Notes from New Orleans: The Elephant in the Room

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


If there ever was a time when the city of New Orleans needed the City Planning Commission to show some leadership, it is now. One could point to the exercises being led by the consulting firm Goody Clancy for the development of the city’s new master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance as evidence of such leadership. The problem though, is that there’s an elephant in the room—the plan by Louisiana State University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build two new medical centers from the ground up—and neither Goody Clancy nor the City Planning Commission is dealing with it.

It is all well and good to call on the city’s tireless citizens to participate in crafting what could ultimately be the city’s first master plan with the force of law. But as long as the huge hospital plans are not examined as part of the master planning process, the whole citywide process is under a cloud. If the hospitals’ plan—which is a classic straight from the days of urban renewal—proceeds as it has until now with the City Planning Commission taking a hands-off attitude, what is to prevent this from happening again with another project in another part of town?

Some City Planning staff have said that they can have no involvement in this plan, because it is the work of state and federal agencies. The plan involves wholesale clearance of portions of a National Register District, covers 70 acres and would require the demolition of as many as 263 structures, 165 of them considered historic. What the city doesn’t acknowledge is that it has been intimately involved in these destructive plans all along, as evidenced by a number of agreements forged with the state and with the VA. Further, it was the city which engineered an offer to the VA of cleared construction-ready land. This was made possible by the expenditure of $74 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for demolition--money that could have been used for housing rehabilitation. This offer apparently was too good for the VA to refuse. So, the city is deeply involved in setting these plans into motion.

Will the LSU-VA hospital plan be marked with an asterisk in the city’s master plan? Will a note say, “We did this one the old-fashioned way, by having special interests push it through, but we won’t do it this way again”?

Today’s Times-Picayune makes it clear that the two hospitals will be proceeding independently of one another, and that the arguments for co-location and shared services were false. Instead of waiting for the continued drip-drip-drip of revelations emerging about these ill-conceived plans, New Orleans’ planning leadership should show some spine and actively engage its citizens in participating in planning what is conceivably the largest economic development project ever proposed in this town.


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Widow of the South: Carrie McGavock

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Carrie McGavork (credit: Carnton Historic Plantation, Franklin TN)

Carrie McGavock (credit: Carnton Historic Plantation, Franklin, TN)

It seems appropriate that Carrie McGavock would be the subject of a blog during Woman’s History Month. For like most women in history she was pretty much left out until recently. One of the reviews of a novel I wrote based on her life, described her as “The most famous Southern woman you never heard of.” He got that right.

When Carrie died in 1905, my favorite of her many eulogies and obituaries worded it best, “Those of us who recall the hours as they became days, the two feet of blood on her skirts and the blood up to her elbows, how she ceased to care for herself as she cared over the dying and how she spent the remainder of her life caring over the dead, we, and all generations after us will rise up and call her Blessed.” Truth is, with the passage of time, we didn’t even rise up and call her “Carrie.” She joined all the women before her and since who have been lost to memory and history.

Carrie Winder McGavock never envisioned her life or deeds to be worthy of remembrance by anyone beyond those she had loved and touched. For if truth be known, she really did nothing more than what women have done throughout the ages, what has always been expected of them. You see men go to war and then women – mothers, wives, daughters and the like – are left to pick up the pieces, to mend, to heal, to bury, to mourn, to remember. Her story, as it unfolded in her home, Carnton, during those five bloodiest hours of the Civil War is not unlike the story of all women, black and white, north and south during those four years of America’s blood bath. Beyond maybe the sheer magnitude of the carnage per hour, there is little that might distinguish her work from all the others before and after her, save for maybe the cemetery – the largest private military cemetery ever created in America – there, in her backyard. And then how she never forgot, spending the rest of her life simply remembering.

That is the power of her story, that she did not forget those who died at Franklin – in her home, on her lawn, in her and her neighbors’ fields.

