A Monroe landmark is currently being brought back to its former glory.
Local architects Doug Breckenridge and Fred Bennett are working to restore the stonework of the historic Frances Tower in downtown Monroe.
The exterior stonework of the Art Deco-styled building has been affected by years of weathering, Bennett said. Bennett said water has been getting into the brick and stone of the building, causing leaks inside the building and deterioration of the exterior.
“You wouldn’t think an architect would be involved in something like that but we are,” Bennett said. “We have to design all of the details.”
Restoration of the building includes repairing and cleaning stonework. Breckenridge said they discovered several lintels on the building, horizontal supports over doors and windows, were rusted out from years of exposure to moisture.
“We had to come in and take those out and rebuild it,” Breckenridge said. “We have to put breathable water repellant on it. It should be good for another 60-80 years.”
The lighting system at the top of the building is also being replaced. Bennett said the firm responsible for the lighting at the Superdome in New Orleans was hired to design the new lighting for the tower, which is expected to be installed in late 2022.
“You’ve got millions of color opportunities that can be done once it’s installed,” Bennett said. “It could be all red, it could be all blue, it could be Mardi Gras colors, Christmas, Fourth of July. It’s an important part of the Monroe skyline and it’s going to be more important when the lighting system is installed.”
The 11-story high-rise was built in 1930 by Walter C. Hedrick & Company and was once the esteemed Hotel Frances. During its time as hotel, the building was advertised as the “finest hotel in Monroe,” with 250 “air-conditioned rooms and four air-condition dining rooms.” The top floor featured a ballroom and the basement retains a street entry, and currently houses a bistro.
The building was later purchased by the Monroe Housing Authority and converted into apartments for senior citizens. Breckenridge said while working for his father’s firm, Breck Construction, he was involved in the rehabilitation of the old Frances Hotel into senior housing.
“My dad hired me and we rehabilitated from a hotel, which had been shut for a good many years, into a senior housing project,” Breckenridge. “That’s a very common thing to do because the layouts of hotels, and schools too, are very easy to make into housing. I’ve actually worked on that building three times.”
The cost of the restoration is an estimated $3.5 million. Construction to restore the masonry started in May 2021, with completion expected some time in September.
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