Hays Town At Home

Photo by Philip Gould

The master architect, A Hays Town, was a friend of mine. He passed away a few years ago at the age of 101. Although in recent years, he was not as well known nationally as he deserved, he was the master of Southern(especially Louisiana) vernacular architecture.

At a time when traditional architecture was frowned upon by the architectural elite, he was its greatest proponent. In the 1930s, Mr. Town was on the cutting edge of modern architecture. One of his ultra-modern ‘poured in place’ concrete school buildings made the cover of Life magazine. In his 60’s, he ‘retired’ from modern commercial architecture to pursue his passion-traditional, residential architecture. He said, “residential architecture is personal,” and that is why some architects love designing homes and additions, and others can’t be bothered.

Mr. Town was the first architect I knew of who used recycled building materials on a daily basis. He did so not out of thrift or to save the planet, but because those materials had a history and a patina that was irreplaceable.

As an architectural student in Louisiana, I knew the work of A Hays Town very well. During those long hot summers, I would often work on construction sites, and as luck had it, I ended up on one of Mr. Towns.

I recall looking across the room at a man in his 70s on a step ladder. He was rubbing steel wool on some wood panels to show a finisher the level of color and hue he expected. I introduced myself and asked him about the profession of Architecture. He then, in his inimitable gentlemanly manner, spent an hour or so discussing the joy of building and invited me to tour his home. From that point forward, I would periodically stop by to visit and later call, from New York to keep in touch.

He was a rare individual who is said to have designed over 1000 houses. Each homeowner felt honored to live in one of his thoughtfully designed homes.

In 1999 Philip Gould and Cyril E. Vetter produced the wonderful homage to A Hays Town in the book “The Louisiana Houses of A. Hays Town”-available through the Merritt bookstore as well as Amazon.com.

Mr. Town influenced many young architects, myself included. His work will continue to influence Architecture, perhaps for centuries.

One Of A Thousand Homes Designed By TownPorch On Hays Town Home
Photos by Philip Gould

About the Author: James Crisp

James M. Crisp has been an architect for well over 30 years. His architectural firm, Crisp Architects, designs projects throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In April of 2007, Taunton Press published 'On the Porch' by James M. Crisp and Sandra Mahoney.

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    Bill Hopkins September 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you Mr. Crisp for your recollections of Mr. Hays. I too am an architect and avid fan of his “elegant and earthy” architecture. I’ve introduced his work to a number of clients and younger architects. Wish I could see a broader anthology of the great body of work. Regards.
    Bill Hopkins

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    un.quietman November 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

    thank you for this.
    Can't wait to collect the above book.
    Kind regards,
    Sean Foley

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    Todd Sauls July 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Mr. Crisp,
    i love to hear about folks who add to such an amazing architect’s legacy. thanks!

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    Tina Hodde October 27, 2015 at 11:52 am

    would you happen to know how I can get the shutter color Mr. Town used on this bookcover?

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    L.H. Potter August 30, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    I worked for an architectural firm in Jackson, MS in the late 60’s thru 70’s. I was a draftsman, etc. for a firm that Mr. Town was a part of. After a few years, the firm decided to move to newer office space. Being the newest man on the block, so to speak; I was asked to clean out the drawing vault, and to throw away all drawings that did not have an active job number.
    After a week or so, I ran across a set of preliminary drawings, drawn by Mr. Town, in 1928-29. The set was in pencil, with a slight splash of color for highlighting. These were not given a job number, and I was told to throw them out! I couldn’t! I went to one of the principal owner/architect and asked him what to do. He asked if the drawings were catalogued with a job number. I told him they had not.., and then waited for a response. After a few minutes, I was again instructed to throw them out! It was then that I stood up and said I can’t! They are beautiful, and represent a Masters artwork! The response back was: ” well Mr. Potter, what do you suppose we do with them?” I stammered a little, and then blurted out, “let me have them!” ” I’ll keep them, frame them, and hang them on my wall at home.” After a few minutes, I was told to take them home, and he thanked me for being responsible enough to want to save the work of a Master.
    Now, after almost 50 years, and my wife totally disabled with M.S., it’s time to let someone else enjoy the works of a Master Architect. I need to sell the set to offset hospital, and cost of caring for her. I don’t have a value on them, but I know that other works of Mr. Town are substantial. If you, or any associates are interested…, I’m sure we can work out the details. Please call (336) 662-5955 if at all interested. Thanks,
    Lawrence H. “Pinky” Potter.

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    L.H. Potter August 30, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for any interest.

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    Robert Evans March 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Is this house available for sale?What is the asking price?

    How many bedrooms and bathrooms are there? What is the total square footage of living space waxing

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    James Crisp June 11, 2017 at 4:01 pm
      Can you take a picture and send it to me
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    Houston Lirette January 6, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks Jimmy….!!! I had forgotten about your wonderful experience of meeting Mr. Town. I do remember that one of our classmates, Page Ong did work for him for some time.

    His work is timeless and I’ll never forget him.

    Do you recall that Mr. Town, early in his career was hired by some government agency to document the significant plantation homes in the south?

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    Houston Lirette January 6, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    Oh, by the way, I do have a copy of ‘the book’!

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    James Crisp January 6, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    No, I didn’t know that. I’ll try to look that up. JC

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    Camille Domingue January 19, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    I am from Lafayette, Louisiana. My father Fred Domingue was a master carpenter. Mister Hayes used to come to our house where my Dad’s workshop was. My father hand carved many a mantles for Mr. Hayes. My father was quite old when the book first came out. I immediately got a signed copy and went to his house for coffee. We flipped through the pages visiting a lot of his old work. I remember my Dad sitting at our kitchen table carving the sunbursts by hand that were placed on the mantle fronts. I didn’t know it, but he told me that day he burned his signature into the back side of his pieces. My Dad has been gone nearly 20 years. I still dream that I will come across one of his pieces in an antique shop one day!

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    James Crisp January 19, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    Dear Camille,

    That is a great memory of Mr. Town and your father. I work with some craftsmen, like your father, and they make my practice a real pleasure. I hope you do find one of his mantels some where.

    Jimmy Crisp

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