Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: October 29th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

This is the interior of St. Frances Cabrini Church, a modernist church demolished to make way for Holy Cross School in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. A loss for preservation.Holy Cross School marked the symbolic start of construction of its school on Paris Avenue in Gentilly with Archbishop Alfred Hughes mixing the soils of the former and future sites in a pot containing a magnolia tree. The fact that the school chose to utilize the FEMA funds which were reparations for damage at the school’s historic site for new construction at a new site triggered Section 106 review, a provision of the National Historic Preservation Act.

St. Frances Cabrini Church, during its demolition in June to make way for Holy Cross School.Unfortunately, Holy Cross School could not conceive of using the modernist St. Frances Cabrini Church (which stood on the new site) as part of its plans, and so after a difficult Section 106 consultation with many political overtones, the church was demolished to prepare the site for new construction. It is ironic that the style of the new school attempts to mimic the campus which the school is abandoning in the Holy Cross neighborhood after over a hundred and fifty years. At the new school’s symbolic ground-breaking, Bill Chauvin, chairman of the school’s governing board, said “Today is an example of how difficulties can be overcome when we work together for a common goal… We hope that our journey will serve as a model for how the private sector and government can work together to facilitate recovery.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation attempted to force the utilization of St. Frances Cabrini Church in the school’s plans, but was rebuffed. The church was demolished in early June. This is not a model we want to replicate.

Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.

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