This interview appeared in the October 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!
President, Preservation Resource Center Board of Directors
What inspired you to get involved in historic preservation?
To answer this question, I first need to share when and where I gained an appreciation of the historic architecture of New Orleans.
As a girl growing up in old Algiers, we walked everywhere — to the Hubble Library, to Mass at All Saints Catholic Church, to pharmacies and grocery stores. Even our family physician had his office in a portion of his home in Algiers Point.
It was walking through these neighborhoods that I not only noticed, but admired the lovely homes, gardens and the complete neighborhood where we lived.
My sister and I used to have so much fun, picking out the house we would live in when we “grew up.” Algiers Point had so many options, I think we changed our choices on every walk. As a child, I thought our neighborhood would be there forever.
My first realization of how vulnerable we were came with the construction of the first span of the Crescent City Connection bridge. It took the entire block across from our family home at 528 Bringier St. Years later, the second span was built, and this time, it took our home as well.
Fast forward to the 1980s. I read an article about the formation of an organization called the Preservation Resource Center and its work to save our beautiful historic architecture and neighborhoods. I followed the PRC’s work for years, and finally when my life calmed down after rearing two children and retiring, I began to volunteer with the PRC.
You worked for many years in organizational management for a major multi-national corporation. Now, you serve on the boards of several local nonprofit organizations, including the Preservation Resource Center. How does your corporate background influence what and where you dedicate your time today?
I had the most amazing career which afforded me the opportunity to travel to many countries and experience many different cultures. The most important learning experience for me is recognizing how systems play a vital role in the success of everything — from the individual, team or organizational level.
That said, I volunteer in support of our most vulnerable citizens, the homeless population as a board member of Unity of Greater New Orleans. I’m also on the board of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, which educates the artistically talented youth of our state. I serve on our neighborhood association board, to help engage our residents and create opportunities to bring them together. I’m also a board member of the Independent Women’s Organization that works to advocate for policy changes at the state and federal levels.
Finally, I volunteer with the PRC, which has as its mission the preservation of historic architecture, neighborhoods and the cultural identity of our wonderful city.
In summary, I looked across the landscape and asked, where can I contribute, in this system of people, places and policy.
Leslie Bouie, Joseph Bouie, Jr. and Mary Matalin at this year’s President’s Circle event on May 13, 2021. Photo by Liz Jurey.
You were instrumental in nominating the Edgewood Park neighborhood in Gentilly to the National Register of Historic Places. Why was that effort important to you, and how do you think the neighborhood has benefited from that recognition?
It wasn’t until I became president of the Gentilly Terrace and Gardens Improvement Association that I met the officers of Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association (EPNA) and actually toured the neighborhood. It’s such a great neighborhood with lovely architecture and such talented and committed residents. I was proud to support EPNA in its well-deserved distinction. The neighborhood’s recognition on the National Register inspired the residents to an even greater appreciation of their community and energized the neighbors to engage in civic activities.
You grew up in Algiers and have lived in Gentilly for many years. What are your favorite places in the city?
This is a difficult question, because when one loves New Orleans as I do, I should just point to a map of the city and say, “that place.” But because I’m indigenous, steeped in family and traditions, my favorite places are:
- My house on Franklin Avenue for the Good Friday Fish Fry
- Algiers for the family gatherings to watch the NOMTOC Parade
- The Morial Convention Center for the Zulu Ball
- Gentilly for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
- McDonogh Cemetery on All Saints Day
- Wherever my grandchildren Naomi, Marigny and Louie are.
If you had a magic wand and could improve one thing about New Orleans, what would it be?
This is an easy question. I would change the mindset of every citizen to become a change agent at the individual, neighborhood and city level. Every person would develop a personal goal to improve something.