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Historic Garyville buildings renovated to event venue

GARYVILLE — The historic Gary State Bank opened in 1908 near one of the most prosperous cypress mills in the world.

Over the years, the bank has transformed into a family home, a bar and a spot for musicians to host Thursday night jam sessions. It will now serve the community as an event rental venue, according to building owner R.J. Ory.

Renovations will be complete by late August or early September, Ory said. Construction of a new walkway will connect the Gary State Bank to the historic General Store, offering approximately 3,400 square feet for bridal showers, class reunions and other gatherings.

“In the courtyard between the buildings, on the back side, there was a smaller barn. We took that and used it to connect all the buildings together so you can flow from one part to the other. We’ve also had bathrooms put in. Downstairs, there will now be two handicap facility bathrooms,” Ory said.

The new walkway will also make use of old brick from the courtyard and reclaimed lumber from the barn. A wrought iron fence and handrails will stretch across the front of the rental space.

The walkway construction involves the use of reclaimed cypress.

“We’re keeping as much of the original as we could. At one time there was a good-sized bar built in the bank. We took that out and opened the whole inside up,” Ory said. “On the backside there will be a smaller bar built that’s actually going to incorporate some of the old bank teller windows. The inside will be original, nothing changed or added, just opened up. The old safe will still be there, and that area will be cleaned up and utilized.”

Ory said the bank will be an area to hang out and have a drink, while the general store will provide room for tables where guests can sit down and eat. There is a room set off to the side for caterers to use for food preparation.

“People are looking for unique type places to have events. I think this offers that,” Ory said. “Garyville itself is a great little town, a great area. I think it’s kind of a center point where you can draw a lot of people in. A lot of people are looking for the old Main Street Style. There are very few of those areas left, and Garyville does have some unique buildings to it.”

The renovation is funded through the Place-Based Investment zero percent interest loan program, which encourages economic development and resilience by supporting small businesses and property owners in key corridors of the parish.

Former Parish President Natalie Robottom presented checks for the first round of investment projects in December 2019.

Two $50,000 loans were awarded to GSB, LLC and earmarked for exterior wood and porch repairs, window replacement, exterior painting, brick repair, door replacement and courtyard improvements at the Garyville Bank and the General Store on Historic Main Street.

Other checks presented in December 2019 are funding improvements at the Garyville Timbermill Museum Building, as well as column repair and siding, window and door replacements at Fatty’s Restaurant in Garyville.

The project is funded through repayments from the Hurricane Isaac CDBG Small Business Loan Program, according to St. John Parish administration. It is overseen by the Planning and Zoning Department, the Economic Development Department and the South Central Planning and Development Commission.

Garyville native Carl Monica said the Place-Based Investment funds are a start, but there is still much work to be done.

“We have a national historic district right here,” Monica said. “We need the parish to really understand how important this district is and do more for it because we are the only part of the parish that has a cluster of historic buildings all in one spot. The plantation houses are spread out very, very far from each other. Here, we have the bank, the museum and other buildings in town including an old school that needs to be saved. We’re optimistic to see how it comes out and have some functions there.”

The historic buildings have been featured in film productions, including Netflix’s The Highwaymen, and they carry a fascinating history.

According to Monica, there was a time when Garyville was the biggest town between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The booming cypress mill was prosperous, while the railroad made Garyville easily accessible.

Investors built Gary State Bank in 1908. It closed in the early 1930s with the Great Depression. Monica’s maternal grandfather purchased it soon after, and it became a residence for the Navarra family.

Monica recalls his family lived there for about 13 years after the property was given to his mother. After it was passed down to him, Monica tried to reopen the Gary State Bank doors in the late 70s and early 80s.

“I started to work commercial real estate more and more so I gave it up, and it stayed vacant for a long time,” Monica said. “In the past eight to 10 years, we’ve started using it for different things like music. It was an open venue for jam session music, and that’s kind of where the Sings and Strings Jam Fest derived.”

For more information about the event rental facility, please contact The Bank on Facebook.