By Danielle Del Sol
Ask anyone in the know about the biggest hot spots in the country for rapidly changing population demographics, and East Harlem is guaranteed to be on the short list. For several years now New York residents have been noting the rising real estate prices in northern Manhattan, likening the trend to incredible market shifts that have occurred in Brooklyn, particularly in areas such as Williamsburg, in the past decade.
As the cradle of some of America’s most important jazz, art, poetry and literature, artists living in East Harlem — also known as El Barrio and Spanish Harlem — are at particular risk as real estate prices rise. The Andy Warhol Foundation contacted Minneapolis-based nonprofit developer Artspace Projects, which creates, owns and operates affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses across the country to ensure that artists can stay in neighborhoods they contributed to, in 2004 to see if they could find an area in one of the five boroughs that was of interest.
“The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development toured us around the city and introduced us to both PS 109 and El Barrio’s Operation Fightback,” said Shawn McLearen, Vice President for Artspace and project director for the redevelopment of PS 109. The historic school, designed in 1900 by architect Charles Snyder, had been vacant for over 10 years and was almost demolished at one point — community leaders’ protests literally stopped bulldozers and kept the building standing. “El Barrio had a very clear set of challenges and opportunities, and a very clear set of local leadership that wanted to be at the table in conducting any work together, rather than other communities that weren’t quite sure about what they wanted to do, or how a partnership like ours might benefit their efforts to reach their goals,” McLearen said.
Artspace and El Barrio’s Operation Fightback partnered that same year to transform the 115,000 square-foot, five-floor school into 90-units of affordable live/work space for artists. They finally closed on the deal in June 2012, pleasing many entities pulling for Artspace to redevelop the space, including community and city leaders. “Affordable housing in El Barrio has long been an important community goal,” McLearen said. “The NYC School Construction Authority made clear that they didn’t have enough money to turn the 19th-century building into a 21st-century educational facility and the community didn’t want to see anyone financing a project by turning the school into condos. So what was the community going to do?
“Artspace started to make sense because our model is to not only bring affordable housing, historic preservation and other types of financing tools together for community development agendas, but to use the financing challenge as an opportunity for other foundations to get involved as well.”
The building’s restoration posed a rare challenge in that both the exterior and interior are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — significantly driving up costs. While most developers restoring National Register-listed buildings have to worry only about the accuracy of the building’s exterior, Artspace’s restoration, to qualify for federal and state historic tax credits, has to maintain both the façade’s integrity and the interior’s significance as a former school in the building’s redesign.
One way the team has accomplished this is by keeping the 3,500 square-foot ground-floor lobby open, transforming it from a student gathering space to a community exhibit space, to be operated by the residents. Throughout the rest of the building, the demising walls are largely maintained, as are the hallways and common areas. As for the 90 units, because they’re meant to be used as both living space and a work studio, the 500 to 1,000 square foot sizes are, on average, much larger than typical affordable apartments in the New York City. “Artspace tries to make units as large as we can; we meet our mission in part by ensuring units are large enough for artists to live and work in,” McLearen said. “We have larger units but a smaller quantity.”
The redevelopment of PS 109 has quite a price tag — it’s currently estimated at $52 million — as the building was in poor condition when Artspace began construction in July 2012. Though the structure has been taken down to the beams and columns, and will require projects such as the replacement of the majority of the roof and the restoration of a copper cupola, among others, the quality of the original construction of the building still impresses McLearen. “It shows that if you handle them properly, a lot of these buildings remain exceptional,” he said. “All things considered, we’re really pleased with the state of the structural steel, masonry and terra cotta that we’ve uncovered.”
The site is also designed to be accessible to the public, which is populous in this dense neighborhood. The site is surrounded by Washington Houses, a New York City Housing Authority multi-site facility; engaging neighbors is part of the impetus behind the team’s efforts to provide a permanent green market site. Fresh food will also be grown within one of the site’s two courtyards.
“El Barrio is an incredible neighborhood,” McLearen said. “Like all of New York, it’s in a constant state of change, and there’s a cultural vibrancy that people want to protect. Cultural facilities that allow for artists and arts organizations to continue to do what they do, and maintain their traditions,” are vital, he said. “Artists are an existing portion of the affordable housing demographic, not separate from it. When you apply a fact like that to an area like El Barrio you realize quickly that there are a lot of artists in this community that want to stay here and continue to contribute to their community.”
See the complete photo gallery here.
Read more about the community engagement and financing process in “Bringing Back Bell,” featured in April’s Preservation in Print magazine.
