Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Mother and Child"

Photo from the LSU Footprint courtesy of Tricia Travis.

What about this?

Many campaigned hard over the past few years not only to put the LSU teaching hospital back in the existing art deco Charity Hospital building, but to save that existing historic building itself.

Few, though, have talked about a second gaping vacancy left behind if the two medical centers move to Lower Mid-City, namely the existing VA Hospital complex, abandoned after Katrina.

It's not as historic or architecturally notable as Charity, but I haven't heard of any plans for what will occupy this large, hollow space in the CBD.  It's another part of the equation that hasn't been accounted for - that needs to be addressed.

ADDED: A helpful reader reminds me that the old VA Hospital structure could be swapped to the city for $1 in exchange for the proposed VAMC site (the VA Footprint above S. Galvez) under the Nagin administration's Memorandum of Understanding agreement.  A September 8, 2007 Times-Pic story discussed the possibility.  A November 2007 story noted that the original MOU gave the VA ultimate discretion as to how to dispose of the existing VA facility once the city clears the Lower Mid-City site:

Once the city assembles and clears the land, the VA can choose one of four options [the actual agreement only gives three options] for taking possession of it. Two of those involve a property swap that would put the old veterans hospital, which closed after Katrina, into the hands of the city. The federal government could buy the land from the city at fair market value or lease it for 75 years at a cost of a dollar per year. It could also take title to the 34 acres of cleared land in exchange for either transferring or leasing the old hospital to the city, which would then try to turn the mothballed property into a moneymaker.  The memo gives the VA ultimate discretion over how the land transfer will happen.

Interestingly, a February 2006 VA study of the structure after Katrina - but before the city agreed to the MOU - considered either hardening and renovating or remodeling the structure as possible options for bringing VA medical care back on line.  It included this observation in "Option 2," the option calling for remodeling of the present structure:

Although more time consuming than Option 1, no site selection is required; therefore, this option could
also lead to re-establishing the Medical Center quicker than new construction (2 to 3 years).

It's also interesting to look at the "CONS" laid out in the report with respect to Option 3, the option to build a new facility in conjunction with an affiliate, LSU:

• Option 3 would be complex to implement in that a number of separate organizations would have to
agree on the detailed plan (VA, the State, the City and the US Congress) and funding.
• Since this would involve new construction of a hardened, flood protected facility, initial costs would be high.
• A substantial amount of money would be spent on building a modern facility in an area susceptible to
• Time involved would be longer than repairing or modernizing the existing facility. 

• Uncertain funding for the affiliate is the major issue associated with this option. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Carville Speaks

From the most recent Gambit:

"It has its...own identifiable architecture, its own identifiable body of literature....If this were a city of 700,000 people 20 years from now and it was prosperous but had lost its culture, it would not be as good as a city of 400,000 people that had maintained its culture.  If we lose the culture, we lose what makes us New Orleans.  We become just another place.  I think it's important for people to realize how special our culture is - and that it's not something that we can take for granted.  We have to want to preserve it."

Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Orleans Raised Basement House

One of the distinctive architectural styles found inside the VA Footprint is what one Louisiana state architectural survey noted as the New Orleans raised basement style.  It's unique to New Orleans, one of the many architectural adaptations that came about as a result of the city's distinctive geographic location.

Several of the homes along Banks Street under the live oaks provide fine examples of the style - "ingenious" homes that are essentially shotgun or irregular homes built up on a false basement that either originally or over time came to serve as a lower floor.  The house shown above, 2315 Banks, seems is likely a 4-bay shotgun that was originally lower, given the details and construction, and was subsequently raised (perhaps due to flooding at some point in the past - the area once was "back of town" lowland that cleared as pumps evolved) and augmented with elaborate stuccoed front steps and a fully enclosed lower floor running the length of the long building. 

In that sense, the house represents not only a unique end product, but also embodies the process of hybridization that has led to such distinctive creolized architectural examples in New Orleans.

Unfortunately, I think this style of house will also be one of the least feasible types as far as moving is concerned.

No Demolition Today

The VA Footprint and the LSU Footprint appeared quiet this afternoon.

It seems there's an ongoing effort to formalize the mechanisms of moving houses from the VA Footprint; with a number of parties involved, that makes sense.

