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Triage in Jackson Square Work to save and restore two of the most important buildings in New Orleans — the Cabildo and the Presbytère — became an emergency priority as pieces of the structures began to literally crumble into the street. Their restoration will be complete this year, allowing the buildings to shine for the city’s Tricentennial. BY Joyce A. Miller, Louisiana State Museum IF THE RESTORATION WORK on the Cabildo and the Presbytère teaches us anything about historic preservation, it is that progress is not always linear. The latest round of renovations on these historic buildings began in February 2017, when Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser announced the need for $3.4 million worth of emergency repairs. This work was necessary to prevent plaster and stuc- co from “breaking off, falling to the street and posing a danger to the public and the artifacts inside,” Nungesser said. Ironically, this instability was the result of the application of an elastomeric coating applied to the Cabildo around 1998 and the Presbytère in 2004 — a coating that was intended to stabilize the buildings. The Cabildo and the Presbytère, which flank St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, are among the most recognizable historic buildings in Louisiana and, arguably, the nation. In his first design for the city of New Orleans, completed in 1721, French military engineer Adrien de Pauger featured a parish church at the town’s center, bordered by governmental offices on one side and a church rectory on the other. The buildings that stand on these sites today were built after the Good Fri- day Fire of 1788, which destroyed their predecessors, along with much of the French Quarter. The day after the fire, Spanish official and philanthropist Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas volunteered to pay for the rebuilding of the Presby- tère (then referred to as Casa Curial) and the cathedral. Architect and engineer Don Gilberto Guillemard, a native of France serving in the Spanish military, was quickly asked to draw plans for both. In 1795, after yet another fire in December of the previous year, Almonester agreed to lend the city the money to complete the Cabildo as well. He insisted, how- ever, that Guillemard’s plan for the Presbytère be used as the basis for its design. While construction on the Cabildo proceeded at a relatively steady pace be- tween 1795 and 1799, work on the Presbytère took a more circuitous route. Following Almonester’s death in April 1798, his widow refused to honor her husband’s commitment to continue work on the Presbytère, citing economic hardship. As a result of the litigation, the Presbytère remained an unfinished, one-story building until the wardens of St. Louis Cathedral hired a private con- tractor to finish the work in 1813. Before the Presbytère was completed, Louisiana was no longer a colony of Spain. On December 20, 1803, a ceremony at the Cabildo formalized the Louisi- ana Purchase, a transaction that effectively doubled the size of the United States and opened up the continent to its westward expansion. Despite the regime change, the Presbytère and Cabildo continued to serve as the center of New Or- leans government for much of the antebellum period. Rather than shelter clergy, the Presbytère was used for commercial purposes until 1834, when it became home to several municipal courts. The Cabildo served as city hall from 1803 until 1852. The Louisiana Supreme Court called the Presbytère home between 1823 and 1853; it then relocated to the Cabildo, where it remained until 1910. In the mid-19th century, the Cabildo and the Presbytère underwent major ren- ovations, including the addition of a third story and a French-styled mansard roof on each building. These changes were inspired, in large part, by the arrival of Mi- caela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, in the late 1840s. Having lived much of her life in France, the Baroness returned to New Orleans with a plan to transform the dilapidated buildings she inherited from her father — who was none other than Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas — into elegant, Parisian-style rowhouse buildings, placed on each sides of the Place d'Armes. Those buildings are known today as the Upper and Lower Pontalba Buildings. The Baroness’s plans proved extremely influential with New Orleanians, par- FEBRUARY 2018 ticularly Creoles, who were anxious to spruce up the older part of the city to compete with the rapidly developing American sector uptown. While the addition of mansard roofs to the Cabildo and Presbytère was part of this broader effort to beautify the Place d’Armes, it was also an at- tempt to solve a practical problem. By all accounts, the flat roofs included in Guillemard’s original design for the buildings leaked like sieves. Reports of water intrusion in both buildings appeared as early as 1803, and by 1847, when the City approved the addition of the new roofs, the problem was widespread. A coat of brown stucco was also applied to both buildings in 1850, in the hopes that it would help them shed moisture more effectively. The use of stucco also reflected the popularity of brown-stone buildings during the 1850s, when the Italianate architectural style was in vogue. Despite frequent lime washes and routine building maintenance, the Ca- bildo and Presbytère continued to be affected by leaks and moisture intru- sion for years to come. In 1853, the city council moved its offices from the Cabildo to Gallier Hall, making the problem less visible but no less prob- lematic. In an article in the April 19, 1891, Daily Picayune, the buildings, which still housed a number of courts, were described as “dark, damp and dingy,” as “relics of the olden days...altogether unsuited for the purposes to which they are devoted.” Perhaps influenced by the broader urban renewal movement sweeping the nation, the city council proposed tearing both buildings down and re- placing them with new structures in 1895. Public outcry put an end to the council’s plans and led to the city’s decision to transfer ownership of the buildings to the Louisiana State Museum in 1908. Under the tenure of LSM, the Cabildo and Presbytère underwent several major and numerous minor renovations in the 20th century. In the 1930s, workers employed by the Works Progress Administration replaced rotting www.prcno.org • PRESERVATION IN PRINT 23