Read more about Artspace’s PS 109 project here.
It was a long, wet summer but work on the Balthazar Saulet House in the Lower Garden District has finally resumed, and the project is now shaping up quickly. We’ve been following Mike Bertel, owner of Bertel Construction, as he adapts this 1851 home into a commercial space, an apartment and an office for his company, through our YouTube series “Reinventing the Balthazar Saulet House.” Watch the next installment, “Fall Update,” HERE.
See more pictures of the beautiful adaptive reuse of 807 Esplanade Ave., as seen in the October 2012 issue of Preservation in Print, in our photo gallery here.
The Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office’s counterpart in Arkansas has launched a search for circular houses like the one pictured above. Designed by Gilbert Spindel, the Guyte D. Gunnels House in Magnolia, Ark. dates to 1959 – 1960. The Arkansas SHPO has uncovered a rumor that a similar house was built in Louisiana.
If a circular house like this one exists, (or once existed) in our state, the Louisiana SHPO would like to know about it! If you are aware of such a house, or have knowledge about Spindel, please contact Patricia Duncan, National Register Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225.219.4595.
See our Flikr gallery of today’s St. Roch Market press conference here.
PRC’s Advocacy and Preservation in Print teams were on the scene today as Mayor Mitch Landrieu, along with members of the New Orleans City Council, FEMA, the US Attorney’s Office and Faubourg St. Roch Project director Mandy Pumilla held a press conference today to announce a new wave of energy (and funds) in the restoration of the 1875 St. Roch Market, which has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina. The structure currently has a leaking roof (which attendees experienced firsthand when a brief but strong rain storm began mid-way through the presentation) and extensive damage to the interior woodwork, but elements such as the massive cast-iron columns are wonderfully intact. The building will be restored with $3.1 million in HUD-funded CDBG grants that were allocated to the project by the City. The building will be developed as “white space” to allow interested developers to outfit the building as they please; however, neighbors hope that the future tenants will bring back fresh food sales in the front of the building and return the legendary oyster po’boys with some sort of seafood restaurant in the back.
Follow along with Preservation in Print on our blog, YouTube and Flikr in this new online series as Mike Bertel adapts a dilapidated 1851 home in the Lower Garden District into a new commercial and residential space.
By Danielle Del Sol
Its name is grand, but if you have ever driven past the Balthazar Saulet house on Annunciation Street, chances are you’ve never noticed it. The plain, minimalist Greek Revival façade is hugged tightly by an Italianate townhome on one side and a deteriorating mule barn on the other and is backed by concrete, monolithic ramps to the I-10 expressway that looms nearby.
Despite this, the Balthazar Saulet house, constructed in 1851, is one of fascinating significance. The land it sits on was once the vegetable garden of the founder of New Orleans and one of Louisiana’s first governors, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Post-Bienville, the land remained desirable: It was sold to the Jesuits in the 1720s, seized by the Spanish in the 1760s, sold to plantation owner Thomas Saulet shortly thereafter and inherited years later by his son, Balthazar, who built a galleried single-family Greek Revival brick townhouse on what was then two standard lot sizes of land. After Balthazar’s death in 1851, his widow, Catherine Fortier Saulet, split the home into two, presumably to house servants nearby.
(Photo courtesy the Notarial Archives)
Since then, the house has been through a number of iterations: An addition was attached to the back, the front galleries were removed, another addition was stuck to one side of the building, throwing off the whole symmetry of the house as the roof was expanded on the left — and later was removed.
When contractor and developer Mike Bertel bought the house this past February, the front façade didn’t look too bad. The weeds were high, the iron gate rusted and the shutters sagging, but it wasn’t enough to scare the seasoned homebuilder. The back, however, was another story.
“These vines,” he said recently, pointing to the roof on the right rear half of the house, which tops partial brick walls that look as if they had been bombed, “are structural.” We all had a good laugh, but he then explained that he wasn’t joking. “The cat’s claw is holding this thing together.”
He and his crew are killing the vines in a controlled manner to keep the whole back of the hollowed out structure, which is currently held up by little more than the vines and now-ashen lime mortar, from collapsing. While the front part of the house is termite eaten, it is still largely intact. The back, however, is a mass of vines and orphan brick walls that will have to be carefully restored or removed. Delicate is the name of the game — the “structural vines,” for example, can’t be killed too quickly, or the back of the house might fall down. If the back falls, Bertel knows, it’s surely taking the front with it.
