The 143-year-old home of Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church of Eternal Life, formerly thePerseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Society Hall, has received a $100,000 grant from the Preserving Black Churches program, an effort of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The church, at 1644 N. Villere St., suffered severe damage in Hurricane Ida, when the building partially collapsed from the storm’s strong winds.
Since the storm, Nathan Lott, PRC’s Director of Policy Research and Advocacy Coordinator, has worked closely with the Rev. Harold Lewis, pastor of Holy Aid and Comfort, and other local preservationists to help secure funding needed to repair the historic building, which once hosted many of the city’s early jazz musicians. On behalf of the church, Lott prepared the grant application to the National Trust program.
In an October 2022 Preservation in Print article, Lewis expressed his hopes for renovating the damaged building so church services could resume there and to open the space to community groups and artists. This effort would return the building to the multi-faceted role it played when it opened in 1880 as the headquarters of La Société de la Perseverance, a benevolent society founded by free Creoles of color before the Civil War. The association was one of many to provide medical and burial benefits to members who were denied mainstream insurance because of their race.
The society also hosted concerts and dances at its hall, which included a large open space with a stage and loft for musicians at the far end. Around 1900, musicians performing at the hall started playing in a new style that would become known as jazz. The breakthrough came from bandleader Buddy Bolden, who ad-libbed phrases on his cornet and played with a bluesy feel. (Perseverance Hall was one of the precious few places in which Bolden played that has survived through the 20th century.)
The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The grant from the National Trust’s Preserving Black Churches program will provide a lifeline for restoring this historic treasure. As the Trust wrote: “When Hurricane Ida displaced the Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church in 2021, the congregation feared they would lose 140 years of Black history amid New Orleans’ gentrifying 7th Ward. Their church building is the historic Perseverance Hall where jazz has its roots in the city. The grant will help the church rebuild its structure and continue offering stability and support for its most vulnerable and dedicated community members.”
Holy Aid and Comfort was one of 35 historic Black churches across the United States that received funding in the first round of the Preserving Black Churches grant program. To learn more about the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, visit https://savingplaces.org/african-american-cultural-heritage.