If you have driven past 724 McNeil Street, you have seen all the scaffolding there. The one-time Municipal Court Building, now a Verizon Communications Building, is getting a tip to top exterior tuck pointing, repair and waterproofing to protect both the building and the equipment inside. Interior work includes painting, flooring, new bathrooms and new HVAC. All, depending on supply chain, should be completed by the end of 2023.
While the mission of the building now requires few humans, that has not always been the case.
In April of 1924, the doors to 724 McNeil opened for business to the strains of the El Karubah Band. Citizens of Shreveport were invited to walk through the new jewel in the public safety crown, the new Municipal Court Building, a Classical Revival-style, Indiana Stone (limestone) clad building designed by none other than Shreveport’s own, architect Edward F. Neild. No doubt it was quite a night, because, as you can see, the ladies were ‘Especially Invited.’
The stately building was the epicenter of law enforcement in the city. In a 1922 newspaper article, Commissioner R. L. Stringfellow praised the building as ‘all that is modern in municipal building construction.’ The three-story building would house the jail on the top floor with space for 84 men in cells equipped with hot and cold running water, tubs and shower baths. The municipal garage, an apartment for lost and found items and a laundry would be found in the basement, and police offices would occupy the first floor. Courtrooms and the private judicial chambers would be on the second floor.
By 1958, the court, police department and jail had been relocated to the new city hall complex on Texas Avenue, and the building fell into the hands of a succession of private owners. Over the years, the interior, which we believe was once quite beautiful, was extensively remodeled with the addition of spray foam insulation, drop down ceilings, paneling and other interior finishes the 1980s thought wonderful. Luckily, small bits of the initial beauty, craftsmanship and attention to detail remain.
The exterior is still grand, with imposing lamp standards at the bottom of the sweeping staircase. Architectural detail surrounds the entrance door and the entablature (the horizontal gold line between the windows) is detailed and beautiful.
The Municipal Court Building in marble is above the door indicating what this place used to be.
Sadly, at some point the soaring ceiling on the third floor was covered in a fire retardant/insulating foam, covering whatever was beautiful underneath, wood or perhaps even a mural. The winding staircase made of metal and marble that leads from the 1st floor to the 2nd, is remarkable.
At the top is the single remaining period light fixture, a gorgeous metal chandelier bedecked with copper flowers.
Interesting, too, is the stair treads from the basement to the first floor. They are much more heavily worn that the higher-floor treads.
Marble is a soft stone, but this does indicate heavy foot traffic over the years. We have heard the rumor that this is because of the ‘leg irons’ once worn by prisoners, but that would have created chinks and divots in the marble, too. This wear is more likely the result of more general foot traffic. The building at 724 McNeil is now being used for equipment for a major cellphone services provider.
This is one of the many buildings downtown that represent a variety of architectural styles and craftsmanship that has been lost through the years. It is yet another part of the story of Shreveport.