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A R C H I T E C T, E N T R E P R E N E U R , H U M A N I TA R I A N
P AST ,
BUILDS FOR THE
STORY BY ROBYN JACKSON PHOTOS COURTESY ALBERT & ASSOCIATES
30 • south mississippi scene
HATTIESBURG CONVENTION CENTER
Architecture became Albert’s passion when he was a student at Hattiesburg High School in 1970 and took a drafting class that would change his life.
Larry Albert has emerged as one of Mississippi’s top architects, thanks to his deft touch at combining traditional, iconic design with modern aesthetics. “Larry is very important, he’s done a lot of outstanding work,” said Ken P’Pool, deputy state historic preservation officer with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “We work with a lot of fine architects, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a finer individual than Larry. A lot of people probably don’t know how much free work he does for these projects.”
Albert brings a sense of place to his designs, whether he’s restoring an old building or designing something new and modern, said Betsy Rowell, executive director of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. “He builds buildings that are people places, that we can be proud of for generations,” Rowell said. “He’s able to capture something with his buildings.” She points to the contemporary, cutting edge design of the Mississippi Crafts Center, which sits next to the Natchez Trace in Ridgeland, as an example.”It’s a modern build-
ing, but it becomes part of the land. It becomes part of the Natchez Trace. You look out the back of it and you just feel the history of the state.” Hattiesburg-based Albert & Associates has done a number of high-profile, award-winning restorations, such as the Perry County Courthouse, and new projects, including the Mississippi School of the Arts Student Life Center in Brookhaven, the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County, the Lake Terrace Convention Center and the Trent Lott Center, which is under construction at the University of Southern
south mississippi scene • 31
TRENT LOTT CENTER
LAMAR COUNTY COURTHOUSE
Mississippi. But it’s his restoration of Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, that could be his crowning glory. The Biloxi landmark, which was built in 1852 and purchased by Davis 14 years later, was almost washed away by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, and is one of the few historical structures on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to survive the storm. “That’s a very difficult project, but Larry and his staff have done an excellent job,” P’Pool said. “It was obvious, when we saw there was extreme damage, we knew it would be a massive project.” Albert had started restoring Beauvoir in 1990, doing the work bit by bit as money became available. “We had just a little more painting and it would have been finished,” he said. He was one of the first nonemergency workers allowed down to the beachfront in the days after Katrina. “I went on Sept. 9. The 8th was the first day my company got power back. The governor’s office faxed us a pass. I remember telling my wife if there was anything left, it will be saved.” Albert was shocked by the damage. Five of the seven outbuildings on the 52-acre property, including the cottages that flanked the raised main house, and the old hospital that had built for Confederate veterans and was later turned into a museum, were washed away. The main house remained, but the wrap-around porches and graceful front staircase were gone. Eight inches of water inside the main house had left mold and stripped away paint from the handpainted wall murals. Irreplaceable artifacts, including some of Davis’ manuscripts, were swept back into
PERRY COUNTY COURTHOUSE
the sound by the storm surge. “I was devastated,” Albert recalls. “I literally was crying to see how much devastation there was.” But instead of giving up, Albert said he got his steam up and got to work rebuilding the antebellum structure and repainting the murals. Workers installed stainless steel braces and rods to make the structure even stronger. He said the $4 million project, which has gotten national news coverage, should be completed by the end of the year. “It’s going to be nicer and more authentic than it’s been in my lifetime,” Albert said. “We made it back like when Jefferson Davis lived in it.” Architecture became Albert’s passion when he was a student at Hattiesburg High School in 1970 and took a drafting class that would change his life.
