Threat: Privatization, specialization and commercialization
The recent controversies over a proposed soccer complex at Audubon Park's "Fly" and a golf course in City Park illustrate the increasing threat of privatizing, specializing, and commercializing public spaces in our city. Our public parks are increasingly being devoted to commercial and single-use limited admission facilities. These facilities infringe on people's interactions with nature in unscripted ways, the primary purpose of urban parks. Furthermore, because limited admission and commercial facilities are availabe only to those who can afford the price of admission, they harken back to the days when access to public places was denied to many. A simple solution is to make new facilites in parks Conditional Uses (CU) subject to review by the Planning Commission and approval by the City Council, opening the merits of these facilities to broader public discussions where alternate locations could be considered. Our public parks and open spaces are an integral part of our cultural and historic landscape and must be kept free and open for future generations.
1505 St. Bernard Ave.
Threat: Owner requested demolition and neglect
Built in 1927, this blighted and neglected two-story masonry building is one of the few remnants of a once thriving neighborhood business district surroundng the former St. Bernard Market (now Circle Food Store). Its ground floor held the Hart Jewelry Co. (1930-1950s) and later the African American owned Keystone Life Insurance Co. The second floor was used for an African American branch of the YWCA in the 1940s. In 2011, TAG Businesses LLC acquired the building through a bargain price program that required renovation in 270 days. Five years later, the owner has done nothing but allow further decay and even recently requested its demolition. With numerous code enforcement violations/liens, prolonged neglect, and the owner's apparent lack of understing of the building's historic or contextual importance, the city has the right and obligation to revoke this sale and sell to a more responsible developer.
Threat: Demolition by neglect
In the wake of the War of 1812, Congress commissioned Fort Macomb to guard the Chef Menteur Pass into Lake Pontchartrain as part of an ambitious seacoast defense plan. Decommissioned in 1871, this historic site has remained for decades as abandoned ruins choked by weeds, further compromised by rising waters in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the fort is owned by the State of Louisiana, which evidently has neither the financial capability nor intent to care for this national treasure. Closed to the public, the fort was leased for filming in 2014 (HBO), 2015 (AMC), and in 2016 (Beyonce's video). If the state cannot address the rapidly advancing deterioration of the brick skeletal remnants, it should allow the intervention of more capable federal or private stewardship.
636 Royal St.
Threat: Demolition and neglect
This imposing town house, one of the city's few remaining structures from New Orleans' Spanish colonial period, has significant structural issues. Located at the highly visual corner of Royal and St. Peter Streets, the Pedasclaux-Lemonnier House - renowned as the city's "First Skyscraper," and immortalized in literature as George Washington Cable's "Sieur George's" - figures as an integral component in the ensemble of late 18th-century buildings in the Jackson Square area. Inside, the oval second story drawing room is perhaps the most well-appointed space in the city. The Vieux Carré Commission has cited the owners of the building on numerous occasions for neglect, even filing a suit in 1988 in the Civil District Court for Demolition by Neglect. For the past forty years the house has been in the hands of the same family who, so far, have refused to do what is required to properly care for this grand landmark.
468 St. Joseph St.
Threat: Demolition by neglect
For decades, this once elegant Greek revival townhouse has steadily deteriorated in the rapidly developing downtown Warehouse District. For over twenty years, the Historic District Landmarks Commission has cited the property owners for allowing the property to deteriorate by neglect by not repairing the roof, millwork, gutters, masonry, and etc. Constructed for the Voisin family in 1846, according to the design of architect B.F. Nicholls, this was the home in the 1860s of banker Jean Baptiste Voisin. This property is located in a highly visible location in one of the city's most popular neighborhoods. If the long-term owners do not wish to maintain this fine three-story residence, it should be offered for public sale.
Threat: Explotative tourism
For over two centuries Bywater has been a community of working class families. The small-scale character of the neighborhood today is threatened by proposed out-of-scale development, with the impact of traffic overwhelming its narrow streets. The 2010 Master Plan for New Orleans Tourism established the goal of doubling the annual number of visitors by 2018. Since then, the tourist sector has rapidly expanded beyond the Vieux Carré into the surrounding historic neighborhoods. Bywater today is being "reinvented" as a tourist destination with plans for a megacruise ship terminal, high density vacation condominiums, hotels/hostels/short term rentals, tourist oriented retail, and riverside condos that will wall off the community, without regulations similar to what protects the French Quarter. Planned developments for Bywater are a vivid illustration of the conflict between maintaining community values with the demands of tourism.
Fountain of the Four Winds
Threat: Deterioration and neglect
Fountain of the Four Winds, one of Enrique Alférez's most extrodinary works, caused controversy after its 1936 installation at Shushan (today's Lakefront) Airport. Funded by the WPA and composed of concrete aggregate, hand finished to resemble sculpted sandstone, the fountain features four nude kneeling figures surrounded by an elliptical base adorned with statuary and reliefs. Legend has it that Alférez stood guard with a rifle until Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in demanding protection for the work. Today, it is threatened in a different way. Already in disrepair, the fountain was futher damaged during Katrina. Some rim elements were displaced and saline incursion infiltrated the porous material, continuing to cause fissures and erosion. With the award-winning restoration of the Art Deco terminal and the ongoing conservation of the interior Xavier Gonzalez murals, the restoration of the Four Winds would complete the artistic tout ensemble.
New Orleans Monuments
The public monuments of New Orleans, an inherited legacy from our ancestors, commemorate our city's 300 year history. Preservation of these iconic markers is not reverence, but a challenge to learn more about and to seek accommodation with our city's complex and diverse history. That challenge can be met by contextualizing and thoughtfully expanding the narratives offered by those monuments. Recently, a flawed public proces that sought to pass judgment on history through a contemporary lens resulted in a city council vote for removal of four monuments. Since, calls have suggested removal of many more. This represents a slippery slope that should be rejected. The divisive rhetoric generated by this process, combined with neglect and indifference to the value and beauty of these artifacts and of their contributions to the urban streetscape, needlessly exposes the monuments to the vagaries of man and nature, and represents ill-formed, ad hoc public policy.
2501 St. Claude Ave.
Threat: Owner requested demolition and neglect
At first glance, one sees a sad remnant of a late 19th century camelback shotgun; but behind the graffiti and boarded-up windows, there is still a renovation opportunity for the historic St. Claude community. When the City Council approved its demolition, submitted by two high-profile New Orleanians to expand their gas station enterprise, neighbors opposed loudly. Their concerns finally resulted in a lawsuit. Details within that suit challenge ownership by alleging that New Orleans Redevelopment Authority inappropriately pulled the property from a sheriff's tax sale in 2012. This "priority bid" process placed it directly into the hands of private citizens for well below what other potential purchasers were prepared to bid. Additionally, neighbors cite the blight fines totaling more than $120,000 as evidence of poor stewardship of a historic resource. The active lawsuit has placed a temporary halt on the demolition of this classic structure, integral to the neighborhood.