This story appeared in the February issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door monthly? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
Buddy Bolden House • St. Srancis de Sales Church • United Fruit Building
Hand surgeon and real estate developer Dr. Eric George has acquired the century-old building at 321 St. Charles Ave. Built in 1920, the building was the headquarters for the United Fruit Company, which, in its heyday, wielded enormous power in several countries. “For much of the 20th century, the American banana company United Fruit dominated portions of almost a dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere,” according to 2008 article in The New York Times.
The building still bears the name of the United Fruit Company, and features an ornate entryway decorated with cornucopias. George acquired the property with several investors, including Allan McDonnel, in a partnership spearheaded by George and his investment company, ERG Enterprises. The partnership group has not finalized how it intends to develop the property, according to the press release.
“Acquiring the United Fruit Company building is an important milestone for us at ERG Enterprises,” George said in an emailed statement. “It continues our commitment to preserving historic landmarks in New Orleans. Over the past 10 years of acquiring iconic properties such as this one, we have learned that it’s important to take the necessary time to truly understand the history of the property. This ensures that we can preserve and present its history accurately to current and future generations, especially as we make necessary renovations and enhancements. We are still improving how we approach this process. Among the many strategies that we have on the table, we are strongly considering public outreach to commission the help of historians and institutions that can aid us in this effort. We will make our best effort to maintain the property’s rich history and make it more accessible to everyone interested in experiencing it.”
Dr. George, a West Virginia native, is a surgeon, real estate developer and investor whose work has focused on historic properties, including the Pythian, the Orpheum Theater, the Pontchartrain Hotel and the Windsor Court, among others. He shared his thoughts on the importance of historic preservation in the December issue of Preservation in Print. “I first became interested in preservation through my work as a physician,” he said. “I have always been a curious caregiver who is innately interested in the lives of my patients. When I first started living and practicing in New Orleans 25 years ago, it didn’t take long for me to learn about our great city, and particularly about its historic monuments. My patients often shared stories from their past interacting with our most iconic structures — the Orpheum Theater is a great example. These stories were deeply personal and meaningful to the point that I came to appreciate these landmarks as more than architecture but living organisms giving New Orleans its character.”
Through his investment company, ERG Enterprises, George has become part owner of the Pontchartrain Hotel, Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, Westin Canal Place, The Frenchmen Hotel, The Thompson Hotel Nashville and The Hyatt Regency New Orleans. George also is the founder and CEO of the Hand Center of Louisiana, CEO of Omega Hospital and chairman of East Jefferson Ambulatory Surgical Center.
Susan Langenhennig is PRC’s Director of Communications and the editor of Preservation in Print.