Baton Rouge Review – Great for History, Architecture, and Food

When my husband received an invitation to present a talk at LSU, I was delighted to join him and explore Baton Rouge.  We were there only a short time but were impressed by the beauty of the area, the history and architecture and the great food we experienced.  It would seem to be an important add-on if one is visiting New Orleans because there is only 80 miles between the two cities, each fascinating in their own way.

 

We had the chance to explore the campus, which included a meal at the historic restaurant, and a day exploring downtown Baton Rouge with a visit to Louisiana's Old State Capitol and the LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center for the Arts.  We loved walking around, seeing the historic buildings along the Mississippi and checking out various restaurants.  

 

We had the opportunity of staying at the Cook and Conference Center at LSU Cook Conference Center Website .  We enjoyed our room and our breakfast and were interested to note that it is available to all visitors.  I liked the opportunity to walk along the lake and to easily explore the beautiful campus.

 

The history  (LSU website) of LSU dates to 1853 when Louisiana General Assembly passed legislation for state institution of higher education, creating the Seminary of Learning of the State of Louisiana (l'Universite' de l'Etat de la Louisiane).  It was in 1922 when the Board of Supervisors chose Olmsted Brothers' campus plan, but later (c. 1923) accepted Theodore Link's plan, and the construction of many buildings that currently comprise the campus, began. This is the fourth location of this university. Louisiana State University (LSU) at Baton Rouge is the principal campus of the State University system and consists of 46 buildings, with most of them dating from the 1920s and 1930s.

Fascinating facts:

-The LSU lakes were developed from swamps in the 1930s as a public works project.

-Fifty-seven of LSU's more than 250 principal buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

-LSU's "tiger" nickname was drawn from the Civil War fame of two Louisiana brigades who fought so fiercely that they became known as the "Louisiana Tigers." LSU is the only university in the United States with a live tiger mascot on campus and his home is in view of the stadium.

-LSU's landscaping was called "a botanical joy" in its listing among the 20 best campuses in America in Thomas Gaines's book The Campus as a Work of Art.

 

-The Memorial Tower, or the Campanile as it is sometimes called, is a 175-foot clock tower (free-standing bell tower) constructed 1923 and dedicated in 1926 to Louisianans who died in World War I. An LSU tradition holds that you must be kissed under the tower when the bell rings at midnight on Valentine's Day to be a true student. Turns out, this is the only night the bell tolls after 10pm.

-It was also interesting that LSU's Residential Colleges allow students to live and learn with other students who share their interests. Options include business and engineering, agriculture, honors, information technology, global studies, and freshman residential colleges.

 

 

We had one day available to explore downtown Baton Rouge and we were fascinated with the views, the buildings, and the museums.  When we first saw the Louisiana Old State Capitol, which is a Gothic architectural treasure that stands high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, it was hard to imagine we weren’t in Europe.  The 160-year-old statehouse has withstood war, fire, scandal, bitter debate, abandonment and an occasional fistfight.

 

In 1990, the Louisiana Legislature placed the former statehouse under the jurisdiction of the secretary of state and appropriated funds for a major restoration project. The building re-opened as the Center for Political and Governmental History in 1994. Now referred to as the Museum of Political History, the Old State Capitol has received awards for its architecture, exhibits and preservation.  From our perspective, this ranks among the best museums we have seen anywhere.  There are wonderful interactive computer set ups and a show that must be seen.

The Old Louisiana State Capitol, a National Historic Landmark, is located in downtown Baton Rouge, next to the Mississippi River at 100 North Blvd. and currently houses the Old State Capitol Museum of Political History, which contains several state of the art exhibits. The Center is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00am to 4:00pm. Admission to the museum is free. The Old Louisiana State Capitol Website

 

Luckily, we had time after the museum to do more exploring. LSU Museum of Art interested us because of the architecture of the building, the fabulous restaurant on it roof, the great view from the rooftop and an informal restaurant on the street level.  And there was a “not-to-be-missed” exhibition “The Visual Blues: Mood & Music of the Harlem Renaissance” we were lucky enough to see before it leaves on July 13th.

 

At the LSU Museum of Art one can see everything from a Chinese Jade pillow in the shape of a boy to a portrait of Muhammad Ali. The collection features seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century portraits by key artists who influenced the development of portraiture in Western art, particularly in England and the United States of America including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, Benjamin West and Rembrandt Peale. There is also an entire gallery dedicated to the remarkable work of Newcomb potters. More contemporary works include a growing photography collection, examples of local artists connected to LSU including Ed Pramuk, Kelli Scott Kelly and Michael Crespo, and such great modern artists as John T. Scott, Roy Lichtenstein, and Diego Rivera.

 

The special exhibition focuses on the Harlem Renaissance of the early 1900s when many southern musicians moved to northern cities, bringing with them the new rhythms and poignant lyrics of southern black music. Alongside famous musicians such as Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington, southern African American artists performed at famous nightclubs in Harlem, including the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theatre, and the Cotton Club. LSU Museum of Art brings this era to life with The Visual Blues, an exhibition that captures this period's unprecedented outburst of artistic creativity inspired by blues, jazz, dance and social clubs.



The exhibition was curated and developed by the LSU Museum of Art, and features works on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and more. The Visual Blues presents a unique opportunity to see such a rare collection of art in one place, and learn about the lives and careers of so many important artists whose influence can still be seen on many in the arts today.

 

LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center for the Arts

100 Lafayette St., Fifth Floor, Baton Rouge, LA, 70801

(225) 389-7200

 

We loved the food we had at: The Chimes (3357 Highland Rd, Baton Rouge, LA 70802 (225) 383-1754) where we enjoyed the food and the campus atmosphere, Capitol City Grill Downtown (100 Lafayette St Baton Rouge, LA) which had a great location in the Museum of Art and a menu with many and varied choices. We had an exceptional experience when we were hosted at Juban's Restaurant & Catering.  The food was noteworthy, the building historic and the ambiance memorable. (3739 Perkins Rd, Baton Rouge, LA 70808 (225) 346-8422) Juban’s website.

 

 

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