LAFITTE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT (Treme, 1939-41)
by Orleans Avenue, N. Galvez Street, N. Claiborne Avenue and St. Louis Street
The Lafitte complex is important in the history of public housing in New Orleans because of its early place in the Wagner Act Housing Program in the late 1930s. New Orleans was the first city in the United States to benefit from the Wagner Act, with six large developments placed across the City.
Lafitte was developed as the African-American counterpart to the nearby whites-only Iberville Housing Development, and features many of the same architectural and planning details that garnered Iberville a spot on our 2005 Most Endangered list: masonry construction, fireplaces, wooden windows, tile roofs, cooper flashing, porches and galleries with decorative wrought iron railings, and courtyard-oriented structures.
There are 77 low-rise, row house-style buildings on the site, along with an Administration Building. The layout, typical of 1930s public housing developments and college campuses, is a major character-defining feature. The prevailing urban grid is blocked off to create green spaces and the buildings are arranged in C-shaped clusters that face each other to form large courtyards. Hurricane Katrina’s flooding did enter the first floors of most of the buildings, but the masonry construction and plaster walls were remarkably resilient to the effects of the water. Yet the buildings have remained closed and are now slated for demolition by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There could be viable alternatives to total demolition of this historic housing development, such as incorporating the renovated buildings into a redevelopment plan. The buildings feature solid construction, quality materials, good design and a workable plan with mature landscaping, all of which could be reused to help provide affordable housing, while maintaining our historic architecture.
UPPER FAUBOURG NEW MARIGNY NATIONAL REGISTER HISTORIC DISTRICT
Bounded by St. Claude, St. Bernard, N. Claiborne and Elysian Fields Avenues. Circa 1830s to 1940s. Known to locals by a variety of names, the New Marigny Historic District was recognized by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The area took form when developer Bernard de Marigny found it necessary to extend his Faubourg beyond its St. Claude Avenue boundary. Surveyor Joseph Pilie completed the plans for the expansion. The upriver portion is a remarkably intact mix of buildings, most of them dating from the early-to-late 19th century. Creole cottages and shotguns, many reflecting the stylistic changes that swept through the City over various decades, dot the streetscapes.
Hurricane Katrina’s winds and water spared much of the neighborhood, but many of the houses were already in some state of disrepair. There is no design review or regulation of changes to a building’s appearance, which has led to a rash of inappropriate remodeling efforts that undermine the architectural integrity of many buildings. Original wood doors, wood windows and wood siding are being replaced with mass-produced modern building products that are often not suitable for historic structures. An even greater threat is the total loss of buildings through demolition. If the current trend continues, the area’s National Register Historic District designation may be in jeopardy, because it will lose so much of its integrity.
Threats: Demolition, demolition by neglect, architectural degradation
PERSEVERANCE SOCIETY HALL (1644 N. Villere St., New Marigny, Circa 1900)
This former benevolent society hall, with its Mission-style parapet, represents an important part of the City’s cultural and jazz heritage. The Perseverance Society, an antebellum benevolent society founded by Creoles of color, hosted early 20th century dances, funerals and parades, and played a significant role in the development of jazz. Musicians Buddy Bolden, Joe Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Sam Morgan and others played in the still-intact and now-rare musician’s mezzanine or bandstand, required in a time before amplification. Most of the other African-American benevolent society buildings nearby have been altered beyond recognition, or demolished, the fate of many of the City’s jazz sites. The entire building, now the Holy Aid and Spiritual Comfort Church, was threatened with demolition in Spring 2007 when neighborhood residents complained to the City about the collapsing camelback addition, damaged significantly by Hurricane Katrina’s winds. After many attempts by concerned preservationists and the owner, the City finally granted a permit to remove the compromised addition. Deconstruction of the addition has been completed and the rear of the main structure secured. But funding is still needed to restore the church, which currently lacks electricity for its congregation’s weekly services. Missing weatherboards and windows are among the items that must be repaired.
Threat: Lack of public awareness and funding for restoration
DOWNTOWN THEATERS - Saenger, Loew’s State (Palace), Orpheum, Joy, Gallo, Dixie and Clabon theaters
These seven theaters stand as symbols of a time before television, when entertainment for the American public meant going to a vaudeville show or Hollywood movie. They had been under utilized or completely dark for years before Hurricane Katrina inflicted further damage. The Saenger Theatre, designed by architect Emile Weil, flooded and has remained vacant since the storm, as has the Thomas W. Lamb-designed, circa 1926 Loew’s State (Palace), at one time the largest theater in the city. The Canal Street Orpheum, a vaudeville house-turned-movie theater, and Joy, built in the 1940s and wired for television, also flooded and remain closed. The Gallo, Dixie and Clabon theaters have significant structural problems. The roof at the Gallo burned, and heavy timber roof trusses at the Dixie were toppled by the storm. The façade of the Clabon is detaching from the structure. Discount shops operate in some of the Canal Street theater spaces, leading to a further loss of architectural integrity. These theaters would benefit from proposed state legislation – known as Broadway South – to give tax credits to the performing arts industry and to theater owners for renovation. Those breaks, coupled with federal tax incentives for rehabilitating income-producing historic buildings, could spur the redevelopment of Canal Street and surrounding areas.
