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Pryce's Pharmacy: Pouring Memories and Coke for Generations

By:  Marilyn Pryce Hoytt Feb 4, 2013
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Pryce's Pharmacy


Thinking about soda fountains and my family’s history, I’ve discovered multiple links that span across generations. But I’ll start with Pryce’s Pharmacies. The story begins in 1888, when my paternal grandfather, a young Jamaican immigrant born in 1863, graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Samuel Pryce

Dr. George Samuel Pryce, founder of the original Pryce's Pharmacy.

With degrees in both medicine and pharmacy, Dr. George Samuel Pryce tried to practice medicine in several southern cities before settling first in Franklin, Louisiana then in Lake Charles.

He had an interesting racial “identity.” I say that because to look at him, you wouldn’t say he was “black.” In fact, in his immigration document, he is listed as “white.” Yet local hospitals denied Dr. Pryce hospital privileges because of his race. His solution to this problem was to combine a pharmacy with a medical clinic, serving the needs of the black community first in Franklin and subsequently in Lake Charles. In 1908, he settled permanently in Lake Charles, eventually purchasing property on the corner of Enterprise and Lawrence Streets. From 1908 to 1920, Pryce’s Pharmacy not only served the black community, but also housed a pharmaceutical warehouse providing wholesale drugs to other pharmacies in the area. As he had done in Franklin, Dr. Pryce practiced medicine in his clinic at the rear of the drugstore. 

And this is where I found the first Coca-Cola connection: Pryce’s Pharmacy served Coca-Cola at its soda fountain. Residents of Lake Charles fondly remember having ice cream and a Coke in the drugstore on a hot summer’s day.

Pryce's Pharmacy: A Family Tradition

Ulric Pryce

Ulric Pryce, who stayed behind to manage the Lake Charles Pryce Pharmacy location.

But the phenomenal Dr. Pryce, a successful, self-created businessman, did not stop there. While in Franklin, he met a young Cajun woman, Dora Raymond Verdun Cook. Pryce, a widower, had a son, Ulric. Dora, a divorcee and a single mother, struggled to care for her young daughter, Maybelle. In another pragmatic move, Dr. Pryce proposed marriage to Dora as the solution to their mutual problems. Ironically, Ulric and his new stepmother were about the same age. Hmm!

As the pharmacy prospered, the Pryce family grew in number to eight biological children and two adopted orphans. Dr. Pryce realized that he could not continue to send all his children to private schools in New Orleans (the two oldest girls had already finished Straight College, a precursor to Dillard University).  Since Ulric was completing his degree in Pharmacy at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Pryce, as his wife always called him, had a bright idea: Ulric, as the future Dr. Pryce, would manage the Lake Charles pharmacy, while Dr. Pryce-the-Elder, would relocate his family to Los Angeles, California, where education was free and open to all! 

Pryce family

Photo of the growing Pryce family prior to moving to California.

Pryce's Pharmacies, Los Angeles

So in 1920, the Louisiana Pryces moved to California. Before leaving, Dr. Pryce sent another one of his sons, George, ahead to open Pryce’s Pharmacy on South Central Boulevard. While there, young George was also instructed to purchase a suitable home for the large family. 

And here is the second Coca-Cola connection: The second Pryce’s Pharmacy had a soda fountain, and of course served Coca-Cola to its patrons. My father, Edward, who was six years old when the family left Lake Charles, began to work in the drugstore in 1922 at the tender age of eight.  He recalled standing on an orange crate to mix the Coca-Cola syrup with soda water, serve ice cream sundaes and sandwiches.  From that same crate, he rang up the cash register, figuring out correct change in his head!

Edward Pryce

Marilyn’s father, Edward Pryce, recalled standing on crates to serve Coca-Cola at the Pryce Pharmacy soda fountain when he was 8 years old in the 1920s in Los Angeles

According to my father, the lunch counter at Pryce’s Pharmacy, familiarly called the “Drugstore,” was a well-frequented meeting place for Los Angeles’ black businessmen in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. He told me how black physicians ousted from Sapulpa, Oklahoma, during a violent race riot, sipped Cokes at that lunch counter. While there, they recounted horror stories of the terrorist attacks they had survived and shared tales of homes and medical clinics destroyed by arson. At the time, many of Dr. Pryce’s fellow Jamaicans followed the Universal Negro Improvement Association founder Marcus Garvey. They regularly ate lunch or breakfast at the drugstore’s lunch counter. While working, Ed affectionately named “little Eddie,” spent time listening to stories of black accomplishment and pride as told by the self-proclaimed “Garveyites.” Eddie would always recount their parting phrase to one another as they left the drugstore: “Save your money, Mahn.”

And save Dr. Pryce did. In fact, Dr. George Pryce was able to open a second pharmacy on the opposite corner of South Central Boulevard. By this, time his son, George, a pharmacist trained at UCLA, was able to run the second business. Ed continued to work in the drugstore after school, on weekends, even on Sundays. Enrolled in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and majoring in pre-med, young Edward honored his father’s wish to become a physician, although long hours at the drugstore often interfered with his studies.  

Passing of the Patriarch

In 1932, Dr. George Samuel Pryce died. Young George carried on the family pharmacy tradition in Los Angeles, but Edward Lyons Pryce was off to Tuskegee Institute in far-away Alabama, where he pursued his passion for plants and trees, eventually becoming a student assistant to Dr. George Washington Carver. In 1977, Pryce, an award-winning artist, became the first African-American Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. From 1948 until his death in 2007, Edward L. Pryce lived and worked at his beloved Tuskegee Institute. 

Today, his landscaping adorns parts of the Tuskegee campus. His award-winning works of art are found on the campus, in the city of Tuskegee and in private collections.

A Street Named Pryce

Although the drugstores in Los Angeles are no longer in existence, Pryce’s Pharmacy in Lake Charles has survived thanks to the patriarch’s son, Dr. Ulric Woodman Pryce, and later, his grandson.

Today, the Drugstore, the second-oldest black-owned pharmacy in the country, is operated by Dr. Frank Young Pryce, grandson of the founder, and his lovely wife, Delores.

Pryce’s Pharmacy now sits on the corner of Pryce Street and Enterprise Boulevard, a designation that honors the contributions of Dr. George Samuel Pryce and this illustrious family of pharmacists, who have continued the tradition of community service for the past 105 years. This is a Coca-Cola soda fountain connection of which I am proud.

Marilyn Pryce Hoytt is a writer living in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. She currently serves as Lecturer of French at Tuskegee University and has traveled extensively and lived in Paris, France, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Hoytt says that although she was only a “foot soldier” in the Atlanta Sit-Ins, she is pictured in the dramatic photo of her arrest with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and then student leader, Lonnie King. A 30-ft. mural depicting this event can be found in the Sam Nunn Federal Building, located on the site of the old Rich’s Department Store where she participated in the 1960 Student Sit-In movement. Hoytt is the author of three children’s books in English and one unpublished, in French. Her historical novel in progress, Daughter of the Revolution, traces important events in the lives of members of this iconic American family. She can be contacted at mhoytt1229@att.net.