IN THE 1880S, passenger trains ferrying a steady stream of people into and out of New Orleans stopped on Washington Avenue in the Garden District. To capitalize on the foot traffic guaranteed by the nearby train stop, enterprising businessmen constructed a skating rink on the corner of Washington and Prytania Streets in 1884. Newspaper ads of the time show dapper young men clad in top hats, monocles and tails skating alongside women in ankle-length gowns, high collars and full gloves.
âThe Crescent City Skate Rink, as it was known, was later transformed into a carriage house and livery, and eventually a mortuary. Much has changed since those days, but the building still remains.
âNamed for its roots in the skating world, The Rink will serve as the headquarters for this yearâs Shotgun House Tour. Owner Barry Fox, an architect who spearheaded the renovation and restoration of the historic building, said the goal from the start was to retain as much historic character as possible while converting the space into a mixed-use commercial venue. âWhat we did when we came along was put in an intermediate floor,â Fox said. âI needed to put parking in to make the whole thing financially feasible.â
âWith 45 parking spots on the ground floor below the shops and offices, The Rink cleared that hurdle with ease, and the new open layout allows for ample room along the main floor. The original roof had to be replaced in the late 1970s when Fox and his late partners bought the building, but the exposed rafters and some of the woodwork date back to the Crescent City Skating Rinkâs earliest days.
âMany historic renovation projects today rely on historic tax credits on the state and federal levels, but Fox used a different method to ensure his project would get off the ground. âIn 1980, we applied for and received federal historic tax incentives in the form of a five-year depreciation schedule,â he said. âThese were not tax credits. They gave you accelerated depreciation, which basically meant that your income tax was less.â
âWith the project secured and funded, Fox set out to strike a balance between offering commercial and office space. âWeâve always had in mind that it would be a mixed-use project, since the beginning,â he said. âA smaller portion of the building is utilized for professional offices that want to take advantage of the fine location in a residential area like the Garden District rather than the hustle and bustle of downtown New Orleans.â
âToday, civic groups like the Garden District Association and authors conducting signings at the ever-popular Garden District Book Shop use the mall-like area between the shops lining each side of The Rink to draw large crowds.
Photo courtesy of Barry Fox