Pete Fountain’s childhood home to be considered for city landmark status after years of neglect

On Wednesday, the Historic District Landmarks Commission will consider designating Pete Fountain’s childhood home as a city landmark. The nomination comes as the unassuming shotgun has suffered from years of neglect. The property has been cited for code violations going back to at least 2014 related to lack of maintenance and rodent problems.

In June, Sandra Stokes of the Louisiana Landmarks Society nominated the property for city landmark status. As Fountain’s former home, 822 North White would fall under the HDLC criteria of being “identified with historic personages or with important events in national, state or local history.”

If the home does become a landmark, it will be placed under more stringent protections. But landmark status alone is no guarantee that the property will be cared for or rehabilitated. Jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden’s house, itself designated a city landmark, has deteriorated rapidly despite its owner being cited repeatedly for demolition by neglect and other violations.

The mint green double shotgun at 820-822 North White St. in Bayou St. John does little to catch the eye, but its noteworthy history makes it stand out. Like countless other shotguns in New Orleans, it was constructed in the late 1890s in the popular bracketed Italianate style. The house shows its age, with peeling paint, chipped wood and an overgrown yard.

In 1929, Dewey Fountain moved his family into the home; one year later, Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr. — who would become famous as the clarinetist Pete Fountain — was born on July 3, 1930. Previously, the house had been the residence of the Jastram family for 15 years, and before that it was the rental home of numerous residents. According to media reports quoting Fountain’s family, young Pete could often be found practicing his clarinet in the backyard and performing for his grandmother. He called 822 North White home until 1951, when he and his wife Beverly were married.

The home’s current owner Thu Can purchased the property in 2005. It has been unoccupied for around three years, according to media reports.

The Preservation Resource Center hopes that the landmark nomination motivates the property owner to rehabilitate this home or sell it to someone who will work to save it and acknowledge the property’s important history. The home may qualify for state and federal rehabilitation tax incentives, and the PRC would be happy to share information about those programs with the owner.

Preserving the history and legacy of musicians such as Pete Fountain ensures that the story of jazz is more than just the music itself. For it is within homes like 822 North White St. where the music was born.

Photos by Jack Gillespie