“What Mike Bertel has done, in effect, is taken a house that has already fallen off a cliff, and he’s dragging it back up over the cliff and back to life,” said Peter Waring, the project’s architect. “It’s tricky, and it’s dangerous. But it’s incredibly exciting.”
Bertel has ambitious goals for the house. The first two floors of the three-story structure will be developed for commercial use, and the top floor will be an apartment. Though the first floor could be two separate shops or offices, Bertel says that “the downstairs would lend itself really well to a restaurant. The central hall could remain open with dining rooms on either side and the kitchen in the back. Plus there’s a large front porch and back courtyard.” He plans to move his company’s headquarters into the house’s second floor.
As Waring points out, restoring this structure is about more than just choosing tenants; it’s about fixing in place the marketability of a structure for the long term to ensure its preservation. “When we’re finished with a building, I can walk away saying, ‘I can’t take care of this building — I don’t own this building. But at least it’s got another good 60-70 years.’ And then someone else will pick up the baton and carry it on.
“If I renovate a building well enough and give it an adaptive reuse, it gives it raison d’être, and the raison d’être will make it worth enough so that whoever the future purchaser or user of is, it becomes so economically valuable they can’t let it disintegrate as fast,” he said.
Bertel has surrounded himself with experts to complete the project — architects, historians, master masons and carpenters. But he himself is an expert, with years of construction and woodworking under his belt, and a true legacy to draw from. Bertel descends from a long line of New Orleans craftsmen: his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all woodworkers, and his great-grandfather built homes many homes during his career in the Upper Ninth Ward. His grandfather is still going strong as a furniture maker (he’s over 90 years old), and his father co-owns with Bertel an architectural mill work shop in Mid-City. In fact, Bertel’s father will mill all of the wood elements for the home at their shop, including custom cypress doors, cabinetry and architectural details.
He purchased the house in February and the permitting process to be allowed to start construction, which involved meetings and requirements from the State Historic Preservation Office and the local Historic District Landmarks Commission, took over four months. Meetings with the Louisiana SHPO have ensured that the project will qualify for state and federal historic tax credits, which will refund Bertel 25 and 20 percent of his rehabilitation costs, respectively; meetings with the HDLC have ensured that he has permission to make changes to the building’s exterior.
With all agreements made with these agencies and craftsmen hired and ready, renovation has finally begun. Preservation in Print will be following the process as Bertel transforms this dilapidated shell into an exciting new commercial spot for the Lower Garden District with blog posts, YouTube videos and a photo gallery on our Flikr page, which you can see here. Meet some of Bertel’s crew in the first episode of our YouTube series, Reinventing the Balthazar Saulet House, and check back often to see how the project is progressing.
See our fall 2012 update on the progress of the renovation HERE.
Preservation in Print deputy editor Danielle Del Sol interviewed DOCOMOMO Louisiana president Francine Stock in June 2011 about Modernist architecture and the incredible amount of resistance preservationists trying to save it often face. The interview was done in light of the demolition of the Charles Colbert-designed Philiss Wheatley Elementary School — which was put on the World Monuments Fund Watch List in 2010 and razed in June 2011 — but shares similar themes and ideas as those found in the Summer 2012 Preservation in Print story “Saving San Juan’s Tropical Modernism.” Her role in DOCOMOMO and as visual resources curator at the Tulane University School of Architecture in a city that has torn down the majority of its iconic Modernist architecture (and lost much more in the lakefront suburbs that flooded after Hurricane Katrina) gives Stock a deep insight into the struggles, and heartaches, that fans of Modernism regularly face. What follows are some “sound bites” of why Stock thinks justifying the preservation of Modernist architecture is often such a challenge.
“ I think, first and foremost, people have a hard time thinking of themselves as historic. There’s a reaction — ‘“that building’s just a few years older than I am, I’m just a few years older than that. I’m not historic — what are you saying, that I’m a relic?’
We think of history as being generations away. How can a modern building be historic? We think that ‘historic’ and ‘modernity’ as antithetical, but they’re not. Modernity is a mindset. The Gothic architects thought they were modern. So it’s really just getting people to think differently about modernism — that’s the first challenge.
But “modern” isn’t just the new, so what is it? How do you define it?
There are buildings of all times, periods, styles that are more successful than others. But what I think is interesting is this Regional Modernism, Modernism that is responding in different ways using native materials, processes, techniques and devices, and incorporating them in a new way.
Wheatley has been the biggest [loss] recently, but we also lost two really significant schools, George Washington Carver and Thomy LaFon Elementary. Basically an entire genre of regional architecture — the mid-century modern public school — has been wiped out. That’s basically what happened. And at the same time we see Mahalia Jackson Elementary (formerly McDonough 36), which was revitalized. So it keeps showing you what could happen, what could be possible.
