This story appeared in the October issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
Drawing stark attention to historic places and local cultural symbols that are in danger of being lost, the Louisiana Landmarks Society unveiled its annual New Orleans Nine list as a rallying cry to save these historic treasures.
The 2022 List of New Orleans’ Nine Most Endangered Sites is modeled after the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s roundup of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. “The list aims to save historic sites and facilities that may be threatened by demolition, neglect or bureaucracy,” the Landmarks Society said, adding that it hopes “to educate the public that the loss of these resources would diminish the community.”
The New Orleans Nine Selection Committee included Betsy Stout and Anthony Marino as committee co-chairs; Sally Reeves, archivist, historian and recent former Landmarks Society’s president; Michael Duplantier, attorney and Landmarks Society’s past president; Peter Trapolin, architect; Sandra L. Stokes, Landmarks Society’s past president and chair of advocacy; Tracy St. Julien, senior architectural historian of the Historic District Landmarks Commission; Nathan Lott, policy research director and advocacy coordinator of the Preservation Resource Center; John Boyd, chair of the Central Business District Historic District Landmarks Commission; Louis Costa, engineer and former president of the French Market Corporation; and Rene Fransen, current Landmarks Society president.
The 2022 New Orleans Nine mostly focuses on the City of New Orleans, though one featured entry is outside of the city limits. The following text was provided by the Louisiana Landmarks Society, but edited for space.
Lack of Enforcement
THREAT: Diminished predictability and quality of life
Blighted buildings. Overgrown vacant lots. Noise. Short-term-rentals. Nothing frustrates New Orleanians more than lack of enforcement of our laws, rules and the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. The administration fails to hold departments accountable. Inadequate city agency budgets lead to a shortage of inspectors. Citizens suffer when regulations, quality-of-life laws, city code and land-use zoning fail to create predictability. Without enforcement, none of the rules and laws can make any difference.
THREAT: Loss of an iconic design
The renowned New Orleans single-story shotgun home may seem ubiquitous as an architectural style. However, true “shotguns” are becoming increasingly rare as they are purchased, gutted of their iconic plan, camel-backed and flipped. Besides drastically modifying the quintessential shotgun plan, McMansion-style additions alter the scale of our historic neighborhoods, while the conversion of double shotguns to single homes contributes to the depletion of much-needed affordable housing stock. Similar to the disappearing dogtrot style, the shotgun plan is becoming lost as both interiors and exteriors are modified — no longer qualifying the home to be considered a true shotgun.
Iconic New Orleans detailing
THREAT: Theft, Vandalism, Non-Replacement
It is said that “God is in the details,” and in New Orleans we are losing those details at a rapid pace. Whether it is New Orleans’ ceramic tile street markers, the Sewerage and Water Board’s much loved and replicated water meter covers, the Spanish street wall plaques in the Vieux Carré, or the granite curbs that used to line our streets — these historic details are quickly vanishing. Through breakage, theft, vandalism and/or the city’s desire to save money, these seemingly inconsequential, individual losses erode the historic character of the city piece by piece.
LOCATION: River Road, Hahnville
THREAT: Disagreement of heirs and developmental pressures
One of the last remaining large French Colonial raised cottages now sits in desolation only 30 minutes outside of New Orleans. Built in the 1790s, this home reveals exposed West Indian-style bousillage construction, with original features, such as cypress floors, mantels, marble tile on the first floor, and more. Named a National Historic Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, the home is threatened by encroaching industrial companies continually appropriating prime river-fronting land, housing developments capitalizing on acreage, complications and differing objectives of the heirs, and recent damage from Hurricane Ida. This once lively family home is in desperate need of stabilization and repair.
Moss Street corridor
LOCATION: Bayou St. John Neighborhood
THREAT: Inappropriate development
The historic Moss Street corridor and Bayou St. John neighborhood are being rapidly transformed. Inappropriate construction has led to historic homes being demolished; cottages being hoisted into the air and modified beyond recognition; inappropriate, bayou-fronting double garages; and massive alterations and construction that are out of scale and character for the neighborhood. Elements that made the area so attractive are being lost. Creating a full-control historic district would help allay these inappropriate, intensive developments and aid in retaining the desirous Moss Street corridor and Bayou St. John neighborhood.
LOCATION: 1001 Howard Ave.
THREAT: Abandonment and neglect
Described at its completion in 1965 as a “brilliant and magnificent edifice,” the Plaza Tower at Loyola and Howard avenues in downtown New Orleans has long suffered from a fall from economic importance and architectural grace. Designed by Leonard Spangenberg, Jr., the tower, once the tallest in Louisiana, is empty and deteriorating, with building elements occasionally falling dangerously to the street. The “alphabet soup” of ownership, “revolving door” of management and the loss in 1996 of a state lease due to building problems, has left the tower without tenants for more than 20 years, standing as a blight on downtown and as an embarrassing eyesore for the city.
Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Society Hall
LOCATION: 1644 N. Villere St.
THREAT: Hurricane damage and neglect
This important jazz landmark in the Seventh Ward neighborhood suffered near catastrophic damage from the winds of Hurricane Ida. Structural failure included the complete collapse of the rear wall and near collapse of the two side walls and roof, with only the front façade remaining intact and upright. Long before becoming a church, the hall was home to the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association and hosted performances by many early jazz musicians whose music had a profound impact on American society and culture. With the loss locally of so many early jazz venues, it is critically important that all remaining sites be protected and preserved. Read more about the hall’s history
Creole Center Hall Cottage
LOCATION: 1406 Elysian Fields Ave.
THREAT: Demolition by neglect
Decades of residents of this formerly distinguished home and dependency were witnesses to history. The Creole center hall cottage on Elysian Fields Avenue in Faubourg St. Roch had a front row seat on the route of Smoky Mary and its 100-year run carrying passengers and freight out to Milneburg on Lake Pontchartrain, as well as to the emergence of New Orleans jazz as practiced and perfected by the neighborhood’s early musical legends, including Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Paul Barbarin. Now, the home sits vacant, threatened, deteriorating and neglected. With care and attention, this home could once again reclaim its proper role as a witness to yet more history.
Valence Street Baptist Church
LOCATION: 4636 Magazine St.
THREAT: Demolition by neglect
Designed by prominent architect Thomas Sully in 1885, this church building is believed to be the first and one of only two church commissions by Sully during his 22 years of work in New Orleans. Built in the “Stick Style,” a design that represented a stylistic antecedent to the Queen Anne style championed by Sully, the building is dominated by a distinctive square tower and has been credited as the most architecturally significant frame church in the city. Long a fixture along Magazine Street and for years described as “the country church uptown,” the church building is now forlorn and neglected, a former neighborhood anchor now in decline on a busy, thriving commercial part of Magazine Street. Read more