On Wednesday (Dec. 6), the Central Business District Historic District Landmarks Commission (CBDHDLC) and the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission (NOHDLC) both held their final meetings for 2023.

The NOHDLC unanimously voted to designate the seasonally appropriate, so-called “Christmas House” at 4506 Canal St. as the city’s newest local landmark. Designed by architect H. Jordan Mackenzie between 1914 and 1915, it was purchased by Sam and Myra Centanni in 1945 and within a year, the family’s festive decorations became a major holiday draw. Newspapers reported that between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors came to see the display every night and the family distributed hundreds of toys each year. The Centanni family owned the property for 59 years. The son of Sam and Myra, who lived at the house from the age of 4, attended the NOHDLC meeting and spoke about his parents’ joy in decorating the property, the beauty of the house, and its remarkably preserved condition. The staff and commissioners noted that it is unusual for a landmark to be significant under three separate categories: architecture, architect, and culture.

In addition, the commission unanimously voted in favor of nominating St. Theresa of Avila Church at 1401 Erato St. for study as a potential local landmark. Built between 1848 and 1849, the church was designed by architect T.E. Giraud and was nominated by the congregation.

Photo 1: 4506 Canal St.  Photo 2: St. Theresa of Avila Church at 1401 Erato St.  Photos by Dee Allen.

Before voting to deny the three consecutive applications, the commissioners held a lengthy discussion about the proposed demolition of neighboring residential properties in the Uptown Historic District:  5514-5516, 5518-5520, and 5524 Tchoupitoulas St. The row of two-family residences is owned by the adjacent Uptown Carwash that wants to expand. Staff inspections concluded that the buildings could be rehabilitated. The representative of the applicant agreed but argued that rehabilitation was not economically feasible. The houses have been vacant since 2021 and 2022 and questions from the commissioners revealed that the owner has been in possession of the properties for more than a decade, prompting commissioners to conclude that the current condition is the result of owner neglect. The commissioners emphasized that they are not charged with determining the economic viability of a renovation; rather, they must uphold the guidelines. The commission voted unanimously in favor of denying the second two applications, but one commissioner voted against denial on the first property, stating he was concerned about the threat of continued blight.

In other business, the commission reviewed updated designs for a new construction, six-story hotel proposed for 500 Piety St., a vacant lot directly adjacent to the Rusty Rainbow bridge in the Bywater Historic District. The proposed project has been under commission review since 2019, including multiple meetings with the Architectural Review Committee (ARC). The commission voted to approve the changes made in response to ARC comments, with the caveat that further consideration would be required at staff-level regarding cladding, window size, and awning style at the entry.

In the Esplanade Ridge Historic District, the commission reviewed proposed work at 1914 Esplanade Ave. The double-gallery house constructed in 1882 is notable as the last design and project executed by the local architect Henry Howard. The staff had no objection to the removal of wood siding and installation of smooth-finish Hardie Plank at the rear elevation. The installation of Hardie Plank requires commission review, and all voted in favor of approval. Nearby in the Faubourg Marigny Historic District, the commission approved the removal of an existing slate roof for replacement with new asphalt/fiberglass roof shingles at 2425-27 Chartres St. The staff report noted that the current condition of the slate roof is deteriorating, and repairing or replacing the roof in kind would be cost prohibitive.

Photo 1: 5514-5516, 5518-5520, and 5524 Tchoupitoulas St.  Photo 2: 1914 Esplanade Ave.  Photos by Dee Allen.

Representatives from Green Light Solar, LLC appeared regarding the retention application for solar panels that were installed without a Certificate of Appropriateness at 118 Verret St. in the Algiers Point Historic District, which has been heard several times now. The item was subsequently removed from the agenda because the revised application met the design guidelines and can be approved at staff level. The Green Light Solar reps indicated they want to avoid these problems in the future and take the lead on ensuring solar panels companies comply with the HDLC’s regulations.

On a related note, just before the meeting adjourned the staff described a report they are working on regarding solar panel installation in historic district, in which they analyze data and conduct stakeholder outreach. Current information indicates that the HDLC has approved 98 percent of solar panel applications received. Next, the staff will draft proposed changes to the design guidelines, considering in particular the issue of allowing solar panels on both sides of corner properties.

The CBDHDLC meeting was a brief one, that only included two items on the consent agenda: details of the renovation of 843 Camp St. and the installation of a rooftop awning on the non-contributing building at 1000 Magazine St. The consent agenda was approved with a unanimous vote.