The wind kicked up fiercely as I departed - sending up sand clouds at the very edge of the LSU Footprint near a small homeless tent encampment under the I-10 offramp.  Given the daily rains, it was strange to see dust clouds on the move.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Letter to the President

Dick Moe, the outgoing head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, made Lower Mid-City the subject of his final act after 17 years with the Trust, sending this letter to President Obama:

I hope you will consider the opportunity for your legacy in Louisiana to include saving the historic Mid-City neighborhood from the bulldozers in New Orleans. Forty years from now, the next generation will certainly look back on these hospital plans with the same bewilderment we now feel in response to that elevated highway: How on earth could anyone have thought that was a good idea? 


Third of Three Camelbacks

 Three large 4-bay camelback shotgun doubles line the street just below S. Prieur Street.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Back in May, I noted a list of the next dozen houses slated for demolition at that point.

While four of them have been demolished, eight were not.  After the Mayor's public statement committing site clearing funds out of the existing VA Hospital budget for moving houses to other vacant lots in Mid-City with the help of Builders of Hope and Providence, it looks like they will not be demolished.  Certainly not every single house in the VA Footprint can be moved given structural issues, but every one that can be moved should be moved.

The houses shown above, located at 237 and 233 S. Galvez, had received the "Gas Off" spray paint treatment and were boarded up recently - the sign, from maps and recent experience, that title had been acquired by LSU and the property was up for demolition in the near future.

Why is it significant that these houses and the other eight on the list were saved?  It's important because they're a) "contributing properties" in the Mid-City National Register Historic District, b) they contain craftsmanship and materials that can't easily be duplicated once destroyed, c) they're part of the distinctive architectural landscape and heritage that sets New Orleans apart from other U.S. and world cities, and d) they can still play a role as a viable part of the housing stock. 

At this point, it's crucial that even as the state and local government seems committed to moving the homes in the VA Footprint...we must reinforce the need to preserve as many of the historic homes in the LSU Footprint as possible, especially now that the design of that particular medical complex is under review.  While the LSU Footprint has fewer structures overall, some of them are nonetheless architecturally distinctive and, as with Deutsches Haus and Freret's McDonogh #16 school, culturally important.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some Points from the VA Groundbreaking

According to one person in attendance:

The VA groundbreaking proceeded with patriotic military efficiency today.  Mayor Landrieu, Gov. Jindal and Secretary Shinseki all praised the new hospital project. The Mayor did announce that “one hundred houses would be moved” and that it was a “win/win” for everyone (no response from the audience).

The Times-Picayune reported news that I take to be positive, even though it's unfortunate at the same time:

Landrieu announced at the ceremony that the VA, state and city have agreed to redirect $3.2 million of the project's budget to move about 100 residential properties in the footprint that would otherwise be razed. The money will come out of the $79 million in federal hurricane recovery money that the city had committed to land acquisition and site preparation for the VA hospital.

Builders of Hope and other non-profit organizations will handle the moves, Landrieu said.

"We are a city that prides itself on its culture, architecture and historic neighborhoods, and we are committed to preserving those elements which make our city a national treasure," the mayor said. 

At least the Mayor has come around to the position of agreeing to help save the historic houses by moving them to other sites in Mid-City with the assistance of various non-profits.  I'm very glad to hear a public commitment to moving them, and I'm very glad that some of my efforts off-blog with several others back in the spring helped to bring enough attention to the issue that something beneficial might yet come to fruition.

But the VA project is seemingly going ahead as planned - an ill-sited affair that nevertheless destroys the historic neighborhood inside a National Register Historic District.  If we truly prided ourselves on our "culture, architecture, and historic neighborhoods", New Orleans - and the Mayor, more specifically - wouldn't be permitting the structure to go up lakeside of S. Galvez Street.

Cleveland Avenue

Prices Paid by State to Acquire Properties in the VA and LSU Footprints

Taxpayer Funds Expended to Acquire Homes 

- Some listed homes demolished, all others destined for landfill after salvage unless moving plan comes to fruition

*This post is a work in progress.  It will be updated as data is added, and I'll place a link on the sidebar for "Property Acquisition Costs to Taxpayers."  The list is intended to a) account for the waste of taxpayer dollars in acquiring properties, and b) monitor home prices to ensure just compensation.


