Saturday, February 12, 2011
So how did the S.W. Green Mansion get saved?
Obviously, the physical act of elevating and moving the house was critical - the VA, Builders of Hope, SHPO, Orleans Shoring, the City of New Orleans, Durr, Jacobs, and others were all involved in the undertaking that played out in the VA Hospital Footprint yesterday. But what led them to take such an approach with a house that would otherwise have been demolished as planned?
Architect Kenneth Bryant was, for most intents and purposes, the prime mover, as I noted earlier. Here's a somewhat disjointed and likely inadequate history of how the building came to be saved:
In February of 2009, New Orleans Magazine published a brief snippet about the house and its noted occupant and owner in its "Julia Street" section. It's unclear that this snippet had any subsequent impact in the months that followed. I never saw the actual tidbit until this month.
In December 2009, Kenneth Bryant wrote up a press release about how he had re-discovered the house and its importance while skateboarding through the area as a student at Tulane's School of Architecture. I was not privy to the press release at the time, and it's not clear that any outlet published anything as a result of it.
Just over a year ago, in January 2009, my friend Curtis, who started out Inside the Footprint with me, made this post:
This residence at 219 S. Miro St. was once home to Smith W. Green, who, around 1908, was Supreme Chancellor of the Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. In addition to authoring major works on Pythian history and ritual, Green was integral in the construction of the Colored Pythian Temple, which still stands at 234 Loyola Avenue.
He clearly drew on the Julia Street note to highlight the importance of the building as we began to comb through the neighborhood (which had already been done at an earlier point by PRC and Squandered Heritage, among others).
Then in, June of 2010, a Tulane student of photographer Stephen Hilger was taking photos with me in the LSU Footprint. She later forwarded a press release that a relative had received in April of 2010. It was Bryant's write up. I shared it with a number of contacts - many of whom, despite being involved in the hospitals fight for some time, did not know about the mansion's significance.
In July 2010, the Preservation Resource Center's blog featured a short piece on the house based on Bryant's work. I noted the piece here at the time. A friend of the blog suggested some Tulane historical archive pieces on the Knights of Pythias organization that Green headed.
After a tumultuous late summer for me, I ultimately worked with Bryant to post his piece in its entirety at Inside the Footprint as a guest post on September 1, 2010, shortly before the general house moving effort got underway in the VA Hospital Footprint. But the Green mansion was still, at that time, slated to be demolished.
Once the piece was published in full online, it began to be emailed around rather vigorously for several weeks, as was vaguely apparent from a review of the blog sitemeter at the time.
By October 3, 2010, an open house forum on the S.W. Green Mansion had been set, which was to be moderated by Bill Rouselle, who heads Bright Moments, the community outreach firm employed for the VA Hospital project. Leon Waters from the LA African American Museum would also play a key role. On October 6, Blake Pontchartrain at Gambit focused on S.W. Green. The Foundation for Historical Louisiana posted the forum details and Bryant's entire piece on its website. PRC advertised the forum on its blog. The issue was taken up on at least one local radio station. I helped a friend of the blog come up with a flyer that she distributed widely with the forum details at various community events.
A Bill Barrow Times-Picayune piece on the morning of the forum noted that plans still did not call for the house to be saved, and that a group of us had called for saving it at a press conference in the LSU Footprint the day before.
The forum itself, held at St. James AME Church on October 12, revealed a clear community consensus on the importance of the building and the need to save it. Mr. Jari Honora, in particular, did a great job of sharing his research on the life of S.W. Green. One news station began to report that evening that the house would now be saved.
Shortly thereafter, Builders of Hope began measuring the house as dozens of people showed up on S. Miro Street to photograph the structure, and it became clear that the SHPO had been in talks with the owner, Mr. Paul Sylvester. VA agreed to foot the bill for the move. Even some of the commenters at NOLA.com came out of their troll caves and surprised me by supporting the effort to preserve the house. But despite the newly found will to move the house, lots had yet to be secured to actually make the effort a reality.
All indicators showed that the house was going to be moved in mid-November 2010, but one must also remember that the CDC title records crisis was underway by that time. It did not move. And I became increasingly worried that something was going to happen to the building in the interim - crime continued to wash over the increasingly desolate and darkened VA Footprint. On November 27, I saw figures moving in the lower floor of the house while driving by in the evening - and I called the authorities. The realities of fire and burglary are part of the problem faced by any abandoned building here in New Orleans.
The house made it through the holidays, though, and while it was originally rescheduled for a tentative move in "late January" and then January 27, 2011, it ultimately moved yesterday, as preceding posts illustrate. Here's a somewhat surreal shot of the mansion inching up behind one of the handful of remaining houses on the site - where S. Tonti Street once ran.
Anyway, that's the story of how the house came to be saved, as far as I know it. I'm sure there are numerous other facets out there - and you're welcome to send them in to me for inclusion.