In the year 1925, there was no question as to who was the leading colored citizen of Louisiana’s Capitol City – without a doubt the man at the forefront of the civic and business affairs among the colored population was Beverly Victor Baranco, Sr., who generally went by “B. V. Baranco.”
B. V. Baranco stood at the helm of one of the largest fraternal organizations in Louisiana, District Grand Lodge No. 21 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. In 1915, Baranco was elected Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge. He was well-known throughout the state as a member of the Republican State Central Committee and a frequent delegate to the Republican National Conventions. He also served as an officer of the Peoples Industrial Life Insurance Company of New Orleans.
When Baranco assumed the office of Grand Master, the Odd Fellows of Louisiana had seven thousand members and a debt in death benefits of over eighteen thousand dollars. He reduced the expenses of the District Grand Lodge; traveled across the state organizing new lodges; and handled the affairs of the order himself, even refusing to hire a clerk. Within four years’ time, the membership in Louisiana stood at twenty-one thousand with assets of two hundred thousand dollars. At the annual meeting of the District Grand Lodge in 1923, the construction of a state headquarters building in Baton Rouge was authorized. The following year, the firm of Connor, Bryant, and Bell, an architectural team comprised entirely of colored gentlemen, was engaged to design plans for the building. On 30 September 1925, the Odd Fellows Temple at 1335 North Boulevard was turned over to B. V. Baranco on behalf of the Grand Lodge, completely free of debt and without having imposed a special tax on the membership to finance its construction.
The four-story building with white-stone finish and neo-classical accents (shown above) was the center of business and social life for blacks in Baton Rouge. In 1925, the first floor was taken up by a large theater operated by Dr. A. O. Lyons, Cornelius Bell, and John D. Nance; a restaurant; and a barbershop. The second floor held offices for Dr. Raymond M. Baranco, a medical doctor and son of B. V. Baranco; Dr. Harry A. La Motte, a dentist and son-in-law of B. V. Baranco; and branch offices for the Douglas Loan Company, Unity Industrial Life Insurance Company, and Peoples Industrial Life Insurance Company. The third floor contained the offices of the Grand Lodge; two meeting halls; and a library open to colored patrons sponsored by the Burroughs-Talbert Club, a group of Baton Rouge’s leading ladies of color. The fourth floor was occupied by a roof garden, the site of countless dances, cotillions, receptions, and banquets over the decades.
In 1948, the Temple was sold to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of Louisiana. The Prince Hall Masons continue to maintain the Temple as a fraternal meeting place and a venue for social affairs.
Beverly Victor Baranco, Sr. was born on 20 March 1869 in Baton Rouge to Beverly V. Baranco and Sarah Ann Gordon, a school teacher. B. V. Sr.’s paternal grandfather, Captain Vincent B. Baranco, was reportedly a Louisiana native of Italian descent. He was a steamboat captain for several decades and ventured to California for a time during the Gold Rush to work as a merchant. He died on 11 December 1874. He was educated at Straight University at New Orleans. In addition to serving as Grand Master of District Grand Lodge No. 21 (Louisiana), he served as Deputy Grand Master of the G.U.O.O.F. nationally, and as Deputy Grand Master of the Masons in Louisiana. Earlier in his career, he worked at the United States Mint at New Orleans and owned a barbershop in Baton Rouge. He also served as a manager for the Progressive Undertaking Company. In 1889, he married Anna Miranda, the daughter of Raymond and Sidonie Miranda. Their union bore eight children: Raymond Michael (M.D.); Sarah; Inez; Ruth; Beverly Victor, Jr. (D.D.S.); Vera; Anna; and Noel. He died at Baton Rouge on 30 October 1933. At the time of his death, he was serving as President of the Peoples Industrial Life Insurance Company, having succeeded his close friend and colleague, Walter L. Cohen.
Source: Houston Informer, 5 December 1925, 5; 1840 Census; 1850 Census; 1860 Census; New Orleans Death Certificates, 1874.