I’m a Preservationist
Actor, author, designer and retailer Bryan Batt has long been inspired by New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods. He recently released a book about the history of Pontchartrain Beach. He tells all about the new book in this interview from the October issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine.
We’re excited about your new book, Pontchartrain Beach: A Family Affair, co-authored with Katy Danos. The amusement park was founded by your family. What inspired you to write about it now?
While my brother, Jay, and I were sorting through mountains of boxes in our late mother’s garage, we unearthed a trove of memorabilia from our father’s offices at the beach as well as our grandparent’s ephemera — all of which we’d not seen for over 25 years…or ever. Next, I witnessed the largest float in Mardi Gras history — a tribute to Pontchartrain Beach presented by the Krewe of Endymion — enchant thousands of New Orleanians with fond memories of my grandfather’s vision. Realizing that the love was alive, and there was no book on the subject, I approached my partner in crime and creativity, Katy Danos, and together we dreamed up this unique and special concept to celebrate the beloved amusement park.
What’s your favorite Pontchartrain Beach memory?
I have so many. One was a surprise birthday party that Jay threw for me at Bali Ha’i. Another was a birthday party, 10 years prior, during which my dad surprised us all, and we test rode the first steel roller coaster in the south — the Galaxy!
How has New Orleans influenced your design style and your acting career?
In school, my textbooks were tattooed with sketches of raised cottage structures and shotgun houses. At an early age, I fell in love with our unique architecture. As I toured the country performing, I began to realize how lucky we are to have such a wealth of beauty here at home. There is a sense of history, theatricality, and a touch of whimsy that has infiltrated my aesthetic, and it is most definitely New Orleans inspired. As far as acting, I got my start on the historic boards of the NORD theater in Gallier Hall and Le Petit Theatre. How could New Orleans not influence me completely?
What do you love most about your house here?
We lucked into our home. I understand that it was renovated in the 1980s for and by Tom Collum, the renowned local architect/designer. He did such a masterful job creating our “raised West Indies” cottage. The design, the timeless finishes, the attention to every detail, the efficient use of space — everything about it remains perfection. I wake up every morning and think, “I love where I live,” and it fills me with a sense of grounding and gratitude. Among my favorite details are the curved glass block walls that accent the stairway and shower. They remind me of my grandparent’s glamorous Art Deco dream flat at Pontchartrain Beach.
Why is historic preservation so important for New Orleans?
No city has what we have. I’ve seen historic Broadway theaters destroyed for skyscraping hotels in New York City, and Deco masterpieces leveled to make way for strip malls in Los Angeles. In New Orleans, neighborhood by neighborhood, there are countless examples of sterling design from numerous periods. I think that is one of the reasons the film industry loves it here; within a 10-mile radius, there is practically every possible location imaginable. I also appreciate newer forms of architecture that complement the historic buildings. New Orleans is like a great party with the perfect mix of old and new.