2421-23 Banks (DEMOLISHED):  $178,000            + Photo of House

2422-24 Palmyra (DEMOLISHED): $248,000         + Photo of House

300-02 S. Miro:  $40,000                  + Photo of House

325 S. Tonti (DEMOLISHED): $39,500      + Photo of House

327 S. Tonti:  $8,300

2336 Cleveland: $65,000    + Photo of House

2412 Palmyra: $37,000      + Photo of House

229 S. Galvez: $95,000      + Photo of House

232-34 S. Miro: $227,051    + Photo of House

319 S. Tonti (DEMOLISHED): $135,000             + Photo of House

2420 Palmyra (DEMOLISHED): $124,000           + Photo of House

310-12 S. Miro: $135,000   + Photo of House

2410-12 Cleveland (DEMOLISHED): $75,000    + Photo of House

321 S. Galvez: $210,000    + Photo of House

2205 Banks Street: $200,000

2217 Banks Street: $47,000

2319 Palmyra Street: $230,000    + Photo of House

319 S. Galvez: $54,568    

314-16 Rocheblave: $114,000    

217 S. Tonti: $164,304    + Photo of House

2307-09 Banks: $404,854

2311-13 Banks: $72,413

2315-17 Banks: $443,795

2411-13 Banks: $160,000

2324 Canal + 2330 Canal + 2317 Cleveland: $3,942,000

2224 Cleveland: $141,933

2314 Cleveland: $70,192

2217 -19 Palmyra: $229,150

2323 Palmyra: $250,000

2419-21 Palmyra: $136,000

2434 Palmyra: $230,000

301-03 S. Galvez + 2212-14 Palmyra: No value stated.  Transferor: Willie H. Franklin Sr.

305-07 S. Galvez: $18,150

311-13 S. Galvez: $162,000

2323 Tulane: $82,000

2316 Palmyra: $350,083

239-41 S. Galvez: $244,552

228-30 S. Tonti: $51,000

2430 Cleveland Avenue: $164,520

2416 Cleveland Avenue: $136,000

212-14 S. Tonti: $226,512

224 S. Tonti Street: $143,068

318 S. Rocheblave Street: $19,500

322-24 S. Miro Street: $43,000


218 S. Prieur:  $165,000                   + Photo of House

236 S. Galvez: $8,104

240 S. Galvez: $20,293

1925 Cleveland Avenue (listed as Street in Times-Pic): $165,697

1926 Cleveland Avenue: $330,000

Palmyra St. 1918-20, 1924-26-28, 1932-34, 1938; S. Prieur St. 314-16-18, 322-24; Tulane Ave. 1919-21, 1927, 1935, 1939 – no value stated, New Orleans Medical Complex to LSU Supervisors

303-05 S. Roman St.  - $83K, Herman Jerome Scott to LSU Supervisors

2105 Cleveland ave. – $375K Cox Communications to LSU

2109 Cleveland Ave.  - $195K Cox to LSU

1919-23 Cleveland ave.  - $65,252 Janice R Manuel to LSU

2122 Cleveland Ave., S. Galvez St. 200,218, 220 - $517,100 Deutsches Haus to LSU

2028-30 Palmyra: Louisiana Land Trust to LSU Board of Sup. and Div. of Administration Office of the Governor - no value stated.

1808-10 Cleveland Avenue: $35,700

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Quiet Afternoon

From what I saw, there wasn't much activity inside the VA Footprint earlier this afternoon, aside from utilities work on the lakeside end and streetwork on S. Galvez on the riverside end.

Work was also stopped down at a fenced lot way down in the LSU Footprint where a few workers in vests have been doing light work with a bobcat at various points in the past few days.


Status of Acquisitions

As the VA seeks to break ground symbolically tomorrow, it's interesting to look at the status of property acquisitions in the footprints for the proposed medical complexes.

Here are the numbers for private property acquisition as of May 2010, the most recent I could find, per a report by the contractor, as linked to by the Louisiana Department of Administration:

VA Footprint:

 25 closings completed out of 194 total parcels to acquire.

LSU Footprint:

10 closings completed out of 245 parcels to acquire.

If anyone has more up to date figures, I would like to see them.  But it seems there's still a rather long way to go.

Fox8 Video of the Press Conference and Developments


Along Palmyra

Times-Pic Story on the Mayor's Move


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good News

Kudos to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose office released the following press release late today:

June 23, 2010

Ryan Berni
504-658-4992 (office)
504-621-9504 (cell)

Mayor Mitch Landrieu released the following statement on the demolition of properties in the VA footprint: 

“Today, I have demanded that the state halt demolitions of historic properties in the VA footprint. They have agreed to temporarily halt demolitions of properties identified as historic by the State Historic Preservation Office.

“We have been, for some time, working on a process to move and bring back into commerce many of the homes in the neighborhood. It is possible to move these homes expeditiously and keep the VA hospital project on track.