Threat: demolition by neglect, architectural and structural degradation
Update: Sadly, the Gallo Theater was demolished this summer, but the 2007 legislative session resulted in the passage of the Broadway South tax credit program, which has the potential to generate interest in and funding for the remaining historic theaters.
Medical Center of Louisiana CHARITY HOSPITAL (1532 Tulane Ave, Mid-City, 1939)
This massive Art Deco structure has been a beacon for New Orleanians seeking health care since it opened its doors to patients in 1939. The hospital, once one of the premier teaching facilities in the Southern region and the best source of diagnostic medicine and trauma care in the area, flooded during Hurricane Katrina, leaving hundreds of patients and staff stranded. It has not reopened in the two years since and is in desperate need of repairs to its storm-damaged interior. While it may not be feasible to reopen Charity as a hospital, the valuable downtown location has potential alternative uses, such as a senior care facility, specialized medical clinics or even housing for workers in the surrounding medical district. As one of the most important structures designed by the firm Weiss, Dreyfous, Seiferth, the potential loss of Charity Hospital would erase an important artifact of Louisiana’s architectural heritage.
THREAT: neglect, hurricane damage, potential demolition
NEW ORLEANS REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY’S REALM PROPERTIES (Citywide)
NORA’s REALM (Real Estate Acquisition and Landbanking Mechanism) program was created to jump-start private investment in focus areas by making blighted properties readily available to non-profits, individuals, and investors. Its impact, therefore, stood to be profound. Unfortunately, NORA’S efforts have stalled, leaving the REALM properties stuck in limbo, unavailable for purchase and deteriorating rapidly. NORA’s other signature effort, the Blighted Properties Removal Program, allowed private entities to force the sale of legally blighted properties. This effort has been on indefinite hiatus since Katrina. NORA now sits in the odd position of being a perpetuator of blight. The revival of one or both programs could make a huge difference to the recovery of historic and newer neighborhoods alike.
THREAT: Government inaction
LAKEVIEW SCHOOL (5951 Milne Blvd, Lakeview, 1915)
Taking its name from the surrounding neighborhood, the former Lakeview Public School was designed by local architect E. A. Christy, New Orleans’ most prominent municipal architect for 40 years, who also designed Warren Easton, Mc Main, and Rabouin schools. The school embraced many elements of the emerging Craftsman style, including deep eaves, heavy wooden brackets, and wood shingles on the facades.
The school had been unoccupied for several years, but was badly damaged by the floodwaters that submerged the whole area after the post-Katrina levee failures.
THREAT: Neglect, Hurricane Damage
ST. ROCH MARKET (Faubourg St. Roch, 1875)
Of the dozens of historic public markets which once dotted the city, St. Roch is one of the few still standing. Nestled on a narrow neutral ground in the neighborhood of the same name, the market was built in 1875 as an open-air space, with 24 cast iron columns at the perimeter and a steamboat design scheme. A WPA renovation in the 1930s added such luxuries of the day as refrigeration and plumbing. The building was enclosed after World War II, when the public market system was dissolved and the building was threatened with demolition. Only public outcry saved it. Post Hurricane Katrina, the market sits vacant, awaiting a return to public use.
Update: The St. Roch Market received funding from FEMA for a new metal roof and basic structural repairs. It is an anchor in one of the City’s new “target zones” for redevelopment, raising hopes that it will receive further funding and attention from the City.
HISTORIC SHUSHAN TERMINAL COMPLEX (Lakefront, 1934)
An outstanding and rare local example of the Art Deco period, the Shushan Terminal Complex, now known as New Orleans Lakefront Airport, was designed by the firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth and built in 1934. The design motif was continued in the decoration, which included numerous murals by WPA artist Xavier Gonzales. Aside from its architectural significance, the terminal played an important role in aviation history – when built, Shushan was the largest airport in the United States, and Amelia Earhart stayed there prior to her final global flight. During the “golden age of travel,” it served nearly one million passengers.
The damage began with a 1964 renovation, when many of the murals were either covered or removed, and the atrium was enclosed to create office space. Further damage occurred when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the structure. Despite the damage, Shushan remains in good condition and this gem of New Orleans’ Art Deco heritage should be restored.
THREAT: neglect, hurricane damage
Update: Shushan Terminal at the Lakefront Airport has been declared eligible to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair the damage received from Katrina. The concrete exterior panels from 1964 have been removed, and the exterior may be restored soon. The interior, which remains amazingly intact, is still in need of repair and restoration, particularly the return of the central atrium and the two missing murals (one resides with the State Museum and the other is unaccounted for).