9.12.2010

Mass Move of Historic Homes in New Orleans























For almost a year now, I've been chronicling - and participating in - the fight to stop the destruction of the Lower Mid-City neighborhood in New Orleans.  Home to hundreds of historic houses and located in a National Register Historic District, the 70-acre site is absolutely the wrong place to be building two new hospitals - especially when it's unclear whether the necessary funding will materialize for the entire project and when there are clear alternatives.  The staggering number of bad ideas rolled into the project compelled me, at last, to jump off the sidelines and into the fray.  I saw a place that represented the very essence of what attracted me to New Orleans being needlessly destroyed.

While it's now too late to avoid the hardships and wrongs that have already been imposed on the residents of the neighborhood - many of whom returned after Katrina to rebuild, some of whom have now had their properties expropriated by the state - there is a fallback approach underway that serves as some consolation.

Back in March, a few concerned citizens realized that we needed another line of action in the event we could not convince those in power to site the hospitals more appropriately.  Spurred on by a lawyer I would call the conscience of Post-Katrina New Orleans, I spent most of my spring break working feverishly with a few others trying to come up with a booklet that documented one of the hospital footprints photographically, historically, and architecturally.  We needed a factual basis to make a claim, and we began to plan for a possible mass house moving if all the other political and legal avenues of approach failed.

The booklet and the initial planning meetings got enough momentum going and got enough local officials and non-profits interested to make that fallback line of approach a reality.  Recently, a national non-profit has begun moving what may ultimately amount to 100 historic homes out of one of the hospital footprints to other vacant lots in the city where they will be refurbished (some were vacant and some were occupied up until recently) and then sold.  The moves provide affordable housing, provide infill in scarred neighborhoods, maintain the tax base, and ultimately preserve a sense of the unique architectural heritage of New Orleans.  The photos on this post give a brief overview of the move of one house, a double shotgun formerly located at 2426 Palmyra Street and now located on St. Louis Street along the future Lafitte Greenway.  Its roof had to come off to make it under some wires, but it will be refurbished.

While I'm still working to stop the needless destruction of an historic neighborhood, I'm very glad to have been a part of the effort to move the houses out of Lower Mid-City.  Contractors involved in the project note that this is likely the largest mass moving of historic homes in the nation's history, and all but a handful would have been demolished (as about a dozen were before we got the Mayor to intervene and redirect grant money) were it not for this effort.

You can read about and see the developments "Inside the Footprint" here at my blog devoted to the topic.  Like my postings at Letters in Bottles, any posts at that blog represent my personal views alone and not the views of any other person or organization.