This story first 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 each month? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
A vacant Mid-Century Modern-style building in Mid-City has been rehabilitated into the newest restaurant and headquarters of the Ruby Slipper, a popular local restaurant chain. The new restaurant on Broad Street opened its doors to its first customers last December.
Prior to the renovation, the former Carpenters & Joiners Union building sat vacant and shuttered for several years while awaiting a new owner. For Jennifer and Erich Weishaupt, the husband-and-wife owners of the Ruby Slipper, the building was nothing but potential. Although it needed plenty of maintenance and cosmetic updates, the Weishaupts saw the two-story, 10,000-square-foot space as the perfect place to expand their operations with a new café on the first floor and a larger headquarters for their growing business on the second floor.
The couple purchased the building in 2015 and hired Studio BKA Architects to design the new space for the historic building, while Woodward Service Group oversaw the construction. The project was “an incredible blend of historic preservation, modern techniques and innovative design in all areas of the development,” said Ben Allen of Studio BKA in a press release last December. Historic tax credits made the redevelopment of the building possible and guided the restoration of the building’s brick façade, interior plaster walls and trim work, original steel windows and aluminum storefront entry doors.
Originally built in 1950, the former Carpenters & Joiners Union building was designed by local architecture firm Weiss & Silverstein. Leon Weiss — more widely known for his earlier work with Weiss, Dreyfous & Seifierth — was a prominent voice in architecture in the early and mid-20th century, and helped bring new architectural trends to Louisiana by experimenting with styles like Art Deco and Modernism. His impressive legacy includes many prominent public buildings across the state, including the Art Deco-style Charity Hospital in New Orleans and the towering Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
Although smaller and more understated than many of the large, public buildings Weiss designed with Dreyfous & Seifierth, the former Carpenters & Joiners Union building is no exception to his architectural innovation. The modest two-story building was designed with an unornamented brick façade, steel windows and an aluminum awning — all hallmarks of Mid-Century Modern design — which demonstrate a rejection of traditional ornamentation and an embrace of modern ideals with an emphasis of form, efficiency and structure.
The transformation of the building into the new home of the Ruby Slipper will preserve a piece of Weiss’ modernist architectural legacy without sacrificing present-day needs and amenities. Contemporary interior design blends with original features of the building, with details like globe light fixtures drawing inspiration from Mid-Century Modern design. The historic structure was retrofitted with modern commercial kitchens, an elevator and an acoustic wood plank ceiling, accommodating 105 customers on the first-floor restaurant space. The second floor, now housing the company’s headquarters, was reconfigured with offices and a conference room. The site’s landscaping is sensitive to the environment, utilizing permeable paving technology and bioswales to lessen its impact on the New Orleans’ drainage infrastructure.
The cherry on top of the restaurant’s transformation is a new neon sign that electrifies the building’s presence along Broad Street. The former union’s historic neon sign was removed from the building in 2012 when the organization moved to Kenner. Today, a dazzling new sign shines a light on the Mid-Century Modern façade once again. Just as the new sign is a welcome addition to the Broad Street’s iconic neon signs, the new Ruby Slipper is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s vibrant commercial district.
Before & After Images
Photos courtesy Studio BKA