This story first appeared in the April issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door each month? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
Now serving wood-fired pizzas instead of po-boys, a vacant corner store has been rehabilitated and is back in business for the first time since before Hurricane Katrina. The opening of Echo’s Pizza has put a historic building back into use as a neighborhood hotspot once again, re-enlivening a Mid-City street corner.
The historic building at the corner of Banks and S. Lopez streets was a rehabilitation project of the New Orleans Redevelopment Fund (NORF), a private company that focuses on redeveloping vacant, blighted buildings in New Orleans. NORF was started in 2013 and initially focused on rehabilitating historic residential multi-unit properties in Mid-City, but has since expanded their scope to include neighborhoods across the city and projects ranging from residential new construction to mixed-use adaptive reuse.
Echo’s pizza, the highly-anticipated pizzeria from Theresa Galli and Gavin Cady of the 1000 Figs Mediterranean restaurant and Kate Heller of Leo’s Bread, opened for business in the historic building earlier this year. “They are really passionate and they selected this location so they could also be part of the rejuvenation of this corridor,” said Cullan Maumus, NORF’s director of development. “It’s really nice to have people who are as invested in the neighborhood as we are.”
Late 19th-century Sanborn maps indicate that the first structure built on the site was a one-story double shotgun house, which was possibly raised to a two-story building with a ground-level store prior to 1940. Several different businesses operated out of the first floor over the years — most recently a corner store known for its po-boys.
Albert Architecture oversaw the design of the building’s rehabilitation with Michall Group as the general contractor, and worked closely with both NORF and Echo’s to make sure the project met the needs of both clients. Their first priority was making the building structurally sound. “The building had been vacant since before the storm — it had a significant lean into the street and was actively collapsing,” said Jared Bowers, AIA of Albert Architecture. “We prevented [the collapse] and Orleans Shoring shored the building.”
The $600,000 rehabilitation was made possible through the use of historic tax credits, and the architect worked closely with the State Historic Preservation Office to follow the guidelines governing historic tax credit projects. Historic details including wooden door casings, transoms and baseboards were all preserved. The historic layout of the building was also maintained, with two residential units on the second floor and a commercial space — now occupied by Echo’s — on the ground floor. “The building was always configured like that,” said Bowers, “and the spatial quality is exactly what it would have been originally.” The building’s historic wooden windows were restored or replaced in-kind when they were beyond repair.
Recent additions to the property make the space more functional for its new tenants. An earlier addition at the rear of the building was determined to be non-historic, and was removed to make room for a courtyard, which functions as an open-air dining space now filled with tropical plants and hanging lights. Weighing over half a ton, the restaurant’s wood-burning pizza oven also proved to be a unique design challenge, requiring a special foundation and exhaust system. The large oven had to be moved into the space while the walls were still open, and the space enclosed after its installation.
The wood-fired oven, full bar and a spacious courtyard are all major draws for the Mid-City restaurant. The biggest draw, however, is the food. Kate Heller brings her expertise from Leo’s Bread to Echo’s pizza crusts and bread, with fresh loaves baked on-site every morning. Echo’s is currently open for lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday, offering a variety of thin, crispy wood-fired pizzas, along with small plates, salads and other entrées.
With the opening of the neighborhood pizzeria, the rehabilitation of this historic mixed-use corner building has transformed a once-empty street corner into a neighborhood gathering place once again. “It’s a really great addition to the neighborhood. It helps with the walkability and livability, and it’s something that we’re really proud of,” said Maumus.
Photos by Liz Jurey