The historic Lanford (on the left) and Rubenstein’s buildings.

In late 2019, in the days just before ‘Covid’ became a household word, the Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to encouraging business and revitalizing downtown with a goal of saving our inventory of historic buildings, received the donation of the historic Rubenstein’s Department Store buildings. The Lanford and Rubenstein buildings that comprise 513 to 519 Milam Street, right across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse, were bustling retail stores for most of their history. By the time the Rubenstein’s closed in 1987, most retail business had moved to malls, or closed entirely. Certainly the memories of shopping there remain for many.

In 2009, The Downtown Development Authority paid for an extensive study called the Center City Living Report that showed the possibility of alternate uses for these buildings and others, but that was early on in downtown’s era of ‘Adaptive Reuse.’ It was also before the successes of the Lofts at 624 (former Sears Department Store) and The Standard 509 (former bank) and interest was lacking.

A popular apartment conversion. The Lofts at 624, 624 Texas St.

For much of the last 35 years, the buildings have been lifeless, used mainly for storage of things that no one wanted when they had it and immediately forgotten about when put somewhere else. The sheer volume of items made walking through the buildings and being able to see beyond the clutter to the structure, difficult. The buildings also began suffering mightily from roof leaks and overall lack of maintenance.

Once acquired, DSDC hired an electrician to set up service so that sump pumps could operate as well as some lighting, and paid to have the contents cleaned out, filling dumpster after dumpster with things like car parts and moldering stacks of sheet rock and inoperative kitchen equipment, finally getting the building into a state to show it to potential developers. The goal was to get the buildings into the hands of a developer with desire, knowledge, skill and resources whose vision for the building worked for downtown.

Closing day! Liz Swaine, DSDC Executive Director, and Isaiah Lee, Leeson Real Estate.

All that came together with developer Isaiah Lee, General Contractor and owner of the Leeson Real Estate Investment Firm in Shreveport. Lee has a genetic connection to construction. His father, Wayne Smith, owned a large masonry business, and Isaiah was indoctrinated into the ways of hard work at a young age. “When I was 10 years old, I helped my Mom carry in the groceries and I carried a gallon in each arm,” Lee says. “My Dad saw me and said, ‘If you’re old enough to do that, you’re old enough to push a wheelbarrow’.” Isaiah went from pushing a wheelbarrow to moving around the country working on large projects. His travels took him to large firms doing 500-unit apartment buildings in New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia. He decided to come back home, to use the skills he had learned. Eight years ago, he became a General Contractor (GC) and opened his own business that specializes in giving historic buildings a second chance.


Another proud owner of a Leeson home.

“We have saved 200 houses to date,” he tells me.  Many of the homes he acquires might be considered ‘challenged’ properties, but his goal is to always get the homes into the hands of owners. “Property ownership is how I believe Shreveport will make a comeback,” Lee says. The two buildings on Milam Street are the largest commercial property his business has owned, but his time spent living and working in New York, Chicago and elsewhere give him a great basis on which to start.

He intends to use the beautiful view of the Caddo Parish Courthouse and the greenspace there as a strong selling point. Initial plans are for 20-32 high end apartments ranging from 400SF studio spaces to 1200SF 2-bedroom units. There will be space for paid storage, some office spaces, and retail/restaurant on the ground floors.

Lee’s first goal is to get the roof leaks handled on a least a temporary basis to stop further deterioration, choose an architect and finalize plans, and start rolling. “This the center of downtown, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.” We’re grateful, too, and happy to welcome him. We look forward to another life for two historic spaces that have much more left to give.