated) in order to protect its historical importance. Its adjoining, currently unused café space will be completely renovated into a lounge area in which students can work and socialize. The first floor will also include an auditorium-style classroom that can be used for lectures and films.

“The Ogden Honors College stands as a beacon of excellence in Louisiana,” said Brian Haymon, chair of the Ogden Honors College Advisory Council. “A modern, fully functional French House is the long-awaited final component of an Honors campus that will offer a unique learning community for our highest achieving students. Under the leadership of new Dean Jonathan Earle, the Ogden Honors College is poised to reach new heights as it prepares the next generation of Louisiana leaders.”

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The French House originally served as a residence for students enrolled in a French language and culture immersion program. Joseph F. Broussard, Dean of the Department of Romance Languages, spearheaded both the program and the effort to secure the $75,000 required to finance the building’s original construction in 1935.

The French House was home to both male and female students studying French and other romance languages. French and Italian were the required conversational languages within the French House. Students ate French food—tuxedos and evening gowns were required at dinner on Wednesdays—and studied French culture in the Grand Salon. Nightly entertainment included choral and theater performances; readings; quadrilles (a kind of square dance) performed by “Cajun dancers,” and lectures by foreign visitors, such as ambassadors and members of L’Academie Francaise (the official governing body of the French language; its forty members hold office for life).

The renovation and refurbishment is projected to take 18 months. Ogden Honors College faculty and staff have temporarily relocated to office space in one of two locations: the basement of Johnston Hall on Fieldhouse Drive, and Laville Honors House.

 

Story by Liz Billet, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-0083