“It is a huge undertaking and one that we are committed to getting done with the help of the state, its contractors, non-profit groups and other partners.”


It's good to see that the state, now that eight historic homes have been destroyed, has agreed to temporarily halt demolitions of properties in the VA Footprint identified as historic by the SHPO.

I'm curious, though, to see what that means.  One list of houses put out earlier by SHPO contained only single-story houses (those eligible for possible moving) - not all houses that were deemed structures contributing to the Mid-City National Register Historic District (a much larger list than the 40 or so on the SHPO list).  I trust that Landrieu is referring to the latter, more expansive list.

While I'd rather see the neighborhood left in place, I would prefer to see as many houses moved to other locations in Mid-City in the end if there is absolutely no way to avoid having the VA medical complex built in its inappropriate location.  This move by the Mayor, working in tandem with his 45-day review of the LSU site design, gives me hope that the city will end up with something at least marginally better than what would have otherwise emerged from the Nagin-era plans.

Press Conference Under the Oaks

This morning's press conference went well - a number of tv cameras and reporters showed up on Banks Street under the live oaks as demolition continued.  The shots shown here depict things before the actual press conference got underway.

People from Louisiana Landmarks and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as footprint residents and business owners and concerned citizens at large, showed up for the event.  Interestingly, even random passersby stopped by to see what was going on.

Press Conference in the Footprint This Morning

LA Landmarks Society is asking the Mayor to stop the demolitions in the VA Footprint.

Press conference is at 10am at 2421 Banks Street.


Photo courtesy of Prof. Stephen Hilger, from his Lower Mid-City collection.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


A 3-bay shotgun on Cleveland Avenue in the LSU footprint sports Craftsman details in the porch columns and overhangs...but also some old school shutters over the windows, generally characteristic of older construction than is found in most of the footprint.

A close look also reveals the interesting recessed side gallery toward the back just before a side bay.

Inside the high fences...

...that ring the old Pan-Am building (seized via expropriation by LSU), the VA prepares for its symbolic "groundbreaking" - even as dozens of people, if not hundreds (and some veterans), remain living inside the proposed VA hospital footprint and dozens of historic homes remain standing.  What a farce.

I would normally be a supporter of a move like this - bringing veteran care back on line is a worthwhile goal, speaking generally.  But the tortured specifics of forcing a terribly incompatibly designed structure into the residential neighborhood lakeside of S. Galvez - an area smack dab in the middle of a National Register Historic District - has been flawed, unwise, deceptive, and inconsiderate from the start.  It's been a classic abuse of power by the federal government - no matter how much process the various officials can point to, they've never actually thrown a single bone to the legitimate interest of historic preservation, an interest that's far more relevant in a city like New Orleans than it is in many American cities.  There has been no effort to compromise to accommodate legitimate competing interests in a massive project that will impact the community in major ways.

And there's still no word on what the massive existing VA Hospital complex that's currently sitting vacant in the CBD will be used for now or in the future.  Nor are there assurances that the LSU portion of the complex will ever be built given the lack of funds.

With the exception of Mayor Landrieu's recent 45-day halt on LSU street closure to review the design, I really can't name a politician, aside from State Treasurer John Kennedy, who's actually taken a hard look at this project and publicly raised concerns about the many ill-conceived twists and turns in this saga.  All they seem to see are raw federal dollar signs floating before their eyes..."think of the economic development!"  And in doing so, they demonstrate their willingness to sell the city's soul.  It's being sold, it's being demolished.  And nobody seems to give a damn.


So much for the recently occupied blue house at 2421-23 Banks Street.


The state has allegedly ordered the demolitions in the VA footprint to stop - but they are continuing this morning nonetheless.

According to word this morning from someone who's been observing the process closely:

"The state has sent out a notice to stop all demo because of an error in the RFP process. "

As of this morning, crews were hovering around this house on Banks Street, which is likely the next target of demolition, a great house that was "salvaged" of its doors and windows yesterday:

Video: Yesterday's Demolition at S. Miro and Palmyra

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mysterious Man in the Red Bandana

Today, on my visit to the VA footprint, I encountered this person fiddling with what looked like some sort of recording device (or explosive device, really) outside the door of the old Frenchman Inn, just across from the site of the demolition pictured in the preceding post.

He then took up a seat across the way in the beveled entrance of the old Alex's, a creole cottage/corner store.

