A brick structure seated in downtown Monroe is a relic of a bygone era.
The former Milner Motors Building, located at 212 Walnut St., helps illustrate the early history of the automobile business in Ouachita Parish.
Milner Motors was founded by Louis Milner, Sr., between 1916 and 1920. Milner, a graduate of the School of Architecture at Georgia Tech, accepted a job with the Ford Motor Company when he could no find a job as an architect. He traveled as one of the company's sales representatives until an opportunity arose for him to open his own dealership.
Milner chose Monroe because of the natural gas fields discovered nearby in 1916. Milner believed the discovery would make people more prosperous and more inclined to buy cars.
As an architect, Milner designed, later expanded and remodeled his business himself, choosing the corner of Walnut and Washington streets as its site. The dealership would continue to operate in downtown Monroe until 1956.
The floor plans of the original salesroom and later, repair shop were simple. The salesroom consisted of a large open space whose ceiling is supported by wooden posts. The ceiling was made of pressed metal; interestingly different patterns are used in two places.
The floor was made of terra-cotta colored tile. When first constructed, an elevator, which has since been removed, rose to the second floor from one side of the building, and small spaces for restrooms and storage lined another wall. The concrete ramp changes to wood as it continued to rise inside the building to the second floor. The latter area, where vehicles were stored until sold, was also open except for wooden poles which supported the roof. The lamp rose to a corner, where it made a sharp turn to access the second floor level. The repair shop was one huge room whose roof is supported by wooden posts. The roof features wooden trusses and is pierced by skylights.
During the 1930s, Milner added a filling station to the structure. To create the necessary space, Milner opened the front of the building by removing the plate glass display windows from the façade, using recycled materials, in a new, recessed location, although he did slightly change the window pattern.
Today, most of Monroe's earliest car dealerships are not just closed, but gone. Milner Motors is one of two dealerships dating back to the 1920s whose buildings remain. A third dealership dating back to the 1940s or 1950s is located on the outskirts of the central business district. Three historic filling stations survive, but two of these have been remodeled to the extent that their integrity is lost.
In 1956, Milner sold his interest in the dealership and sold the building to the Biedenharn family, who owned the Coca-Cola bottling plant across the street. The building was used for storage, then was later leased to a company selling used office furniture.
The building has been converted to offices that has housed an architectural firm and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. The property is currently owned by NLA Property Management, according to Ouachita Parish Tax Assessor records.
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This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Former Milner Motors Co. building in Monroe listed on National Register