First there was a fire that claimed nearly an entire

city block, then, there was progress. Buildings in the downtown area that once

made up the business district of Orange are gone. Some of those buildings were

built before the turn of the 20th Century. The businesses that once

lined Fifth Street from Green Avenue to Front Street and the businesses that

thrived along Front Street are all gone. The Orange National Bank has been replaced

by another, newer building. First National Bank moved from downtown to another

location. The FNB building became the office for the Stark Foundation. Both banks have been sold and resold many

times. The current names are Capital One and Wells Fargo.

Capital One Bank, Farmers Mercantile and The Orange

Stationer, along with the Barking Dog Café are about the only retail businesses

left in downtown Orange. Much has been made of the replacement of historic

buildings with parking lots. That is what happens when things progress.

The world class Lutcher Theater had to have parking

for the patrons. The Stark Art Museum had to have parking for its patrons.

Lamar State College needed parking for the influx of students it had since the

offered programs has expanded, bringing more students to its downtown campus.

What is left in Orange worth saving?

The two top candidates are the old, long closed

Southern Pacific Depot building and the 2.56 acre church plant of First Baptist

Church, notably the main sanctuary. Both buildings are the subject of many

highly charged, emotional, sentimental debates. Overlooked in the building

saving movement is the campus of Emma H. Wallace High School.

Wallace High School is the most damaged, neglected,

ignored building of the three and has a historic value second to none. It was

the center of Black education in Orange for decades and was named for the lady

who was the driving force in Black education in Orange. It is however, not

located in a highly visible area and does not seem to have any support from the

mainstream building-savers.

Standing on John Street and looking through the

front windows, sky is visible. In all probability most of the roof is gone and

the resultant damage to the floors could be bad enough that they may not be

able to be saved. The majority of windows are gone in the original building and

the newer building to its right.

If public support and funding were available, this

building would be a candidate for a very nice community center.

The main building of the First Baptist Church plant

is the Greek Revival sanctuary building, complete with historical marker in


This building has been the subject of burning debate.

According to rumors there was a group that wanted to save the building and stay

in the downtown location. Another group wants to sell the property and move to

the Church’s property north of Orange.

That dispute leaves the survival of the very historical building in


The current owners of the building, the congregation

of First Baptist Church of Orange have the right to do as they wish with their

property. They may or not be bound by whatever regulations go along with a

historical marker. The church members not wanting the building are trying to

sell the building. The new owner would then be able to do whatever they would

wish to do with their building. What could be done with it?

The new owner could keep it as a church, but it

would have to be a church with a large enough membership to afford the expenses

related to the entire church plant. If a civic group banded together and

purchased the building for something such as a performing arts center, or

community center, or local history museum, could they be assured of enough

participation to keep the building in operation?

Downtown Orange is not a top tourist designation. A

sign on the interstate that said “Local History Museum of Orange” would

doubtfully draw many speeding past Orange at 70 miles per hour. The established

Stark Art Museum as fantastic and world class as it is draws visitors, but not

large numbers at a time. Shangri-La has not seen the projected influx of

tourists that they hoped for.

A performing arts center would only appeal to people

with a strong interest in performing arts, not to the general public in enough

numbers to generate meaningful income. How would non-church use provide enough

income to keep up the property?

The old depot is a cute little building that in its

time saw people off to wars and vacations. It is probably the worst candidate

for meaningful use. It is located on a narrow strip of land next to a still in

service railroad track. The building is on a lot elevated six or more feet

above street level. There is very

limited parking available on the same level as the building. For a number of

years the building has been closed, boarded up, broken into, lived in by

vagrants, boarded up again. There have been a couple of fires. There has been

hurricane damage. The roof is in bad repair and the state of the plumbing and

electrical systems are questionable. For

any public use it would have to be made handicap accessible, no small cost.

There have been attempts to buy the building over

the years. Price has been an issue at times and the last attempt by a

prospective buyer with a seemingly workable proposal was shot out to the water

by the school superintendent.

Probably the best use for the depot would be some

sort of niche restaurant, small, intimate, a good place for a quiet meal, and a

few drinks. Drinks? Well, have to rethink that one. That was the problem last


As fine a location as the depot is for an office.

There is the issue of the working track five feet out the door. Freight trains

are long and noisy. There was an old depot freight building in Beaumont

converted to an office and it has worked well, but the tracks were moved years


Orange was a sleepy little town before lumber and World

War II shipyards. It became small town America again after the influx of

wartime industry and population. Economics cost Orange the shipyard and steel

fabrication business. Shipyard work is making a comeback of sorts.

The bottom line about saving buildings is: who

cares? Do enough of the citizens of Orange and the surrounding area really care

about preserving the few historic buildings that are left in Orange? Would

funding be available to purchase any of the buildings? If you save them, what

will they be used for? Where will the income to keep them up come from? Who

will visit and use them? Most importantly, what will be the criteria for

picking and choosing what will be saved?

This issue has to go beyond emotion and be

practical. About the only things left are, a school, a church, and a

depot. Has time passed them by?