Notes from New Orleans: Holy Cross Projects Sustain "No Significant Damage"

Posted on: September 2nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Home Again! projects in Holy Cross weathered the storm well.

Home Again! projects in Holy Cross weathered the storm well.

The Holy Cross neighborhood looks very good the day after Gustav passed through Louisiana. Although heavy winds downed a few trees and one electrical pole, the neighborhood is clear of any major debris. The streets are fully passable. Luckily, there was no significant damage seen on the exterior of the homes in the neighborhood. Though there is no electrical service at the moment in the neighborhood, all of the HOME AGAIN! projects looked safe and secure -- even one that is currently undergoing major exterior framing.

Despite being only partially completed, the renovation of Mrs. Skidmore's home withstood the hurricane.

Despite being only partially completed, the renovation of Mrs. Skidmore's home withstood the hurricane.

Walter Gallas and I had been at the home, owned by Mrs. Imelda Skidmore, on Friday for the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and had assisted in removing potential flying debris from the property. Our efforts – and that of the workmen who secured the home – appears to have paid off, as the only damage was small segments of torn roofing paper, and we’re still on schedule to have Mrs. Skidmore and her daughter back home later this fall.

Another undamaged Home Again! project in Holy Cross.

Another undamaged Home Again! project in Holy Cross.

We are fortunate down here in New Orleans today. There was very little flooding during the storm, and today the streets are dry and the sky is blue. The same appears to be true for the historic districts along the river that I passed as I made my way to the Preservation Resource Center where the National Trust for Historic Preservation New Orleans Field Office is housed. While there was no electrical service in the 9th ward, street lights started working on Franklin Avenue. One or two spots after Franklin had no electricity, but the Quarter and the warehouse district are fine. I am also happy to report that our offices received no damage; the power, computers and phone system are all working fine. Lastly, there is a heavy police and National Guard presence in the streets and no evidence of any problems regarding vandalism.

-- Kevin Mercadel

Kevin is a Program Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's New Orleans Field Office.

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.

Notes from New Orleans: Evacuation & Early Reports

Posted on: September 1st, 2008 by Walter Gallas

 

Northbound I-55, Mile 1, Sunday morning, August 31

Northbound I-55, Mile 1, Sunday morning, August 31.

Watching the early reports of Gustav's effects on New Orleans from my viewpoint in St. Louis, I see that at least right now we will need to keep an eye on three areas -- neighborhoods in and near the Upper 9th Ward, the Lower 9th Ward, and the West Bank.

Whatever happens with the floodwall lining both sides of the Industrial Canal, waters pushing in from Lake Pontchartrain will affect neighborhoods on either side like Holy Cross, Bywater, St. Roch, and conceivably Treme and the French Quarter. On the West Bank, water pushing in from the Gulf side, will affect the West Bank including Algiers Point.

Clearly, it is too early to make any definitive calls, and with the storm heading away from the city, we could be out of the woods. In any case, we are all looking at this, and beginning to make some measured determinations as to what the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be ready to do once the storm passes and residents return.

Early Sunday morning, I left New Orleans at 4:30 am to get caught up in the mind-bending experience of "contraflow" -- the reverse commuting out of the city. Three hours after my departure, I had progressed 27 miles to the beginning of I-55. Traffic ground to a halt, and so antsy motorists jumped out of their vehicles to walk pets, visit with family members in other vehicles, and just stretch.

Nineteen hours later -- after finally abandoning the interstate for state route 61 through Port Gibson, Vicksburg, and Clarksdale, Miss., I arrived in St. Louis. This is a trip that should normally take about 10 hours.

***

Updated to add photo.

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.

Notes from New Orleans: Preparing for Gustav

Posted on: August 30th, 2008 by Walter Gallas 4 Comments

 

Friday morning on Royal Street in the French Quarter

Friday morning on Royal Street in the French Quarter

With Gustav churning just outside the Gulf, New Orleans made preparations even as citizens also did what they could to focus on commemorations of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region on August 29, 2005.

