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By: Concerned Citizens

The Sorry State of Estates for September tells the story of one of the important buildings in downtown Opelousas. The building is historic — we know that.  But it is much more important to the Opelousas business community history. The reason is because of its location on that southwest corner of Main and Grolée streets, one of the oldest areas in our downtown. That intersection of Main and Grolée streets has been a hub for commercial activity for over 200 years, and there has been a business on that southwest corner for all those years. This is what we know.

Southwest Corner of Main and Grolée Streets
Since the beginning of Opelousas as we know it today, that corner of Main and Grolée streets proved to be a prime commercial location.  Main Street, running from north to south, was one of the first roads travel in the community since its beginnings, and Grolée Street is also one of the oldest.  Although it was first known by a different name, Grolée Street running from east to west across the north part of the city, was renamed by the Opelousas Board of Police on March 19, 1834. It was called Grolée in honor of Dr Benoit Grolée, an early Opelousas physician loved by all the town’s citizens.

Different businesses located on that corner from time to time over the years. Seeing that it was a prime business location, in 1886 J. Kossuth Sandoz had a new building constructed on that corner. He opened his mercantile establishment on the bottom floor and lived with his family on the top floor. In 1890 he enlarged his store building to have room for his rapidly growing business.

Who was J. Kossuth Sandoz?
Born on September 30, 1854, in Louisiana, Jean Kossuth was the son of Fritz Louis Sandoz (1822-1864), of Neuchatel, Switzerland and Clarice Ney Sandoz (1826-1901). He was an older brother to J. B. Sandoz, a well-known Opelousas businessman and community leader.

J. Kossuth, sometimes known as J. K. was educated in St. Landry Parish and following his schooling, he became a printer and newspaper man. In 1876, Sandoz started The Washington Enterprise newspaper in Washington, LA. Due to lack of local support, he had to discontinue that paper less than a year later in 1877. He is described in an article about the paper as “a young printer who was not afraid of work or privations, and who’d rolled up his sleeves in taking up the management of this little paper. He worked like a brave young boy for the past four months, without making anything other than a meagre livelihood.” That article in the Opelousas Courier on Saturday, April 14, 1877, concluded by saying the citizens of Washington missed a fine opportunity to support a newspaper published entirely in their interests.

But J. K. was not finished with his newspaper work. Just a few years later in 1881 he started the Washington Argus, a weekly paper published in English only.

Also, during 1881, on Thursday, November 3, J. Kossuth Sandoz, editor of the Washington Argus, married Annie B. Chenier (1860 – 1926), only daughter of Joseph Chenier (1831 – 1908) and Louise Annie Aguillard Chenier (1833 – 1873) of Washington, LA. At the Immaculate Conception Church in that town. The couple had two children, Alma Sandoz and Jose Sandoz.

A few years later, J. K. sold his newspaper to the other Sandoz family, owners of the Opelousas Courier. The Washington Argus went out of business on Saturday, January 28, 1893.

It was after the sale of the paper that J. Kossuth and his family moved to Opelousas where he opened his mercantile business in 1886 in his new building on the corner of Grolée and Main streets.  Although he was now in the retail, and wholesale business, he was still involved in the newspaper business and eventually was again part owner of the new Washington Enterprise, opened in the 1890s and continued publishing until the early 1900s. He also helped with the printing of the Opelousas Courier from time to time.

J. K. Sandoz store building increased in size (Opelousas Courier, May 3, 1890.)

Sandoz continued to operate his store in Opelousas through the end of the 19th century into the start of the 20th century. He was also very involved in farming, owning a farm just outside of Opelousas, and in St. Landry Parish politics. After serving on the Opelousas Board of Police, and the St. Landry Parish Police Jury, he ran for state representative in 1907, but did not win that election.

He continued working in his business and retired just a few years prior to his death at his home in Opelousas on Saturday, March 23, 1912. His obituary stated the following on his life: “In 1907, Mr. Sandoz ran for State Representative from St. Landry Parish. He was well known throughout St. Landry Parish. He owned a large merchant store in Opelousas for several years. He was involved in area businesses and in politics in the parish. He served on the City Council and his name was inscribed on the corner stone of the Public Town Market. He served as a member of the police Jury and worked on many public improvements over the years. He established the first newspaper in Washington, the Washington Enterprise. He was also very versed in agriculture and owned a farm on the outskirts of Opelousas after he retired from his mercantile business.” He is buried in the St. Landry Catholic Church Cemetery.

A few years following the death of J. Kossuth Sandoz, his widow sold the store building on the corner of Main and Grolée streets to Dr. Oliver Perry “O. P.” Daly in 1916.

