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Friday, Feb. 11, 2022

The History of 611 Cotton Street

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New opportunities for 1927 property: Now available for purchase

In the early 1920s, Cotton Street in downtown Shreveport was not as it looks today. The street wasn’t far removed from the former waterfront of Silver Lake (Lake Street) and was filled with a variety of homes, from stately mansions to smaller single families to those with rooms for rent. In 1919, 611 Cotton was the residence of one J.J. Kline, who made at least part of his living running a boarding house.

In 1920, Mr. Kline apparently decided to get out of the rooms-for-let business and sold the property to the Newsom Battery Company, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the structure is now known as the Porter Howard Garage was built.

V.M. Mahr was the first owner, spending $125,000 for a 56,000-square-foot, threestory (and basement) garage building constructed for Roby Motors, which was moving from their smaller location on Milam Street.

The building was touted as being the “largest building of this kind in this part of the state” and was “spacious, well-lighted and fireproof.” The “palatial” first floor of the dealership was large enough to house as many as 20 cars, and a great selling feature was the concrete driving ramps that allowed attendants to move cars faster than they were able to with freight elevators.

The construction of the building was lightning fast. In July, the city issued the building permit, and Roby Motors threw open its doors in October of the same year. For 12 years, Roby Motors sold Reo and Franklin cars. Never heard of them? You are not alone. The early 1900s was like the Wild West in the nascent automotive industry. There were no “Big Three” automakers dominating the landscape. It was open, fertile, virgin territory, and hundreds of small and local automotive manufacturers were jumping into the fray.

Ransom Eli Olds

Reo was one of the more legitimate ones. The business was created and owned time. By the time Roby Motors opened in by Ransom E. Olds (Oldsmobile), who already had “street cred” by the time Roby opened. His cars and heavy-duty trucks had been on the market since 1905. His Reo “Speedwagon” truck line was already legendary for its toughness and reliability. Later, it would provide the name for a 1927, one of Reo’s prime offerings was the beautiful Flying Cloud sedan, a number of which graced the Roby showroom floor.

1929 Reo Flying Cloud

The Franklin Automobile Company was the brainchild of Herbert H. Franklin. Though his business was never very profitable, his cars had air-cooled engines famous rock band. Reo’s innovations, such and were considered responsive in as hydraulic brakes, were far ahead of their handling and fun to drive, though a bit odd-looking because no radiator was needed.

1927 Franklin IIB air-cooled touring car

The cars were so odd-looking that by the 1920s, Franklin redesigned them to have a squared-off front grill to “fake” the look of a radiator. Franklin was also the first to use aluminum extensively to lighten their vehicles. By 1928, Franklin was using so much that his company was the largest user of aluminum in the entire world.

The Roby Motors dealership at 611 Cotton stayed open until 1940, when it changed to Roby Furniture. For the next 22 years, it was one of the many furniture stores that populated Cotton Street, Milam Street and Texas Avenue. After closing in 1962, the business sold and reopened as Porter-Howard Garage offering complete automotive repair services and parking in one convenient location.

Porter Howard stayed in business for roughly 40 more years. The current owner uses the space for private storage. The neat thing is that you can still see shadows of the former lives of the building.

If you look closely at the outside signage (even on the neon sign), you can make out “Roby” in the background, proof that the history of our downtown buildings continues to live on, even today.

611 Cotton Street has just been put on the market for an asking price of $810,000. This price includes the adjacent 51-space surface parking lot. For additional information or to schedule a tour, please contact Kyle Southard @ 318.900.1070 and/or Trenton Siskron @ 318.213.1555.

Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at liz@downtownshreveport.com

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