The Auto Life Building on Canal is a Curtis & Davis structure, and the HDLC just put up a really good fight for it, and the result was that it was landmarked. The owner fought the landmarking in court, but it stuck. Another interesting recent success is the former Whitney Bank on Canal and Broad. It has a great canopy across the front. After the storm it flooded and Whitney Bank sold it to Family Dollar, who wanted to strip it back completely, getting rid of the whole canopy across the front, and then French Quarter-ize the structure with shutters and iron railings — because that’s what they thought people wanted. Thankfully the HDLC had landmarked it, so there were some teeth then because the designers trying to strip the building had to go before the HDLC for approval. Basically, the developers were able to get a little education about it, and now it’s beautiful — it’s the best looking Family Dollar on the planet. And has the possibility of another future — maybe even as a bank. ”
Visit Stock’s blog, Regional Modernism: http://www.regional-modernism.com/
Download the New Orleans Regional Modernism iPhone App she developed with Keli Rylance of the Southeastern Architectural Archives and the support of Tulane University for a guide to the best Modernist architecture left in New Orleans (it’s free!) by clicking here.
Read “Saving San Juan’s Tropical Modernism” in the Summer issue of Preservation in Print magazine by clicking here, and see more photos of San Juan’s Modernist treasures in the Preservation in Print Gallery here.
To see our previous blog posts about Modernism and the recent past, click here.
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The Summer 2012 issue of Preservation in Print magazine features a story by Antonio Pacheco, “Reinventing Broadmoor’s Cultural Hub,” about the dynamic Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center. With a lovely cafe, engaging activities like a weekly chess club, crafts and reading programs, and ample, inviting space for people to gather, the library has married new architecture with a historic home to create a truly unique and important center for the Broadmoor neighborhood. Click here to see a photo gallery with great shots of the library, and read more on Rosa Keller herself below. At the bottom, check out links for even more information — and in case you didn’t know, you can even “like” the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center on Facebook!
By Antonio Pacheco
The Keller Home has a unique place in the history of Broadmoor, having been home to several prominent doctors and intellectuals, as well as Broadmoor resident and Civil Rights pioneer, Rosa Freeman Keller, whom the home is named after. Rosa Freeman Keller was born March 31, 1911. She was the daughter of self-made businessman Alfred Bird Freeman and Ella West, a Southern aristocrat. Keller attended Newcomb College and Hollins College in Virginia. She met Charles Keller II at her debut in New Orleans, and the two were married in 1932.
Rosa Keller aggressively pursued social and racial equality in New Orleans during her lifetime. Her position on the board of the fully-integrated local Young Women’s Christian Association deeply impacted Keller’s views on race and social equality, inspiring her to pursue racial equality through a variety of paths. Rosa Keller became the first woman to serve on a city-wide board when Mayor deLesseps Morrison appointed her to the board of the public library system in the 1950s. Using this position of authority to leverage and enact progressive change, she went on to integrate both the New Orleans Public Library system as well as the League of Women Voters. Her work while on the board of Flint-Goodridge Hospital won access to coverage from Blue Cross Insurance for New Orleans’ African American community and opened the medical libraries of New Orleans’ universities for African-American medical students. Keller always fought for integration in New Orleans’ schools, starting the Save Our Schools organization that in 1960 transported children to and from integrated schools. In 1963, Keller also personally financed the effort to desegregate Tulane University.
Keller received honorary degrees from Loyola, Dillard, and Xavier Universities in 1980, 1984 and 1988 respectively. She also garnered a multitude of awards for the strides her work took to make New Orleans a more integrated place, including the prestigious Loving Cup award from the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1983, saying in her acceptance speech, said, “I’ve received so many honors it’s absurd…It’s funny. I just thought I was being a good Christian.”
