Earlier this year, I wrote about the demolition of the mid-century modern house on South Acadian Thruway that had been the home of C.B. “Doc” Pennington, and what the community loses when one of its historically and architecturally significant structures is destroyed.
Now, an even finer gem from that era—the iconic Crawford House at 1855 Country Club Dr.—faces an uncertain future, and local preservationists are sounding the alarm. But it may already be too late.
If you’re unfamiliar with the house, you’re missing out on what is Baton Rouge’s most pristine and best preserved mid-century modern home.
Tucked away in the Westdale neighborhood, the 4,200-square-foot home was designed in 1957 by an internationally renowned architect of the era, Wahl Snyder—who did homes for the Baccardis in Cuba and movie stars in Miami—and it contains countless unique and significant features. Most notable is its lanai—an outdoor living space that partially overlooks the spacious, 1.5-acre grounds and slopes to a swimming pool enclosed with fiberglass screens supported on turnbuckle tensioned gables.
Besides being architecturally significant—the home has been featured in numerous national publications—it is important because of who it belonged to: W. Hamilton Crawford, an architect himself, who designed and built thousands of small, affordable, ranch-style homes throughout south Louisiana—and beyond—during the booming post-war years.
Crawford, and, later his widow, lived in the house until the 1990s. When it went on the market in 1997, Ann and Andrew Singleton jumped at the chance to buy it.
“It was my dream house my entire life,” says Ann Singleton, 73, who preserved the home’s mid-century modern character during their two decades of ownership.
In recent years, however, her husband has gotten sick. They can’t keep up the pool or fix the things that break. The home is in need of some serious TLC, though it is still structurally sound and chock full of architectural marvels.
As if by providence, a home builder knocked on their door in January. He introduced himself as Jason Laubscher and said the home had long been the dream house of him and his wife, Whitney. He told Singleton he wanted to buy it and live there with his family, she says.
He offered her $800,000 cash, no appraisal, no agents, no inspection. Within a couple of days, she agreed to a deal that sounded too good to be true—in large part, she says, because he promised her he loved the house as much as she did.
Baton Rouge being what it is, it didn’t take long for word to get out that Laubscher had a purchase agreement on the property. In mid-February, someone posted on Nextdoor.com that the buyer planned to demolish the house and subdivide the property into four lots.
The post was later removed, but Singleton was suspicious. She texted Laubscher. He denied the rumors in a text message on Feb. 20, saying, “… this same situation arose when we rehabbed an old Sears Roebuck home on Richland Avenue. … People started saying we were going to subdivide it and build new homes. We saved it. … We try to preserve the area … Right now we’re looking at this the same way. I … LOVE this area and your home. …”
Fears assuaged, the Singletons went forward with the sale on March 15. The next week, Laubscher brought a contractor through. Following the visit, he texted Singleton with some bad news—the contractor’s estimate to fix up the house was $500,000, minimum. It might not be possible at that price to save the dream house after all, his message suggested.
Singleton was livid and says she “felt like she’d been duped.”
She got even more upset when, days later, she found out that literally moments after she left the closing, Jason and Whitney Laubscher sold the house to Jason Laubscher’s development company, Magnolia Home Building and Renovation, and Lseymour LLC, owned by James Seymour. Court records show the documents were filed just moments apart.
Laubscher was traveling and unavailable to explain his actions or detail his plans. Seymour is vague and cannot explain the curious sales transactions.
He at once professes his “passion” for the house and insists both partners want to “make the property fabulous again.” But he won’t say whether the “property” includes the house, or just the spacious acreage. Nor will he promise the house won’t be torn down because, he says, “I don’t know at this point what the plans are.”
“No one wants to see it torn down,” he goes on to say. “But it takes a lot of money … and we have a business to run.” He says they want to make something work for the whole community but that they need help.
Investors? Tax incentives? A buyer to take this historic home off their hands?
Perhaps, Seymour says, who adds he wants to work with the community.
In recent days, Preserve Louisiana has gotten involved. So has the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. They’re meeting with Seymour and Laubscher on April 22, hoping to convince them save something that is unique to Baton Rouge and gives it character.
It’s too soon to say whether they’ll be successful. But it’s clear that those who care about the Crawford House and understand why saving it matters will have to find way to make it worthwhile for the new owners to do the right thing. They have to put up more than passionate arguments. They’ll have to come forward with a financially viable solution.