Monday, November 07, 2005

One approach to "rebuilding' neighborhoods

Historian, geographer and author Richard Campanella presented an apolitical idea on how to decide which areas get rebuilt. Speaking at a meeting of the City Planning subcommittee of the Bring New Orleans Back commission, Campanella proposed a methodology that uses four factors to rate the rebuild-ability of neighborhoods: desire of residents to return; historicity of building stock; extent of damage to buildings; and environmental safety. While he's not claiming this approach would solve every problem, it does remove emotion from the discussion. Read more at

New tower in the French Quarter?

Plans have been announced for a 316 foot tall condominium tower at the corner of Rampart and Canal Streets, site of the current Woolworth's building. The height limit for Canal Street is 85 feet, meaning the current proposal would require an almost 300% waiver. Landmarks has requested a meeting with the developers to learn more about the project before taking a position on the matter. Read more at

The demolition rumors

In an article in Saturday's Times-Picayune, Safety and Permits director Mike Centenio confirmed that thousands of homes will likely be demolished. Others that suffered significant water damage may be required to be raised several feet off the ground to meet new flood elevation levels. Others can be repaired as is. Confused? Try reading the article: Or to get the damage assessment for your own property, visit

Friday, October 28, 2005

Learning from what's worked - Charleston after Hugo

What pops into mind when you think about Charleston, South Carolina? Historic architecture. Bustling economy. Progressive approaches. You probably don't think about Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the coastal city in 1989. And the reason you probably don't think about Hugo is that the city has made such a remarkable recovery, preserving its character while using the changes wrought by the hurricane to make advances. Mayor Joe Riley sees a bright future for New Orleans as well: "So much good will come from this, and good will come from this because of the extraordinary compassion of the human spirit." Read the entire story at

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Usufruct Proposal

The Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times included an article with a bold - and controversial - proposal to deal with the abandoned homes of the near future. At the core of the idea is a concept called usufruct, which gives second parties the right to use and even profit from another entity's private property. Under the plan, whose details are sketchy, the government would have the right to take control (but not ownership) of abandoned homes, make repairs, and then rent them to returnees without other residential options. The owners would be allowed to reclaim their properties after a certain period of time had passed, but would have to compensate the government for repair costs.

The idea has some merit. After all, something will have to be done with the thousands of homes that will be abandoned (and the city's current process, through the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, has never been able to handle even a few hundred cases a year). But many questions need to be answered before proceeding. Who would administer such a gargantuan task? How would fair compensation for repair work be calculated? Who would decide eligibility for the renovated homes? Who would manage these vast numbers of rental properties? And lastly, why is this idea being floated almost 2000 miles away and not in the city it would so greatly affect?,0,6291753.story?coll=la-tot-promo

The timeless Lafcadio Hearn

The following letter to the editor, penned by C. Ward Bond, appeared in yesterday's Times-Picayune. We found it especially insightful.

When Lafcadio Hearn moved to New Orleans in the 1870s, he wrote to a friend back in Cincinnati:

"Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio."


Monday, October 24, 2005

Demolitions - the information vacuum

Landmarks has tried for weeks to get a straight answer from the city administration regarding demolition policies, but so far, no luck. The best we got was an assurance from the deputy director of Safety and Permits that all policies and procedures would remain in place. However, given that no schedule has been announced for the resumption of meetings of the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (which reviews demolition applications for neighborhoods like Mid-City, Gentilly, and other historic areas), that assurance seems hollow.

Yesterday's New York Times included a disturbing article (link below) about demolition of approximately a quarter of our city's structures. The citizens of New Orleans are being kept in the dark about these plans, yet our leaders are sharing information with out-of-state reporters.

We're scratching our heads, too.