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personalities: larry albertcontributors
“My mom wanted me to be a doctor,” said Albert, who was even president of the Pre-Med Club at Hattiesburg High. But when his drafting teacher told him that he’d never seen anyone catch on as fast as Albert had, he began to envision a career as an architect. “It was a God-given gift,” Albert said, adding that he was allowed to teach art classes to juniors and seniors at the high school even though he was still a student there himself. Surprisingly, his classmates respected him. “At the time, it all seemed very natural,” he said, chuckling about the improbability of such a thing happening today. Albert studied art at the
University of Southern Mississippi for a year but his mother encouraged him to become an architect so he could make a living. About that time Mississippi State University opened its School of Architecture, and Albert became the first student to earn an architecture degree from MSU, in 1978. Albert served an internship from 1978-81 with Jacksonbased Barlow and Plunkett, which was one of the largest architectural firms in Mississippi, and then moved to Houston, Texas, to work for another firm for four years before opening his own firm. Eventually, though, he decided to return to his hometown of
Hattiesburg, although his wife, Gail, and children were not so happy about leaving the big city and all its attractions. “I dragged my wife and children back,” Albert said. “They loved Houston. They thought we had moved to the podunkest town.” In Houston, Albert was working on “glitzy glass towers,” but he wanted to restore historic buildings and design new structures that reflected the past, and opened Albert & Associates in 1995. It now has 13 full-time employees, including senior architect Chris Robinson, construction administrators Jimmy Stewart and Randy McCaffery, project architect Sarah Newton, landscape
WOODLAND HILLS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH HATTIESBURG, MS
MS CRAFT CENTER PHOTO BY ALAN KARCHMER
HATTIESBURG PUBLIC LIBRARY
designer Sally Hughes, design visualization artist Bo Howard, intern architect Sean Bensley, and office manager Janet Wade. “We have the best talent in the state,” Albert said, “and I think our track record speaks for itself.” One of the most obvious examples of his design philosophy is the new Hattiesburg library on Hardy Street, which won the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for its design in 1997. The curving, double staircase at the back of the main room of that building is a replica of the stairs on the outside of the original library on Main Street, which is now the Hattiesburg Cultural Center. The massive red tile roof and huge, arched windows recall the old library, and the Mississippi Tower on the front right corner pays homage to the bell tower at Bay Street Presbyterian Church. “I spent a lot of time in the old building and had a love for it,” he said.
“He’s an excellent architect in new design,” P’Pool said. “He’s very sensitive in picking up on icons in the community that have meaning, so there’s a certain continuity of design. These are projects that are totally new design, but that fit their need in the community.” Hattiesburg’s Lake Terrace Convention Center is another example of this, Rowell said. “If you look at that building, you see elements of buildings all over Hattiesburg. He really captures the community.” Albert said you can see a rendering of the dome of the USM Administration Building, which was designed by Coast architect Vinson Smith, near the entrance to the convention center. The iconic design had a big influence on him. “I had just finished the renovation of the Aubrey Lucas Administration Building,” Albert said. “The profile of the dome is on the front of the convention center. I have respect for those old heritage icons.”
The Trent Lott Center at USM also includes iconic elements and classic architectural design, but Albert said he is “modernizing the heck out of it.” Albert, who has served two terms as president of the Hattiesburg Downtown Association, was named Best Design Professional in 2007 by the Mississippi Main Street Association because of his work restoring several buildings in downtown Hattiesburg, including the 1905 Bufkin-Cadenhead Building, which houses his firm, and the former Roseberry Piano House, where wife Gail’s A Gallery is now located. “He has been a huge supporter of downtown development,” Rowell said. “He really is committed. He’s terrific to work with. When he’s committed to something, he’s passionate about it.” Albert said his favorite project is the Salvation Army chapel in Hattiesburg, but he is also proud of the atrium of the
SAENGER THEATRE HATTIEBURG, MS
BEAUVOIR, BILOXI MS
THAD COCHRAN CENTER UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MS PHOTO BY HUBERT WORLEY
Trent Lott Center. “It’s one of those spaces that’s real simple in that it’s circular, but it’s got a suspended glass staircase.” With the building still under construction, he’s only seen it come together in bits and pieces. The terrazzo tile floor has been laid, he said, but it’s now covered by plywood to protect it as construction continues. “It’s like seeing each little piece of it come alive,” he said. One of Albert & Associates’ next big projects is the renovation of the old Hattiesburg High School on Main Street, which was gutted by an arsonist’s fire in 2007. It
SALVATION ARMY CHAPEL HATTIESBURG, MS
was slated to become the home of the Southern Miss art department. All that remains now is the brick shell of the building. P’Pool calls that project “Herculean,” but adds that it can be done. “Those who really understand historic buildings and how they’re put together, it’s not a process that we back up from at all. Larry’s that kind of person.” Rowell said she has no doubt Albert will get the job done, and that the building will inspire pride in Hattiesburg residents. “He doesn’t build a building for a few years, he builds it for a hundred years,” Rowell said.
OFFICE OF ALBERT & ASSOCIATES HATTIEBURG, MS
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI ADMINISTRATION BUILDING
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