I am in New Orleans with supporters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a visit to see how the city is recovering in the three and one-half years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall. I’ve been in the city many times – and several since Katrina hit – but on this trip I found a couple of gems that tell me that I really haven’t seen all this great city has to offer.
First, an update on our work. The National Trust had staff on the ground just weeks after Katrina hit, and we still maintain an office where we help homeowners – primarily in the historic Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward – rebuild their homes and their lives. Meeting the homeowners we’ve helped, seeing the way ravaged buildings have been turned back into beautiful homes, and listening to the volunteers and partners who’ve helped us in this recovery is always inspiring and gratifying. In Holy Cross you can’t walk down the streets without seeing our Home Again signs, or those of Operation Comeback at the Preservation Resource Center and the State Historic Preservation Office’s “Historic Building Recovery Grant Program.”
It was especially gratifying to meet up with National Trust Advisor Anne Van Ingen and her partner Wes Haynes at their home at 5516 Dauphine Street in Holy Cross. Anne and Wes bought this house after an earlier visit to the city. They are rehabilitating this house with lots of sweat equity from family and friends and then plan to sell it for just the hard costs. It was a great example of the way individuals have made moral choices to help with the recovery. You can follow the progress at their web site at www.5516Dauphine.com.
Throughout the visit we’ve heard and seen first-hand of the difficulties in working with state and local governments that often make decisions at cross-purposes and always function without an overall recovery plan. It remains one of the great frustrations of the recovery work. Our current battle to save and reuse Charity Hospital – which could be brought online cheaper and quicker AND save the historic Mid-City neighborhood in the process – is just the most recent example.
But just like individual homeowners who continue to battle the odds and bring back neighborhoods in this city building-by-building, there are some segments of the government and an array of nonprofit organizations that are working to help New Orleans recover. It was my first visit to Jackson Barracks (see photo at top and below), the staging ground for the Battle of New Orleans and then an early military post that includes one of the great collections of antebellum buildings in the country. Now a National Guard base, the commandant told us that they are committed to rehabilitating these 14 pre-Civil War buildings, and they are fighting FEMA like so many others on the ground.
I was also surprised to learn that New Orleans has a great H.H. Richardson building, which now serves as part of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The Ogden is raising funds for rehabilitation of what is the only Richardson building in the South. This was a different New Orleans than I had come to expect.
Of course, the food remains great. As I write I’ve just finished a great lunch at Commanders Palace in the Garden District. Some things about New Orleans never change…and only get better.
More to come…