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A Brief History of University Hills

 

University Hills was once part of the large farm of the Denis Daigre family, hundreds of acres that extended from the present-day south gates of LSU to past Lee Drive. The subdivision, which has over 200 residences, is located three blocks from LSU just past College Town.

In an article on University Hills in South Baton Rouge Journal, writer Annabelle Armstrong describes University Hills:

It is laced with Centennial oaks and winding, sloping thoroughfares overlaid with leaves — an aura reminiscent of a small town. Wildflowers on lawns and shaded naturalness, with slightly unkempt lawns here and there, make a statement that life has more to offer than exquisite grooming. The overall park setting has charm.

Architecture varies widely, from a towering French chateau some call a castle to a secluded, end-of-the road, 1,000-square foot cottage with a front screen porch.

Jeanne Tims, Association treasurer and newsletter editor for 25 years, and her husband, Dr. Eugene Tims, LSU professor emeritus in electrical engineering, lived in University Hills for 34 years , from 1969 until 1993. Mrs. Tims remembers moving into the neighborhood: "When we first bought [our] lot on Newcomb, it was overgrown with weeds and poison ivy and the street was gravel." They helped form the civic association when asked by M. Clyde Day, a retired LSU chemistry professor.

Elizabeth Wilton, who was five years old when her family moved in, remembers, "Every Sunday we'd take turns watering the shell streets because so many people were driving out here looking for property."

The Timses have a copy of the engineering plan for University Hills dated 1934 as laid out by A. G. Seifried of New Orleans, noting that it belongs to the Daigre estate. Almost all streets are named now for colleges and universities, although Delgado Drive was originally Louisiana and Ursuline Drive was once called Jefferson.

Tims and a friend in industrial technology hand-carved the large cypress entrance sign for the subdivision.

In 1973, when the city-parish attempted to buy the two-foot strip separating University Hills from Plantation Trace in order to build a street through to Tulane Drive, the Civic Association really banded together and organized.

"Mr. Siefried was called, and he agreed to sell us the strip for $800," says Jeanne Tims. "A lawyer, Robert Day, handled the paperwork, and we collected money. The strip belongs to the University Hills residents after each person invested about $15."

The Oaks, on Highland Road, was the Daigre family home. It was bought by Denis Duplantier from his grandmother. The farm included College Town. Later Isabelle Daigre Duke, wife of Ensley Duke and first cousin of Denis Duplantier, sold the part of the farm that became University Hills to Augusta Pardue whose nephew, Charles McDonald, lives on Newcomb Drive.

McDonald brought in the gravel for Newcomb Drive, part of the original development, and built his own road. He purchased seven of his aunt’s lots and made Newcomb part of the development.

Mr. and Mrs. Norman Lant built a two-story brick home in the late '20s and completed it in 1930, one of the first homes in the neighborhood. Lant was chief engineer of the Louisiana Highway Department. He kept a diary of the house’s construction during the Depression. It notes the prices then: "A man came today to plant trees and was paid $2." Another entry: "Someone poured concrete, $3."

Anne Price, art critic and reporter for the Advocate, along with her husband Ed, bought the house from the Lants.

"It was the most wonderful place for our children to grow up," she says, harkening back to the days her children played in the woods all day long in the summer, picked blackberries and sold them to the neighbors. "They had a huge game of hide and seek with every kid in the neighborhood, ranging from two to 18 playing."

Noel Hammatt, an East Baton Rouge School Board member and LSU clinical faculty member, found parts of an old barn in his yard. Since the Hammatts reside near the house where Isabelle and Ensley Duke once lived, he speculates that it was probably the Dukes' barn and corn crib. "We just love being here," says Hammatt. "I knew when Terri and I bought the small house ten years ago that it needed a lot of work but it was affordable for us. It was built in 1949. I did all the work myself. We like the variety from wealthy families to hourly wage earners, and we like the different types of homes."

Most of all, Hammatt likes the view — the centennial oak on the median that he and his family can see from their front porch, with its swing, table and chairs. The oak, named "Andrew Jackson Bullock," was registered with the Live Oak Society in 1974 with the number 472 and had a girth of 20 feet at the time.