On Friday, Kevin Mercadel and I spent part of the Katrina anniversary at one our HOME AGAIN! New Orleans projects, the home of Mrs. Imelda Skidmore, in Holy Cross, making sure that the building was stable and secure. Workmen nailed cross-pieces and enclosed the newly-framed rear addition, while Kevin and I worked to dismantle the remnants of a large above-ground swimming pool in the back yard.

Preparations in Holy Cross.

Staff members of our partner, the Preservation Resource Center, spent Friday securing their headquarters, warehouse and the building projects of Operation Comeback and Rebuilding Together, and working out communications and computer issues.  AmeriCorps staff working with Rebuilding Together's director Kristen Palmer has been trained to assist with the evacuation of citizens from the Union Passenger Terminal, where those without personal transportation are placed on trains or buses for trips to shelters in North Louisiana and in Memphis. There are no shelters provided in the city. The AmeriCorps members will remain until eight hours before landfall and then caravan by cars to Atlanta.

Projections of the hurricane's general direction at this writing peg its landfall west of New Orleans. Leaders of all surrounding parishes have called for mandatory evacuations, and Mayor Nagin has said citizens should evacuate now as well. Hotels are evicting tourists--many of them who came here for the Labor Day's large gay celebration Southern Decadence. The airport closes for commercial traffic Sunday at 6 p.m. A call for mandatory evacuation from New Orleans is likely tomorrow.

Getting Ready for Gustav.

Getting Ready for Gustav.

I anticipate leaving New Orleans early Sunday morning and driving north on I-55. It's tough making plans, not knowing what will really happen in the city, but I prefer to be conservative and cautious. Kevin's and our new staff member Stacey Danner's plans were to head up toward Baton Rouge.

Landfall, wherever it is, will be very early on Tuesday. Later that day, we all plan to convene by phone with National Trust for Historic Preservation headquarters and Southern office staff to assess where things are and how we will move forward.

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.

Chili Dogs and Historic Neighborhoods

Posted on: August 26th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter 2 Comments

 

Is there anything better than taking an extended lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon? There is if that extended lunch includes a chili dog block party. Celebrating their 50th year (50 years!) in operation, DC institution Ben's Chili Bowl threw a party for the U Street neighborhood this past Friday.

Ben and Virginia Ali opened their small restaurant in the renovated Minnehaha Theatre in August of 1958. The theater was originally constructed in 1910 and had hosted silent movies prior to becoming a pool hall. Situated along the U Street corridor Ben's has been a staple within the neighborhood that has long been the center of Washington, D.C. music and culture. Historic Jazz clubs like the Howard Theatre, the Bohemian Caverns, and the Lincoln Theatre hosted performers such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, creating a scene that was referred to as "Black Broadway," well before the rise of Black Harlem. "The Bowl" has hosted its share of celebrities, serving its delicious chili and half-smoke sausages to the likes of Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory and even Martin Luther King Jr. Ben's most dedicated customer, Bill Cosby, even courted his wife, Camille, here in the early 1960's.

Ben's has been witness to decades of history and neighborhood regeneration, and if the crowd that turned out Friday for lunch is any indication, it will continue to do so for years to come. The line to get a half-smoke on Friday extended well out the door, into the street, wrapping around the Green Line Metro station. In the end, as you can plainly see, the wait was worth it.

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.

 

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

Puppies, National Historic Landmarks and Living the Green Life in Buffalo? Believe it or not there is a theme here. I find myself in Buffalo again for the second time this summer. Originally intending to just come for 2 days for a board meeting, I decided instead to stay for a week (which morphed into 10 days), so I could sit quietly in my sister’s backyard and actually get some work done. When Joanne discovered that I would be here for that length of time, it motivated her to buy that rare Barbet puppy she’d be thinking about. So my first day here we drove up to Kitchener, Ontario and came back with our new little immigrant, Finley. Now I would suggest that there are very few places in America where you can walk out the front door and take your puppy for a walk by National Historic Landmarks built by Sullivan, Richardson, Wright, Gordon Bunshaft, McKim Mead & White and Saarinen, without ever getting in a car (let alone a plane!).

