Walking through the cement-clad yard full of old windows, columns and door frames, a visitor has the sense of exploring an architectural graveyard. Each item bears the scars of its past life as part of a home somewhere in New Orleans. On the right, windows with missing panes; on the left, cast iron rails still covered in the dirt they were pulled from; and up ahead a pile of doors with the waterlines of Hurricane Katrina. Street addresses label each item, silent reminders of the time when it was just one piece of many that made up a family home. But this isn’t a final resting place where these slightly damaged architectural pieces come to decompose; it’s a haven of rebirth. This is the Preservation Resource Center’s Warehouse Salvage Store.
Since its inception in late 2007, the salvage store has been a sanctuary of historic and environmental preservation. As more and more structures were demolished due to severe structural damage after Katrina, countless priceless and unique architectural items were hauled away to rot, taking up space in a distant landfill. The PRC recognized the need to save as many of these artifacts as possible, preserving the city’s architectural heritage while aiding the environment by reusing these materials. Along with FEMA, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Mercy Corps, the PRC plays a vital role in the deconstruction process by receiving, housing, and selling salvageable items from demolished homes and buildings.
“We receive one to four trailer loads a day that are varied in number and size of salvaged items,” explains Alec Hamilton, PRC’s salvage and deconstruction assistant. All these shipments would be heading to the landfill were it not for the foresight of the PRC. After the items are unloaded and cleaned (usually by Rebuilding Together volunteers), they are sold to residents of Orleans Parish. “Our prices are usually a half or a third of the price as new items,” adds Hamilton, “and it’s mostly renovating homeowners who are buying these items.”
Not only is the store beneficial to Orleans homeowners and the environment, it also creates valuable funds for the PRC itself – around $6,000 a month – that can be used to further the goal of preservation and restoration of the city. In addition, PRC’s Rebuilding Together program uses some of the salvaged items to reconstruct homes of low-income elderly and disabled owners, saving them money that they can ill afford to lose.
Hamilton enjoys all the positives that accompany her position. “I like seeing these beautiful items preserved and people taking the time to see the value in old craftsmanship,” she says. “It’s exciting to see what the PRC does for the community, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Come by and visit Alec at the salvage store and see for yourself how these items can be revived to lead new lives as beautiful testaments to the indomitable character of New Orleans.
The PRC Warehouse Salvage Store is located at 2801 Marais Street and can be reached at 504.947.0038. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.