PRC’s new book highlights historic preservation efforts across New Orleans

Order your copy of Building on the Past: Saving Historic New Orleans today!

The Preservation Resource Center’s new book, Building on the Past: Saving Historic New Orleans, is nothing less than a celebration of the work done by industrious, passionate New Orleanians to save this city’s priceless legacy of distinctive architecture — and the history within it. With a combination of stories and pictures, the book shows what has been accomplished all over town — in the French Quarter, Tremé, Uptown and the Lower 9th Ward, to name a few neighborhoods.

The buildings range from the over-the-top opulent Saenger Theatre to a French Quarter cottage built two years after the Louisiana Purchase to a couple of crumbling Central Business District buildings that have been transformed into a chic boutique hotel.

In a series of building profiles, the book’s three authors — Danielle Del Sol, Susan Langenhennig and myself — show how people pulled off these transformations. Illustrating our stories are distinctive photographs by Chris Granger that show off these places in ways you’ve never seen before. (Even frequent theater-goers will be blown away by the fine details that pervade the Saenger.)

But the book isn’t just all beautiful photos. Each chapter provides information on the tools used by historic preservationists to save buildings today, including historic preservation easements, tax credits and community-driven projects.

In the midst of these inspirational tales of architectural resurrection are obituaries of departed buildings.

Yes, obituaries. Of buildings.

These obituaries focus on structures that fell victim to the wrecking ball. Some were demolished before historic preservation had taken hold in New Orleans. Others were razed to make way for new buildings. And one was trashed by the flood after Hurricane Katrina.

Why obituaries? Here’s why. Each building on our list was a landmark that deserves to be remembered. For several years, I have written obituaries for people in The Times-Picayune. In each obituary I write, I always make a point of going beyond a dreary chronology of the subject’s life and instead bring the individual’s personality into the story so readers will get an idea of what made that person tick.

It’s the same with buildings. In these architectural obituaries, I’ve tried to show what made these places distinctive components of the city’s life.

The St. Charles Hotel, for instance, was a lavish institution that featured a stunning atrium and included three presidents as guests. The original Temple Sinai was not only a house of worship but also, in its later years, the headquarters of a repertory theater. The Rivergate and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church were notable pieces of modernist architecture. And the original Union Station was the only train station designed by the famed architect Louis Sullivan, whose colleagues on that project included the soon-to-be-famous Frank Lloyd Wright.


These buildings are lost, but I like to think they live on in memories — and in this book.

Besides being reminders of what once stood in New Orleans, I like to think they should remind us of the importance of having a concerned cadre of preservationists who are determined to save New Orleans’ architectural treasures.

Published by the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, this book’s proceeds will support the PRC’s work in historic neighborhoods and with homeowners across the city and will underwrite the publication of more books about the role that historic preservation can — and should — play in a vibrant New Orleans.

John Pope, who has been a reporter in New Orleans since 1973, was a member of The Times-Picayune team that won two Pulitzer Prizes and a George Polk Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. An anthology of his obituaries, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, was published in 2015.



Praise for Building on the Past: Saving Historic New Orleans

“This colorful and insightful book shows how passionate New Orleans preservationists have worked miracles in saving what makes our city vibrant and beautiful. It took persistence and vision and a little bit of craziness, but they have repeatedly succeeded. The force behind the movement is the Preservation Resource Center, and this book shows how the group has positioned New Orleans for the future by revitalizing its past.”

WALTER ISAACSON, author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography


This book is “both a history of the heroes who saved New Orleans from capitalism’s worst impulses and a gorgeous piece of
real estate porn.”

MICHAEL LEWIS, author of The Fifth Risk; The Undoing Project; Flash Boys; The Big Short; The Blind Side; and Moneyball


“Despite all evidence to the contrary, great buildings are living entities. They beguile and surprise, and make us feel safe. When they’re gone, we miss them like people we should have treated better when we had the chance. Buy this beautiful book. Then, if you can, call your mother!”

GWEN THOMPKINS, host of public radio’s Music Inside Out



Book signings & events

Nov. 2: Authors Susan Langenhennig, John Pope and Danielle Del Sol and photographer Chris Granger will take part in a panel discussion at the Louisiana Book Festival from 9-9:45 a.m. at the State Capitol Building, House Committee Room 5, 900 North 3rd St., Baton Rouge.

Nov. 7: Book signing hosted by East Jefferson Parish Library, 7 p.m., 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie

Nov. 16: Book signing hosted by Garden District Book Shop, 1-3 p.m., 2727 Prytania St.

Nov. 21: Book signing hosted by Hazelnut boutique, 5-6 p.m., 5525 Magazine St.

Dec. 3: Book signing hosted by Octavia Books, 6 p.m., 513 Octavia St.

Dec. 14-15: Book signing at PRC Holiday Home Tour boutique, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Trinity Episcopal Church, 1329 Jackson Ave.


Order Building on the Past: Saving Historic New Orleans today!