NY Times article

Public hearing on "rebuilding and reconstruction efforts" on Tuesday, October 25

DATE: Tuesday, October 25, 2005
TIME: 10:00 a.m.
PLACE: New Orleans City Planning Commission Board Room
1300 Perdido Street, 9th Floor
New Orleans, Louisiana
PURPOSE: Public hearing on the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts for the New Orleans area
TO: Members of the House Subcommittee on Orleans of the House Special Committee on
Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization and
members of the Senate Subcommittee on Orleans of the Senate Select Committee on
Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization
FROM: Alfred W. Speer
The members of the House Subcommittee on Orleans of the House Special Committee on Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization chaired by Representative Charmaine Marchand and members of the Senate Select Committee on Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization chaired by Senator Diana Bajoie will meet jointly as follows:

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Public meetings information

Monday 10/31 - 2 pm - Bring New Orleans Back Commission, 4th floor, NottowayRoom, Sheraton Hotel

Tuesday 11/1 - 4 pm - Central Business District Historic Districts LandmarksCommission meeting, 830 Julia St. 565-7440

Thursday, November 3/10 am until. New Orleans City Council meeting. City Hall. 658-1000.

Monday 11/7 - 2 pm - Bring New Orleans Back Commission, 4th floor, NottowayRoom, Sheraton Hotel.

Tuesday 11/8 - 1:30 pm - Vieux Carre Commission Architectural ReviewCommittee meeting, 2nd floor, 334 Royal St. 528-3950

Tuesday 11/8 - 1 pm - New Orleans District Historic Districts LandmarksCommission meeting, 830 Julia St. 565-7440

NOTE: at this time, no meetings have been scheduled for the Housing Conservation District Review Committee.

Help for damaged slate/asbestos roofs!

FEMA blue roofs now dot many neighborhoods, but the older the neighborhood, the fewer the blue roofs. Why? FEMA won't install tarps on slate or asbestos roofs (so common in historic 'hoods) because their technique requires a soft surface into which they can nail the tarp.

Of course, there are alternative installation techniques, and Landmarks has been contacted by a kindhearted roofing professional who wants to help those left in the cold by FEMA. If you have a slate or asbestos roof that was damaged by Katrina, and need to have it tarped, please email Landmarks at and write "blue roof" in the subject line. We'll do our best to put you in touch with the roofing group and get your house secure.

Or maybe you're the clever type who figured out a way to tarp your own hard-surface roof - if so, write to us and tell us how you did it. We'll share ideas to help those who aren't eligible for the FEMA program.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A voice for preservation?

Pressed by WWL-TV to explain why the mayor's "Bring New Orleans Back" committee did not include any neighborhood representatives or preservation experts, spokeswoman Sally Forman said "the mayor agrees that careful consideration must be given to preservation interests as the city is rebuilt. She said the 16-member Bring New Orleans Back Commission will eventually have subcommittees, including a housing committee that likely will include neighborhood and preservation leaders."

"We agree it would be stupid to rebuild New Orleans without carefully preserving our unique architecture," Forman said.

Full story at

Many neighborhood and preservation leaders have made attempts to join the subcommittees, but as of yesterday none of the applicants contacted by Landmarks had been approached about serving. Time will tell whethere the subcommittees will, in fact, inlcude these obvious facets of our community and economy.

Call for volunteers

After losing five of its seven staffers, the Vieux Carre Commission has issued a call for volunteers to assist in all facets of the agency's operation, including inspections, office help, and more. This vital agency is charged with protecting what is arguably the most historically significant neighborhood in the United States, so its continued operation is essential to the recovery of the city. For a volunteer application, email

Neighborhood leaders are chagrined by the mayor's decision to cut the VCC staff so deeply. Nathan Chapman, president of VCPORA, called the decision "'a senseless amputation' at a time when protecting New Orleans' historic heritage is essential if the city's vital tourist industry is to come back." Read the whole story at

PRC hosts workshop on Friday, October 21

The Preservation Resource Center and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are hosting a workshop this Friday, October 4 at the PRC building. The focus will be on repairing and cleaning homes, insurance and financial matters, local historic agency requirements, and other practical matters that returning property owners will be facing. Admission is free, but seating is limited. For additional information, call Michelle Kimball at (504) 636-3049.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

NY Times critic weighs in on "rebuilding"

The New York Times' architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff takes a philosophical view of local proposals to "rebuild" the city, and has some harsh words about River Garden, [image above] the model Mayor Nagin has fixed on as the apparent replacement for some neighborhoods (although which neighborhoods those are has yet to be revealed.)

