Grave Need: City, FEMA Fund Cemetery Renovations for Historic Cottages

This article appeared on the NOLA Defender website 

This September, caution tape goes up around city-owned cemeteries.  Together, Bond and FEMA funded $2.8 million worth of renovations for Holt, Valence, Lafayette #1 and #2, Carrollton # 1 and # 2 and Indigent Cemeteries.

 Arguably the most haunting and beautiful cemeteries in the country, inhabitants of New Orleans' resting grounds never go six-feet under. The vine covered marble and bowing boards of the above-ground memorials are very much alive, and speak to centuries of history. 

 Within all the work that is planned, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Louisiana Landmarks Society and Save Our Cemeteries have worked with Cedric Grant’s office to save and restore the historic Sexton Cottages at Lafayette #1 and Lafayette #2 cemeteries. 

 “It is important to preserve as much of the historic characteristics of the cemeteries – and the City – as possible,” ” said Louisiana Landmarks board member and Chairman of Advocacy Sandra Stokes.       

 Since the City cannot repair the graves themselves— the property of the owning families not the city— repairs focus on fencing, lighting and the City-owned buildings within the site.  Part of the City’s plan called for the replacement of the historic Sexton Cottages at Lafayette #1, #2 and Holt Cemeteries.

 “Originally the historic cottages were scheduled to be demolished,” said Stokes, who has worked on this project since the beginning.  In their place, the City planned to erect cement buildings for maintenance and storage use, a potential cemetery scar far worse than dilapidated cottages.  

 At the news of the demolitions, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Louisiana Landmarks Society and Save Our Cemeteries stepped in.  The cottage at Holt cemetery was in pretty good shape.  The city agreed that the add-ons would be removed, and the original historic building restored.  However, the cottages in Lafayette #1 and #2 were a different story.  But despite peeling paint, rusty nails and rotted boards, the cottages were salvageable.

 “We worked with the City providing them with designs and an architectural firm that would oversee the restorations.  The City agreed to carve out of their budgets the amount allocated for the demolition of the cottages and construction of the maintenance sheds in Lafayette #1 and #2– and bid the restoration of these two buildings separately from the overall cemetery project,” said Stokes.

 Architect Michael Rouchell drafted the designs for John Schackai, principal of Sustainable Architecture, LLC Both Rouchell and Sustainable Architecture were extremely generous in donating their time and talents.  The plans for the cottage restorations should be ready to be put out to bid in the very near future.

Stokes gives credit where credit is due.  She is especially grateful to the City and lauds Cedric Grant’s office for their support on the project. 

 “Most noteworthy is that the City has been wonderful working with the preservation community to save these buildings.  That’s really significant,” said Stokes.  It wouldn’t have been a possibility without their cooperation and support.

Elena Walker