The St. Landry Sanatorium pictured in the J. Kossuth Sandoz Building soon after it opened in 1916. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)

St. Landry Sanatorium
Although there were physicians at the Opelousas Post by 1780, the town of Opelousas did not have a hospital until the 20th century. The first official hospital in Opelousas was the St. Landry Sanitarium (aka Opelousas Sanitarium), established by Dr. Oliver Perry Daly in 1916. It was located at the SW corner of Grolee and Main streets in the building constructed in 1886 by J. Kossuth Sandoz.

Talk of getting a Sanitarium for Opelousas began in 1914. The Opelousas newspapers published articles about this subject throughout that year, but the town and the medical society could not reach an agreement on the location of the hospital, or how it would be run. Finally in 1915, Dr. Daly announced he would open a sanitarium/hospital in Opelousas, which he did the following year.

The St. Landry Sanitarium was the center of activity over those years of its operation, but especially during the Great Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. Dr. Shute, who was associated with the sanitarium, turned the building over to the city for the Red Cross to use at that time.

Eventually the city owned building, that housed the Sanitarium, was sold it 1919, to W. S. Sandoz for $7,500. He continued to let the hospital use the top floor, and a business was located on the first floor of the J. Kossuth Sandoz Building.

A short time later, the hospital closed. Dr. Daly opened another hospital called the St. Landry Clinic on North Market Street. About that same time in 1923-24, St Rita’s Infirmary was opened on South Main Street by Dr. Lionel Bienvenu.

The old J. Kossuth Sandoz building on the Grolée and Main Street corner hosted different businesses through the 1920s and 1930s until it was purchased by A. M. “Mert” Landry in 1944.

A. M. Landry, The Food Mart and J. G. Caillouet
A. M. Landry owned a grocery store in Opelousas, opened in 1942 at 803 N. Court Street. In 1944, Landry purchased the old Sandoz Building and had it completely remodeled and repaired. In February of 1945 the A. M. Landry Grocery Store opened for business in the Sandoz building. In 1947 the grocery expanded in the building and became The Food Mart, owned and operated by Landry with Leslie Harris as the manager.

Landry sold the building and the grocery business to Gordon “J. G.” Caillouet in February of 1948. Caillouet operated the Caillouet Food Mart in the building until about 1954.

The Sterling Hotel (135 West Grolée Street)
Also, during 1954, the Sterling Hotel that was originally located on Bellevue Street, between Court and Main Street, moved its operation to the top floor of the J. Kossuth Sandoz Building. At that time people lived in the three apartments located on that floor, with a dark stairway leading to the living quarters from the Grolée Street (135 West Grolée Street.) side entrance. The hotel/apartments remained there until 1958 when that business closed, selling all its furniture and appliances to the public during that year.

Western Auto Associate Store
When the Caillouet Foot Mart stopped doing business, Foster P. Nash opened the Western Auto Associate Store in the old Sandoz building in 1955. Nash operated his Western Auto Store there until 1964 when he moved it to a different location.

The Gil and Ray Television and Appliance Store
Owned by Gil Vidrine and Raymond Blanchard, the store first opened in Opelousas sometime in the late 1950s. As the business grew it needed a larger space. It moved to a new location on West Landry Street, next to Meche’s in the fall of 1961.

After Western Auto moved from the Sandoz Building, in August of 1965, the Gil and Ray Television and Appliance Store moved again, advertising it was in downtown Opelousas at 267 North Main Street, next door to Lafleur Tot ’N’ Teen Shop. It remained in the old Sandoz building until the fall of 1969. After that the business was advertised as Gil’s Carry-In TV Service, owned by Gil Vidrine, located at 634 W. Landry Street.

In 1983 the First National Bank purchased the building at the southwest corner of Main and Grolée streets. The bank did a major renovation to the building completely redoing the entire facade. It was used to house the bank’s Operation Center (Booking and Data Processing departments.)

When the bank did not have any more use for the building, it was sold and had different owners over the years. It was eventually donated to the City of Opelousas that owns it today.

This significant building is a fine example of an Opelousas commercial building from the past. When first constructed it was said to be one of the finest business sites in the town, and one of the best constructed buildings in Opelousas. It featured 8,400 square feet of high ceilings and hand carved woodwork throughout. In its earlier years, the exterior also featured wrought iron balconies. Bringing this building back to life and putting it again into commerce would ensure that southwest corner of Main and Grolée streets would remain a prime commercial space in this historic downtown.

Something to think about.


The J. Kossuth Sandoz Building that once housed the St. Landry Sanatorium as it appears today on one of the most significant historic commercial corners in downtown Opelousas.

Watch for another look at the Sorry State of Estates in Opelousas in our October article.

-A paid message by concerned citizens for a BETTER OPELOUSAS-

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