The Widow of the South

The Widow of the South

Several years ago I had the opportunity to tell her story to Dolly Parton when Dolly was using my cabin for her album photography. Dolly, one of the smartest folks I’ve ever known, got the importance of Carrie’s story when I said that only she, among all of Williamson County, would have more obituaries when she died than Carrie had. She thoughtfully replied, “Yes, but never forget; I had to leave home to get them.”

In the end, that may just be the power of Carrie McGavock’s story and the story of that place, Carnton. She did what was expected and required of her. She did it with little thought or hope of praise or remembrance. She was simply faithful to history and her circumstances. And in so doing, she’s as good a reason as I can give you for Women’s History Month.

--Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks, author of Widow of the South and A Guitar and a Pen will present the Special Lecture on Friday, October 16, at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information about the conference, visit

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.



Art, People, Triumph Over Traffic in $23 Million Brooklyn Rehab: Demolished in the 1960's to make way for Robert Moses' highways, a public plaza near the Manhattan Bridge is being reborn by artist Brian Tolle.  Tolle is recreating the allegorical figures representing Manhattan and Brooklyn that once sat at the entrance to the bridge and were designed by Daniel Chester French. [Bloomberg]

Circle and District: Burleigh's descriptions of 18th century Cairo stand out. She writes that the city was "a labyrinthine metropolis that frustrated and confused the invaders." It was "a city of doors, mostly closed." [BLDGBLOG]

Morris Lapidus House in Biscayne Bay: WSJ magazine features a rare Miami home designed by modernist architect Morris Lapidus. Complete with some very cool photos. [WSJ Magazine]

Book Review: Saving Places that Matter: A Citizens Guide to the National Historic Preservation Act. [NTHS Blog]

Goodbye to the Spectrum: The Spectrum in Philadelphia hosted its final basketball game over the weekend as the Sixers defeated the Chicago Bulls in overtime. Sports arenas and stadiums are often difficult to preserve for a variety of reasons, so we're often only left with the memories they once hosted. It being mid-March (the most wonderful time of the year) it's easy to look back fondly at some of the biggest moments in NCAA Tournament history that took place within "America's Showplace." Two individuals in particular stand out when combining NCAA and the Spectrum: Bobby Knight and Christian Laettner.
Knight won two of his three NCAA Championships in the arena, leading the last team to post an overall undefeated record to the title in 1976. Five years later he brought Isiah Thomas and the Hoosiers to the Spectrum and defeated Dean Smith's North Carolina Tarheels. The Spectrum also played host to what is often considered the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history, as Christian Laettner hit a jumper with two seconds left in overtime to defeat Kentucky in 1992, sending the Blue Devils to the final four on the way to their second straight title.

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Cemetery Mystery Makes Local News

Posted on: March 13th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment


It's not every night that I'm flipping the channels and see one of my co-workers on the promo for the evening news -- but that's just what happened a couple of days ago. And not just any colleague, mind you, but the guy who sits in the office right next to mine. How I missed the film crew in my hallway I'll never know.

Our local Fox affiliate stopped by to interview Rob Nieweg, director of the Southern Field Office, for a truly fascinating story about how gravestones from one of DC's African-American cemeteries made their way to the banks of the Potomac River.

It's a story I hadn't heard before, and to me, it really demonstrates the breadth of work that happens at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I've worked with Rob on projects like the Tomb of the Unknowns and the fight against the Wilderness Wal-Mart and sit literally in the next room -- yet, here's a whole piece of his work that's entirely new to me. As a chained-to-my-desk headquarters staffer, I am constantly blown away by the work our field staff are involved in. And so, since I know Rob isn't the sort to toot his own horn about being on television, I thought I'd share it here.

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Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

Way Outside the Beltway TV: Exit Interview with Mary Thompson

Posted on: March 13th, 2009 by Jason Clement


Join Way Outside the Beltwayer Mary Thompson on the steps of the Rayburn House Office Building for all the details on her productive (and at times surprising) meeting with Representative Norm Dicks during Preservation Lobby Day.

Want to see more? Check out additional exit interviews from Team Way Outside the Beltwayers.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.