Ouroussoff understands that it takes more than front porches and a dash of gingerbread to create a true neighborhood. He writes, "What is missing from River Garden, of course, are the small-grained details of everyday life, built up over decades, that the development claims to honor." Read the article at

HDLC, HCDRC off the chopping block

Rumors and news reports swirled last week about Mayor Nagin's consideration of a plan to suspend the jurisdictions of the HDLC and HCDRC. Yesterday, the Times-Picayune came out with an editorial ( urging the mayor not to sign the decree, stating that "If a historic building is not in danger of crashing in on itself, it shouldn't be demolished without going through a review process." But what seemed obvious to the TP and preservationists was still on the table until today, when it was reported ( that the mayor had decided not to sign the decree.

While the preservation community is breathing a sigh of relief, the fact that this idea ever made it to the point of serious consideration is still alarming.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lolis knows what it means

Lolis Eric Elie, a columnist for the Times-Picayune and frequent opiner on the city's history and culture, published an editorial today about the mindset of the current administration. Of Mayor Nagin, Elie writes, "He destroys that which he does not understand in the hope of replacing it with the shiny, shallow, new stuff he does understand." Read the full editorial at:

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Historic protections endangered

The Nagin administration is considering a decree that would essentially eliminate the three local agencies that review demolition proposals. Read today's Times Picayune's story at

The two affected agencies - the Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Housing Conservation District Review Committee - have different duties depending on the neighborhoods in question, but both review privately initiated demolition applications. Theoretically, the suspension of their jurisdictions would allow for unreviewed and unpublicized demolitions.

In preparing this decree, the administration chose not to consult members of the staffs or commissions of these agencies, nor any members of the wider preservation community.

(For the record, the The rationale given in the decree asserts that the regulations could "prevent, hinder or delay necessary actions...", when, in fact, the HDLC had already taken steps to streamline the process. Most applications can now be processed on the spot. See the 10.08.05 posting for details.)

Now, more than ever, the city's historic neighborhoods need the protection offered by the HDLC and the HCDRC. We hope that this ill-conceived idea will never be implemented.

Friendly reminder

Landmarks welcomes suggestions, ideas, articles, opinions, and any kind of feedback from the readers of this blog. Please feel free to contact us at with your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Join the mayor's "Bring New Orleans Back" effort - if you can

Mayor Nagin's "Bring New Orleans Back" committee is reportedly establishing its subcommittees, and its 17 main members have until Friday, October 14 to submit nominations for the subcommittees. (The subcommittees include administration and government efficiency, culture, education, economic development, city and urban development, infrastructure, and health and social services.) Those interested in serving on a subcommittee are supposed to contact one of 17 committee members.

However, no information about the deadline or the process, much less contact information for any of the 17 commission members, has been posted on the city's website ( or the Bring New Orleans Back committee's website (

In the name of transparency and fairness, Landmarks hopes that the Bring New Orleans Back committee will extend its subcommittee nomination deadline and make a concerted effort to involve New Orleans citizens in this vitally important process. Public participation has never been more crucial.

Suspension of historic protection?

As unbelievable as it may sound, the Nagin administration has drafted a decree that would essentially suspend the review authority of both the New Orleans and Central Business District Historic District Landmarks Commissions, as well as the Housing Conservation District Review Committee*. Rumors had been swirling all week, but today an article in Biz New Orleans’ on-line publication seems to confirm that the document exists, although it has not been filed. Landmarks obviously finds this development very troubling. Read on:

* The HDLC has jurisdiction over alterations, new construction, and demolitions in locally protected historic districts such as Algiers Point, Holy Cross, Bywater, Marigny, Treme, Esplanade Ridge, the Central Business District, the Irish Channel, St. Charles Avenue, and numerous individual buildings across the city. The HCDRC reviews privately initated demolitions in most of the rest of the city, with the major exceptions being Lakeview and New Orleans East.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Blue roofs everywhere

If yours is one of the newly-skylit homes in the New Orleans area, there is hope. FEMA is installing blue tarps on homes with roof damage. The critical exceptions are those roofs made of slate or asbestos (the reason being that tarps are held in place with nails and boards, so the surface has to be nail-able). As we know, these types of roofs constitute a considerable percentage of roofs in historic neighborhoods, and other groups are working on solutions to address this problem.

