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A $5.1 MILLION RENOVATION RESTORES THE STATELY ART DECO SCHOOL BY Davis Allen THE STATELY Eleanor McMain Secondary School has been an exemplar of Art Deco style since it was designed by architect E.A. Christy and built in 1932. In more recent years, though, the 87-year-old campus had been showing its age. Paint was peeling on the facade. The stucco exterior was cracking in places, and the parapets were beginning to lean outwards, causing water intrusion issues inside the walls. The building needed more than a quick paint job to restore the grandeur of the historic school. In the summer of 2018, NOLA Public Schools began a $5.1 mil- lion renovation, with work by Concordia Architecture and Tuna Construction. The project, which wrapped up this fall, was funded by FEMA with help from the state historic tax credit, according to officials at NOLA Public Schools. Christy was a prolific local architect who designed a number of schools and civic buildings throughout New Orleans during the early 20th century. His work encompassed a wide variety of archi- tectural styles, but the McMain building, at 5712 S. Claiborne Ave., shows his mastery of Art Deco, with the building’s sharp-edged lin- ear appearance and its geometric sculptural ornamentation. Opening in 1932 as a public school for girls, it was named after Eleanor L. McMain, an activist, educator and social worker who served as the director of the Kingsley House, an influential settle- ment house in the Irish Channel. McMain, who was alive when the school opened, spoke at its dedication ceremony in 1932, accord- ing to the school’s website. A Times-Picayune article from the school’s opening described the DECEMBER 2019 building’s paint scheme as “a symphony of riotous, splashing color.” But over the years, the stucco and cast stone façade had become more muted. Before the renovation, it was washed in faded teal and pink. A materials analysis, completed in 2011 by Building Conserva- tion Associates for Jahncke & Burns Architects, used forensic sam- ples to reveal that a mossy green paint once covered most of the stucco exterior, with cast stone details painted in a polychromatic scheme of yellow, blue, green and gold leaf. That analysis influenced the Concordia design team as they de- signed the new paint scheme for the school. “For us, it was a reveal- ing process, revealing what was there and highlighting the elements that were unique to the building,” said Graham Hill, senior project manager at Concordia. “We wanted to do something that struck a balance between fitting in the neighborhood and making a state- ment to reestablish the prominence of the building along the street.” Drawing color inspiration from the landscapes of south Lou- isiana, the design team developed upwards of 30 potential color schemes before deciding on the new paint palette in shades of earthy green, red, light gray and yellow. When the top three op- tions were presented to the school and school board, the current scheme — named Spring Bayou —was the clear favorite. It was a natural fit for a building with sculptural details that were stylized from local flora and fauna. The fresh paint adds new levels of dimensionality to the Deco building’s pilasters, gargoyles and architectural details. Contrasting colors emphasize the building’s vertical planes and bring the styl- PRCNO.org • PRESERVATION IN PRINT   37