Donaldsonville Area Foundation Launches First Restoration Project
NEW ORLEANS — On May 16 at 10:00 a.m., Chef John Folse and the Donaldsonville Area Foundation (DAF) will host the restoration launch of the future home of the Historic Donaldsonville General Store & Museum at the Chef John Folse Building at 430 Railroad Avenue (Lot #153-A). The restoration project is the organization’s first undertaking focused on the preservation of history, culture and architecture in Donaldsonville. After analyzing the need for historic and cultural preservation of commercial and residential buildings, community leaders chartered DAF to manage and assist with the growth and development of the city by helping to raise funds for such projects.
“We are enthusiastic to have this unique opportunity with Chef John Folse to demonstrate our ability to launch our first project,” said Chair and Trustee of the DAF Tammy Dale. “The Trustees have planned this launch for quite some time, and we look forward to having this project act as a prime example of what can be accomplished when the community works together to preserve our precious history.”
Among the scheduled speakers is Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser; Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan; building donor, Chef John Folse; Donaldsonville Director of Community and Economic Development and DAF Trustee, Lee Melancon; DAF Trustee Tammy Dale; and Pastor Darryl Smith will pray the invocation.
The original construction of what is now known as the Chef John Folse Building is steeped in mystique. According to local lore the building was constructed in 1850 but was originally located elsewhere in the downtown district. Some hold that the building was temporarily transformed into an infirmary during the Civil War; that it was one of only seven buildings left standing after Admiral David G. Farragut’s assault on Donaldsonville during the Civil War; and that at some point in history operated as a saloon and brothel. According to court records and past issues of The Donaldsonville Chief, what is known about the building is its succession of owners. According to an article in the May 4, 1889 issue, Mary A. O’Malley was sued by plaintiff August Levis for Lot 153 along with additional lots that contractor Thomas O’Malley (who was most likely the husband or father of Mary A. O’Malley) purchased at public auction according to the January 6, 1883 issue of The Donaldsonville Chief. The property was transferred from August Levis to Christian Kline on July 21, 1889. Some years later, Kline bequeathed the building to his grandchildren E. Kittredge Sims, Alice Sims Hanson and C. Kline Sims. After approximately 55 years of their ownership, C. Kline Sims acquired the property from the other two beneficiaries (Alice Sims Hanson and E. Kittredge Sims) on April 11, 1944. On the same day, Sam S. Mistretta, husband of Angeline Regira Mistretta, acquired the property from C. Kline Sims and ran the property as a grocery store. Through Sam S. Mistretta’s succession, his wife took possession of the building on October 16, 1991. The building sat dormant for nearly a decade. In 1999, following the opening of Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation, Folse and his wife, Laulie Bouchereau Folse, a native of Donaldsonville, purchased the building from Mistretta.
Of additional interest is an article highlighting the business of what is assumed to be one of Christian Kline’s tenants. An article from the March 19, 1898 The Daily Times reads in part, “The above named place (Donaldsonville Cock Pit), situated on Railroad avenue, near the corner of Claiborne street, is finished and under the management of that experienced game fancier, Mr. Joseph Bradford. To-morrow forenoon at 10:30 o’clock, will signal its opening when fighting chickens from many places will take part…there should be a good attendance as the sport will be very exciting. The purses will be from $50 to $100...” Whether the building operated as a military hospital, brothel, barroom or “cockpit” for fighting chickens, it certainly operated as the Mistretta grocery store for much of the last half of the 20th century.
“The Mistretta Store is a major part of Donaldsonville’s long history,” said Folse, executive chef and owner of Chef John Folse & Company. “I initially purchased and refurbished the building because of its historic value,” Folse said. “In 2014, Laulie and I donated the building to the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District for historic preservation, complete restoration and use by the DAF.” This donation is meant to help further the mission of the District and the Donaldsonville Main Street Program.
The mission of the DAF is to preserve the history, culture and architecture of the Donaldsonville area by financially supporting projects and programs that contribute to its restoration. The Foundation goals are to foster, encourage and promote charitable, educational, scientific, social and/or cultural activities; to support projects such as symposia, fundraising events, architectural tours, galleries, research, publication, etc.; to further the quality of life in the City of Donaldsonville by generating awareness programs of the rich history, culture and architectural elements of the City; to receive contributions and hold, invest, reinvest, manage or devote funds to further the mission of the organization; to dispense, transfer, lease, dedicate or otherwise propose funds to promote historic preservation, revitalize endangered historic assets, buildings or residential homes, and/or preserve land from development.
“The Historic Donaldsonville General Store & Museum at the Chef John Folse Building will be featured as a nationwide tourism attraction,” said Melancon. “We are fortunate that Chef Folse is partnering to assist us in creating this attraction. He is an international icon and we are honored to promote him as part of Donaldsonville’s story.”