Before he moved from the subdivision, Marvin McGraw III, formerly capitol correspondent for WBRZ-TV and now with LSU, was active in the Civic Association and is responsible for the durable concrete markers that name the streets.

"Our other street signs had a tendency to disappear, and we needed some more permanent markers," he says. "These have the old look but new strength."

University Hills was once the home of Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Featherston. Jim and his wife Billie rented in the subdivision for one year before moving into a split-level house on Loyola Drive in 1971. Featherston retired from the LSU journalism faculty in 1994. Before moving to Baton Rouge in 1970, he worked for the Dallas Times Herald and covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Another journalist who lived in University Hills was the late John LaPlante, who was a political columnist for more than three decades covering Louisiana state government and politics. In 1998, he became the editor of the six-person Capitol News Bureau for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. LaPlante's "Political Horizons" column on Sundays particularly secured a large audience and often sparked heated comments from readers and state officials.

LaPlante died in the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston of injuries sustained in a swimming accident on April 12, 2007, at Galveston Island.

On February 2, 2008, he was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum.

LaPlante was president of the Civic Association from 2004 to 2007. As president, he led the Association's successful efforts to keep vehicular traffic from the nearby Highland Estates Condominium from having access to Highland Road.

In May 2008, the Civic Association planted a live oak in his memory in the Delgado Drive median at the entrance to the subdivision. The marker pictured above identifies the oak.
 

With such an intertwining of media and faculty, the subdivision stays lively. Other media residents include Ed Cullen, Cynthia Woody (deceased), Art and Nora Adams, and Guy Coates.

Woody, who edited the Platinum Record for the local Council on Aging, taught English to students in China for several years. During her absence, the Association newsletter kept residents abreast of her travels and tenure.

Longtime University Hills resident, Genevieve Collins, lived there from 1937 until 2008. (Mrs. Collins died on August 18, 2008, at the age of 96.) She was the organist at her church, Trinity Episcopal Church, for 40 years and at Temple B'nai Israel for 50 years. Her late husband, Frank Collins, Jr., was head of the organ department and first full professor in the music department at LSU. He was her major professor when she attended LSU. With her characteristic humor, she often joked, "I married him to get A's."

She and her husband designed the Casavant organ made in Quebec for Trinity and bought a smaller organ for the church.

Her small house on Delgado Drive was built on a large plot in 1932 by William Groves of New Orleans. She explained that, in 1937, when she and her husband moved into the subdivision, there were only two houses on Delgado Drive. The couple had the option of buying the house across the street (which was gravel at the time). But, they opted for the house on the southern side because, in the summer, the prevailing breeze blew dust from the gravel street toward the house on the northern side. In the '30s, there was no home air-conditioning; and windows were open all day long.

The house was built on one of two adjoining lots the couple purchased. Each lot is 60-by-120 square feet, with a circular driveway. It became a haven for parties. "Every football game, there are people here for supper," Mrs. Collins said, "and Christmas Eve we always have gumbo."

Permanency in leadership, always needed in a civic association, was provided by the Timses and Day. Clyde Day served as president of the civic association for 25 years or more.

"It's all of us working together," says Day. "The leadership needs to be in the hands of the young people now."

In 2008, the Civic Association was incorporated. The Articles of Incorporation was signed by the seven incorporators on May 5.

The incorporators who also served as the initial board of directors: (seated, from left to right) Sharon Collier, treasurer; Michelle Spielman, vice-president; Chris Liddy, president; and (standing, from left to right) Louis Castaing; George Daniels, secretary; Bob Benedict; Erick Swenson.

The first act of the board was to approve the bylaws by a unanimous vote.

The text of the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws are available here.

Editor's note: We are deeply indebted to Annabelle Armstrong and the South Baton Rouge Journal for much of the information in this history and to Van Wade-Day for reviewing the information and keeping it current

If you have a story or reminiscence about the subdivision or Civic Association or if you have historical photographs or other visual material, please contact us to let us know.

 

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