A Sustainably Built Urban Fabric

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

If you’ve never been to Buffalo for the architecture, you’re missing one of the greatest architectural experiences ever. Really, no kidding. I grew up here and went to architecture school here and I can think of almost no other place that can give you such a perfect living laboratory for what’s great about architecture. (It is also a living laboratory for what can go so wrong with cities, but that’s a topic for another blog.) With a streetscape and park system inspired by L’Enfant and then expanded by Olmsted & Vaux, Richardson’s first use of the “Richardsonian Romanesque’, Sullivan’s first skyscraper and Wright’s best Prairie House peppering neighborhoods whose background buildings surpass landmarks found in any other city, Buffalo is a tapestry of the innovative, the beautiful and the best. And much of it remains intact because the economy is one of the worst in New York State and has been for a very long time. When there’s no development pressure, there’s no need (or less need) to tear down the bungalows for the McMansions. Of course there are the heartbreaking losses like the demolition of Wright’s seminal Larkin Building, whose site 30 years later, remains a parking lot. But stories such as that are rare compared to what is still here. So, in some respects, in a place like Buffalo, we have preservation and sustainability by neglect.

The Richardson Complex and Early passive climate control

H.H. Richardson’s largest building is in Buffalo – the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, and has been vacant and deteriorating on and off for 40 years. New York State assigned $70 million to a new nonprofit board created in 2005 to oversee the development of the site. A portion of that is dedicated to creating an Architecture Center as one use in the complex. I wrote my first architectural history paper in college on the complex and continued to be involved in saving the site since 1980, including writing my master’s thesis on a reuse for the site. I was appointed to the Richardson Architecture Center Board in 2007 – so I always tell my students and interns to choose a topic for your thesis that you love because if you are as fortunate as I’ve been, you may find it carrying you through your career.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

The complex was designed by Richardson with Olmsted & Vaux using the Kirkbride Plan which promoted the use of architecture and landscape as key to the actual treatment of mental illness. Here was an incredibly sustainable approach to architecture and living. The buildings were placed to gather the best possible southern light, used 15 foot high ceilings with cross ventilating windows and transoms and took advantage of 2 foot thick sandstone bearing walls. When I designed the adaptive use of one of the ward buildings into an office in the late 1980s, we went back to incorporating this smart, passive climate management system into the "new" building, and successfully opened the office using no air conditioning. No one complained, and in fact there was a wait list for offices in the building. But then unfortunately, just a few years later in the mid 1990s, a new director at the Psychiatric Center decided he didn’t want to be in the historic buildings at all, despite the rehabbed one confirming that it could be done. The complex was vacant yet again. So, with a dedicated board and some decent seed money, one can hope that this National Historic Landmark (only one of 7 in Buffalo) will find a way to become a vibrant center to Buffalo’s primary cultural neighborhood – the Elmwood Village and Buffalo’s West Side. And that we can remember the inherent sustainable design aspects of the original design.

Living Locally, Living Green

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

I don’t know about where you grew up or you live now, but our new green world is encouraging the growth of local businesses in every urban environment around the country. I did my best on this trip to go everywhere on my bike or walking. I rode my bike to the Richardson complex to check out its latest condition, spent an afternoon photographing Buffalo’s astonishing modern heritage on my bike, and walked to the farmers market and the Art Festival that only had local artisans and a whole area called “Environmental Row”. Every meal we cooked was filled with fresh vegetables and pastries from local businesses. Sometimes I worry that this new focus on local will make us all too insular, but I hope that after so many decades of global blandness, it will just help to balance our lives instead. So, as I get ready to drive back the 435 miles to DC and contribute heavily to global warming, I hope also that my carbon offsets, support of local businesses wherever I am, and walking as much as I can with our new puppy, will offset my job-induced carbon guzzling.

And mark October 2011 in your calendar – that’s when the National Preservation Conference comes to my hometown of Buffalo, one of the most perfect centers of American architecture!

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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.