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By Celeste Berteau
Good news reaches us on a regular basis from the Riverlands Christian Center in Reserve. The church, built in 1937, and situated a short distance from the bank of the Mississippi River, made headlines in 1993 when the building was moved from its original location on River Road the two miles to where it now sits at 123 Redemption Way. The frame structure, constructed of native cypress, was formerly the home of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, the first church in the river parishes designated specifically for African-American Catholics. It was in this church that Pastor Steven Perrilloux, pastor of Riverlands, worshiped as a child with his family. In 1992 the congregation of Our Lady of Grace made plans to build a larger, modern church on the River Road. Upon learning of demolition costs, and being aware of Pastor Perrilloux’s search for a location for his non-denominational congregation, Father Robert W. Sullivan offered the historic church to him. There was, however, one stipulation; the church had to be moved in two month’s time. “I was praying, please don’t let us lose it now,” Pastor Perrilloux’s wife Rita said, recalling the church perched atop a flatbed truck, being pulled around corners, through fields, and over a canal while a throng of hard-hat clad utility company employees dismantled traffic lights and power lines. The success of the move, which one television reporter referred to as “a miracle of coordination,” is exhibited on a daily basis at the church and in the subsequent events that have converged to enhance the significance of Historic Riverlands.
Once the church was safely installed, Rita Perrilloux embarked on a new mission: to have the church added to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service agreed that the church represented a historic phenomenon in southern Louisiana, the creation of separate churches for black parishioners, and the church was added to the National Register. The historic marker proclaims the site to be “a symbol of American history representing a people of prayer, struggle, and pride.”
On April 20, 2012, under a clear blue sky, this historic significance was celebrated once again. A group of dedicated congregation members, business leaders, St. John the Baptist Parish officials and members of the press assembled for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the addition of Historic Riverlands/Our Lady of Grace Historic Sanctuary to the Louisiana African-American Heritage Trail. The church now joins over 30 sites that the Louisiana Office of Tourism has designated to celebrate the achievements of African Americans in art, education, law, sports, architecture and the culinary arts, as well as the contributions of African Americans to Louisiana history and culture.
The atmosphere at Riverlands Christian Center on April 20th was not only celebratory, it was prideful. Pastor and Mrs. Perrilloux, their family members, and members of their congregation are welcoming and warm, and judging from the words spoken about them they are highly respected members of their community. Speakers included Parish President Natalie Robottom, not only the first female parish president, but the first African American to hold that title. Other speakers included Jay Tusa, executive director of the River Parishes Tourist Commission, and Laplace Realtor and business consultant, Eliza Eugene. All honored the commitment and dedication of Rita Perrilloux in her efforts to have her husband’s church recognized as an African-American site of significance. Preschoolers at the Riverlands Little Learners Learning Center performed a heartwarming rendition of Labi Siffre’s inspiring song, “Something Inside So Strong.” Perrilloux’s talented son-in-law Tyler McKinnis and American Idol finalist Jordan Dorsey sang an original composition titled, “We Can Stop the Violence,” which was commissioned by Parish President Natalie Robottom, and Pastor Perrilloux, an accomplished artist, performed a song from his new CD, “Kingdom of Love.”
The current dining room, in a building called The Boulevard, serves some of the best gumbo you can find and other local favorites. There’s a gift shop offering inspirational books (including Steven Perrilloux’s moving memoir “Chased By Grace”), music and Historic Riverlands coffee mugs and specialty items. The complex also includes a lending library. The walls are adorned with photographs and news clippings that depict aspects of African American history. One fascinating display explains “The Green Book,” a guide to integrated businesses and destinations that was published for “Negro motorists” from 1936 to 1964.
Just a 20-minute drive from New Orleans, Historic Riverlands Christian Center / Our Lady of Grace Historic Sanctuary makes a perfect add-on destination on a day of touring River Road plantations, or purely on its own.
Riverlands Christian Center
123 Redemption Way
Reserve, La. 70084
Also see: www.neworleansplantationcountry.com for tour information.
City officials, reporters and others were invited to a sneak peek yesterday inside the soon-to-open Saint Hotel at 931 Canal St. Originally built as the Audubon Building in 1910, the structure has vacillated between use as a hotel and offices throughout its 100-year life. New owners Mark and Jana Wyant enlisted the help of Trapolin-Peer Architects to restore the building to its former grandeur, and spent a whopping $45 million on the renovation.
“We wanted to respect the historic nature of the building and restore the historic elements, while also bringing in contemporary elements to create a juxtaposition of new and old,” Mark Wyant said. “We want to retain the sense of history here.”
When the boutique hotel opens, it will feature 166 rooms with custom-made furniture, two bars (the Burgundy Bar, which has lush velvet décor and will feature live jazz, and a rooftop bar to open spring 2012), a comfortable lobby with oversized chairs, a pool table and giant prints of historic photos pasted throughout the space, and Sweet Olive, a restaurant created by Chef Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette fame.
The restoration is one of the most exciting examples of adaptive reuse to debut this year. More to come in the March issue of Preservation in Print magazine. For now, peruse photos from yesterday’s tour HERE.