FEMA-funded demolitions planned for former church, jail

This news brief appeared in the March issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

More than 15 years after Hurricane Katrina and levee failures wrought devastation across New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to pay for the demolition of structures damaged by the storm and subsequent neglect. In the coming months, a church in Central City and a jail in Mid-City are both slated to meet the wrecking ball. The Preservation Resource Center is among organizations contributing to the Section 106 consultation required for these projects under the National Historic Preservation Act.

The former worship center of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church at 2306-8 S. Liberty St. appeared poised for rehabilitation as recently as 2018, when the city granted permits for its reuse as a community center. However, work stalled almost as quickly as it began. Engineers subsequently determined the buildings to be structurally unsound and in danger of collapse.

The larger of the two adjoining brick structures was constructed in the 1980s, and the smaller, which dates to the 1950s, was heavily altered at that time. A fire damaged the property in 2008.

Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church also owns the historic home of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, which is in close proximity to the church’s former worship center. Recognizing its proximity to historic wood-framed buildings, including the Bolden house, FEMA has specified that demolition work at the former church site produce minimal falling debris and vibration.

In Mid-City, FEMA also is funding the demolition of New Orleans’ House of Detention at 2735 Perdido St. Designed by Curtis and Davis, the architecture firm behind the Superdome and the bygone-but-beloved Rivergate convention center, the House of Detention was completed in 1966. Thousands of New Orleanians were subsequently incarcerated there. Sheriff Marlin Gusman began relocating inmates from the building in 2012 after a federal probe found conditions unacceptable. It has been shuttered since the 2014 opening of the New Orleans Justice Center.

The structure includes a 10-story tower with vertical concrete cladding that rises from a two-story base with only narrow windows; the purpose-built nature of the building and likely presence of asbestos have dimmed any prospects for reuse. The city has no formal plans for the site but intends to retain the property for possible future expansion of court or criminal justice facilities. A bidding process is expected this spring, but demolition may not commence for up to a year. In the meantime, a team that includes The Historic New Orleans Collection will document and collect artifacts for future study or exhibits.

Nathan Lott is PRC’s Advocacy Coordinator & Public Policy Research Director.

 

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