I went up to introduce myself, and he seemed suspicious.  Even after I explained (twice) what I do and what my take was on the demolitions, he refused to tell me what his interest was in the whole affair and why he was there.

Very strange.

ADDED: 6.23.10 - After speaking with a member of the site crew today, the item was actually, to the crew's credit, a vibration monitor.  In no way did I intend to insinuate that the crew was trying to "blow up" the buildings in the footprint.  I simply observed objectively when the man in the bandana - who was not wearing the standard brightly colored work vest - refused to tell me what he was up to.


Sense of Place

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Call for Photographers

We're looking to do a more comprehensive and systematic photographic assessment of the structures in the LSU Footprint (similar to the effort undertaken this spring that resulted in the VA Footprint booklet that provided the grist for

Now that the LSU Footprint is the subject of discussion after Mayor Landrieu's move, it's important that we have an evidentiary basis to work with in any discussions about how to proceed with the site.

If you are able to help in the effort, please contact me at the email address on my blogger profile.

Mr. Wally takes down the party lights

A Different Perspective on the Footprint

Yesterday, I had a chance to chat with Stephen Hilger, a professor of photography at Tulane.

He has a series of photos from Lower Mid-City at his site, and some of his images do a much better job than mine of capturing the humanity of the place.  It's a less harried look than mine.

His evocative shots of the people of the place provide a different perspective, and he also homes in on the vacancy at the fringes of the neighborhood.

"...we got a reprieve!"

The reader of questions sent up that cry last evening at the conclusion of what was supposed to be the final evening of trivia at Deutsches Haus.

Twenty one teams, many with goofy German names, filled the buzzing structure on S. Galvez Street that is the heart of New Orleans' Germanic cultural heritage - and is located in the proposed LSU medical complex footprint in Lower Mid-City.  The beer flowed freely.  "We'll see you for the next two months at least."

Our team took third overall, although I think we had a few built in advantages because some of the team members are longtime participants - and many of the questions were culled from all the past trivia nights.  I had a great time.

Deutsches Haus has a deep connection with people all across the city.  In its mayorally mandated review of the site design, I would encourage the firm of Goody Clancy to consider a revised site plan that would a) merge the VA and LSU medical centers into one footprint, and b) locate that revised, more vertical structure in the lower part of the current LSU footprint...and thereby Save the Haus.

Friday, June 18, 2010

UPDATE: Full Landrieu Letter - A 45-day Halt to LSU Footprint Street Closure

This is indeed good news.

Here is the letter from Mayor Landrieu in full:

June 17, 2010
Timmy Teepell
Chief of Staff
Office of the Governor
Louisiana State Capitol
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Dear Mr. Teepell:
As you know, as Mayor of the City of New Orleans, I have an obligation and a deep commitment to ensure that as we rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, we create the most livable and economically vibrant City possible. That is why I am appreciative of your support for my administration’s effort to undertake a short 45-day architectural peer review to improve the design of the LSU University Medical Center and to suggest improvements that will increase its functionality as a medical center, improve its integration into the urban landscape, and ensure its success as an economic engine for the City of New Orleans and State of Louisiana.

I have instructed the New Orleans City Planning Commission to ask their contractor, Goody Clancy along with a small group of highly regarded architects and planners, including those with experience designing medical and research centers, to review the current design plans for the LSU University Medical Center and make suggestions for how they can be improved in ways that are consistent with the New Orleans Master Plan and the development of our Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.

I look forward to working with Jerry Jones and his architects and would ask that you direct them to cooperate fully with my design review team so the process can be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Thank you for your commitment and service to our State.


Mitchell J. Landrieu
Mayor, City of New Orleans

Now...hopefully the design review team considers what would be the best option if the old Charity building is not in play...consolidation of the yet unbuilt VA medical center and the LSU center on the LSU site.  That option would keep many historic homes in the dense VA site from being demolished and it would keep development below S. Galvez Street, which just makes sense.

ADDED: Several hours later, the Times-Picayune catches up with a story on the news.

City "temporarily withdraws" attempt to close streets in LSU footprint

That's good news.

I know a number of people and organizations have submitted comments opposing the move, and I anticipated speaking at the City Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday.

I hope Mayor Landrieu takes a hard look at the underlying factual scenario before making any attempt to reintroduce the measure - the funding situation for the project is uncertain, the destruction of historic properties would be significant, and the proposed design is notably poor.

I take the withdrawal as a sign that the new mayor is approaching this major public issue in good faith on his part.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010