To get your house on the list, call 1-888-ROOF-BLU (1-888-766-3258) or visit

Holy Cross - down but definitely not out

The news in parts of the Lower Ninth Ward is not as grim as the major media might have you believe. In fact, Holy Cross, the neighborhood along the river below the Industrial Canal, fared pretty well. True, most structures did take on water, but they are damaged rather than destroyed. Some buildings, including the Steamboat houses (one of the two is pictured here), were completely unscathed. The national media is beginning to make the distinction, as evidenced by this story on National Public Radio:

Monday, October 10, 2005

Get your permits here

The Department of Safety and Permits is open and is issuing renovation permits. You can reach their office at 658-7200.

The demolition question

Rumors have been flying for weeks about how the city will handle demolitions of buildings damaged by Katrina. What will the process be? Will there be opportunities for public input? While we wait for official word from the Nagin administration, reports that quote administration officials, such as this excerpt from Friday's Wall Street Journal, are ominous:

To fast-track storm-related demolitions, the city will exercise an exception in its municipal code for structures in "imminent danger of collapse," requiring no notice to be given to property owners. Mr. Meffert, whose oversight includes building-safety operations, says proposed condemnations will be reviewed by the Historic Districts Landmark. He says buildings not found to be historic or architecturally significant will be immediately scheduled for destruction. "The city is only going to decide that which Katrina already demolished," Mr. Meffert says. "That's what people need to know to get past this hysteria."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

HDLC back in action!

The Historic District Landmarks Commission is up and running again during regular business hours, Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (In fact, they even have a satellite office open at the Algiers courthouse from 2 – 4 p.m. on weekdays.) All facets of their normal operation are in place, including processing work applications and holding public meetings. The next HDLC meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 12 at 1 p.m. at their office at 830 Julia Street. Copies of the agenda will be available at the office on Monday.

The staff and commissioners understand that many property owners need to make immediate repairs and changes to their buildings, and have therefore streamlined the application process. In many cases, the staff can issue Certificates of Appropriateness on the spot (although in some cases further permits will be necessary from the Department of Safety and Permits, also reopened and located in City Hall).

To reach the HDLC, call 565-7440 or email them at their temporary email address:

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Reinventing" New Orleans asked its readers what should happen to New Orleans, and the results ran the gamut from thoughtulf and comprehensive to cynical and short-sighted. Our least favorite is below, from someone who wisely omitted his last name.

Flatten the slums, build staff quarters, give the French Quarter and the surrounding areas to Disney or Harrah's and turn it into a play park for grownups. Phil, Houston, Texas

To read the full article, go to

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another piece of jazz history lost

Yet another piece of jazz history has been lost. Katrina began the process, causing the third floor of what was once the Grunewald Music School to collapse. But what Katrina started, volunteer firefighters apparently finished. According to witnesses, the volunteers used a "strong arm" truck to punch through the thick brick walls of the still-standing second floor, causing the remaining walls and floors to collapse.

Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, features an article about the incident on its home page:, and the Times-Picayune also chronicled the loss at

They just built 'em better back then

As preservationists have long known, older buildings tend to be better constructed than newer ones. It's not a knock on modern buildings, just a reflection of the more temporary nature of newer construction. But the point is that, on the whole, older buildings withstood Katrina better than newer ones. Let's hope this point isn't lost on those who'll be deciding the fate of our historic inventory.

English, who has a degree in architecture, said that old homes were built with a denser wood that is more resistant to mold and rot. And those homes were built with painstaking craftsmanship better than today's workmanship, she suggested.


Monday, October 03, 2005

No representation for neighborhoods on the mayor's "Bring New Orleans Back" committee

Mayor Nagin has announced the composition of his 17 person "Bring New Orleans Back" committee. (For a complete list, go to There are many notable citizens among its members, and no doubt they all bring something to the table. However, there is zero representation of neighborhoods and their specific concerns, not to mention the lack of any member with a planning and/or preservation background. Our concerns about a lack of neighborhood representation - voiced in an earlier posting on this blog - turn out to have been well-founded. Given that a huge component of the revitalization of the city will have to do with getting our citizens back into their neighborhoods, and the complex planning and preservation issues that will certainly accompany this committee's efforts, why isn't there be at least one member whose job it is to speak for the city's neighborhoods?

