Controversial renovation in the Marigny stalls

At two consecutive meetings, the New Orleans City Council declined to act on a request by the owners of the almost 200-year-old building at 502 Frenchmen St. to allow the construction of penthouses and a rooftop deck.

Council members received a deluge of calls and emails from concerned constituents asking them not to override the New Orleans Historic Districts Landmarks Commission’s decision against the rooftop alterations. This effectively defeats the owners’ appeal, although it could be resubmitted.

The HDLC Design Guidelines, approved by the City Council, specifically prohibit rooftop additions to buildings rated “Significant.” The Preservation Resource Center and the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association opposed the owners’ appeal for an exemption.

Not only would the proposed addition require the complete demolition of historic roof framing, but the penthouse also would have been visible from Decatur Street, Esplanade and Elysian Fields avenues. The commission’s Architectural Review Committee debated the proposal at four meetings, and while agreeing the design improved significantly in the process, the committee, nevertheless, recommended denial, citing the HDLC guidelines. The HDLC twice voted unanimously to deny a rooftop addition to the property.

The building at 502 Frenchmen was constructed for Julien Adolphe Lacroix, a free man of color and successful entrepreneur in pre-Civil War New Orleans. The oldest portion of the structure dates to the 1830s, and its exemplary Creole Greek Revival facade has overlooked the junction of Frenchmen and Decatur streets since at least 1868. The ground floor housed Lacroix’s grocery, while he and his family lived above the store.

Only a small number of buildings in local historic districts receive a “Significant” rating for their architectural and historic importance. The prohibition on rooftop additions to these structures is aligned with guidance from the National Park Service that states: “Rooftop additions are almost never appropriate for buildings that are less than four stories high.”