For more details, go to

Friday, September 30, 2005

Red-flagging buildings does NOT mean demolition

The Department of Safety and Permits, with assistance from the New Orleans Fire Department, has been doing building-by-building assessment to determine whether they are safe to enter. Those that are not have been labeled with bright red stickers. This process is in no way related to whether labeled buildings should or should not be demolished.

New Orleans Nine update

As some of you know, Landmarks created the city's first Most Endangered list this year and unveiled the selections back in May. We're trying to ascertain the condition of each of the sites. Below is the most current information that we have.

Passebon Cottage – roof blown off slave quarters; additional brick loss in already-damaged front wall
Rigolets Lighthouse – unknown
Iberville Housing Project – some water damage on first floor of units
Pan-Am Life Building – unknown, but assume water damage on first floor
1385 Constance Street – main building collapsed; rear wing still standing (picture above left)
200 - 700 blocks of Bourbon Street – no major damage; some missing roof shingles
1139 St. Philip Street – some standing water on the first floor
Carver Theater – water likely on first floor of theater; lobby may have been spared
Sidewalk tiles – no apparent damage

Who will have a voice in shaping the New New Orleans?

Many have wondered just who will be listened to when important decisions about the renewal of the city begins. At a meeting of the newly formed Rebuild Louisiana/New Orleans coalition, Maple Area Residents, Inc. vice president and neighborhood activist Keith Hardie stated, "We can't continue to have a city which is run by patronage and special interests." (For the full story, visit And today, Mayor Nagin will unveil the composition of the sixteen member advisory committee, although early reports say that it will include Joe Canizaro, Barbara Major, Dan Packer, Scott Cowen, Alden McDonald, Donald "Boysie" Bollinger, Scott Cowen, and Jimmy Reiss. Will there be a preservation professional? A neighborhood liaison? An urban planner? An architect? Given that our built environment has been damaged, such an appointment to the committee would make sense.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Losses along the Mississippi Gulf Coast

While New Orleans and our immediate area were hard hit by flooding, the Mississippi Gulf coast sustained severe damage from a monstrous storm surge. Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, and the many other towns that dot that stretch have suffered great losses, especially to their historic districts and buildings. Even sturdy structures set hundreds of yards from the beach were destroyed. For a heartbreaking catalog, visit

Monday, September 26, 2005

Historic District Landmarks Commission

The HDLC is back at work in its (undamaged!) office at 830 Julia Street. Although not open to the public yet, the staff is slowly returning and the offices should soon be up and running soon. As many of you know, this agency is responsible for protecting the historic building stock of the bulk of the city's historic neighborhoods.

More on mold

Still haven't gotten your fill of mold information? Check out this handy Q&A page from the Centers for Disease Control: It

National Trust website

The home page of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's website ( is now devoted to the Katrina response. Get oodles of information on everything from repairing flood damage to photos and contacting your legislators.

Grants and other assistance

Currently, there are efforts underway to offer some financial assistance to owners wishing to renovate their properties. Groups including the Preservation Resource Center ( and the National Trust ( are lobbying for changes to the current restoration tax abatement process to loosen some of the requirements and also offer grants to qualifying homeowners. We'll post any updates on these efforts.

Pitot House

A visit to the Pitot House last week confirmed what satellite photos and second-hand accounts had suggested: the building seems to have sustained virtually no damage. In fact, we had no standing water on the grounds at all. Some trees had fallen, crushing parts of our pieux fence, and one louvered shutter has been destroyed, but overall we fared very well. What a testament to traditional building methods.

Mold remediation

It's everywhere these days - on your walls, your furniture, and everyone's minds. Whether you’ve got the fuzzy green variety, or the slimy black film, mold is a problem that thousands of homeowners will be facing upon their return. The good news, says LSU Ag Center mold expert Charlotte Reichel, is that most mold problems can be remediated! So take heart, streptocillin warriors: help is in sight. Get the facts at the Ag Center's website at, and click on the link "Avoid Mold Hazards in Flood-damaged Homes." Further information on remediation can be found at FEMA's website at