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Day 450: When Did FEMA Get Historic District Authority?

in hurricane katrina, new orleans, recovery, we are not ok

FEMA has blocked grant money which would have gone towards demolishing the St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church and building the Holy Cross school in its place.

Few in that area consider the church a beautiful or historic piece of property.  CH, who grew up in Lake Vista says, “It’s an ugly, oddly-designed building that was built in the 1960s, has no real historic value and could make way for a badly-needed school.  Truly historic schools that took on water are being torn down, but they want to protect this eyesore?” 

Never mind that, who is FEMA to declare a property historic, especially when the people of Gentilly and historic preservation associations want no part of it?

16 comments… add one
  • Mark Folse thinks its worth saving The Cathedral of the Lakefront

    I think it’s tragic that so few good modern building has been build in New Orleans.

    On the other hand, we need Holy Cross in the city.

  • Ray

    I don’t have an opinion yay or nay on Cabrini, but I’m glad that historic preservation is actually considered by FEMA when determining whether or not to demolish a property. Without that…well, here is a list of 500 private residences, including scores of 100+-year-old shotguns and doubles and Creole cottages, that would be bulldozed and carted away in the middle of the night with nary a peep:

    http://www.crt.state.la.us/culturalassets/fema106/readnotice.asp?NoticeID=29

  • rcs

    It falls under the purview of Section 106 review, which Cabrini triggered when they applied for Federal money to support the project. If they (Cabrini) want to tear it down on their own dime they can proceed unhindered (and unfunded,) as far as I know.

    I personally am disturbed by the Council’s advocacy of circumventing this regulation, but I doubt their opinion will have any impact on the Feds.

  • Mominem, there are many who would disagree with you on Cabrini being a good modern building. Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder, though.here is a list of 500 private residences, including scores of 100+-year-old shotguns and doubles and Creole cottages, that would be bulldozed

    Bad comparison. Cabrini falls under none of those categories. Holy Cross is older and worth saving.

    As I said, “Truly historic schools that took on water are being torn down, but they want to protect this eyesore?”

    Where was this level of interest and activism when the oldest Baptist church in the south was being torn down?

  • Ray

    You missed the point of my comment. As I said, I have no opinion about Cabrini, but I am glad that historic preservation is one of the brakes that can be put on to prevent FEMA from tearing down structures willy-nilly. You argued that FEMA should ignore claims of historic value. I think that’s short-sighted, just because it gives you the answer you don’t want to hear in this particular case.

    You wish that there had been more interest and activism when Coliseum Place had been torn down, and I agree with you. So now that the interest and activism is there, why is it a bad thing? How does the criminal demolition of a church back in June become an argument for less historic review now? The argument makes no sense. Maybe Cabrini is historic, maybe it isn’t. But let’s examine it, let’s go through the process and not tear the thing down in a hurry in the dark of night like we did with Coliseum.

  • The people of the LGD were not asked before the Coliseum Place Baptist Church was unceremoniously torn down. The people of the Cabrini area have already examined the issue and gone through the process, and want the land for a school which is a lot more historically significant than the church.

    The people’s wishes were not taken into account in either case.

  • Charles

    I know my comments will be controversial, but I just wanted to publish them from a qualified point of view. I am a life long parishioner of St. Frances Cabrini Church. My parents were married in the church. My brothers and I attended Cabrini School and receieved all of our sacraments there. I was an altar boy and later sacristan of the church. We were always very involved with the parish. I grew up hearing of the stories of the significance of the concrete arches of the church being reminiscent of the original quonset hut church. I was always amazed at how the altar was shipped on a barge from Cararra, Italy and even installed before the building was complete. I could go on and on.

    The church did have its faults, though. The massive metal doors were installed originally on wood frames which were beginning to rot. The enormous air conditioning system was always having problems and was very costly to repair. The roof, being so irregular, had to be constantly redone. It was always a hardship to even keep the building in working condition, let alone serve its parishioners. Having said all of this, I am sad to see it go. I now realize that I won’t be able to share this part of my life with anyone who comes after its demolition. But this is not a reason to preserve this church. Even though many many awesome memories were made in and around this Gentilly block, for myself and I’m sure many others, I do believe that it is time for those buildings to be demolished in preparation for Holy Cross School.

  • I try to stay out of arguments this local, as I am not there and have never lived there. I have followed Mark’s posts about Cabrini and see both sides. I also followed your posts about the church demo in the LGD, so see Ray’s point clearly. It all needs to be examined and what is or is not of historic value, carefully determined. I came here (well after this discussion has apparently ended) to add that my employers (demolition contractors) are peripherally involved in the bidding process with the City of New Orleans for way more than 500 homes. The number we are given by the minority owned Louisiana company that is seeking to bring us in as a sub is in the tens of thousands. I don’t know if we’ll get the work or do the work or whether or not they’re being honest with us, but that’s what it is.

  • As an architect, modernist and a neighbor to Cabrini, I think it’s a shame that many people don’t appreciate the beauty of modern architecture.

    About 99% of any movement is garbage, but we should always stop to think whether what is proposed is an improvement over what is being demolished. I’ve looked at the plans for the new Holy Cross and am underwhelmed. They lack ambition, something Cabrini surely had.

    Whether some other building should be saved is an irrelevant distraction, each building should stand on its own. Preservation should be a public discussion.

    The Coliseum Square Baptist Church fire was a catastrophe , and the demolition was tragic, but there was little warning and no time to generate a significant community response.

  • One pro-Cabrini party wishes to turn it into a Katrina memorial. As a compromise, I can see the church/memorial being part of the Holy Cross campus, tended to with a separate National Historic Register fund, rather than dumping the bill for its upkeep on Holy Cross parents in the form of tuition.

    In my opinion, New Orleans needs more future-related actions, i.e. much-needed schools, than memorials for past mistakes. However, I can see preserving the past and building around it for the future.

  • Er, um…. “Preserving the past – preparing the future” is the tag line for the National Demolition Association. sorry *sigh*

  • Puddinhead

    Sorry, Maitri….I’m biased because I’m a HC alum, father of two current HC students, AND a Gentilly resident…but I can’t see the scenario you see here playing out. HC starts at fifth grade; I can’t see parents of ten and eleven year old boys being particularly comfortable sending their children to a school where throughout the school day buses are dumping 30-40 “tourists” at a time onto their campus. Private schools are competitive for their enrollments; it’s not totally unlike college recruiting, although on a more personal basis. You know that if a parent at another school’s open house admits that they’re also considering HC that they’ll be asked a question kind of like “So you’ll feel comfortable if your ten year old is out on the campus during lunch break when a bus load of “strangers” is dropped off next to him, will you?”

  • Matri, my attachment is obviously in part personal: it’s my father’s church. It is not historically significant in the sense that Ms. Gay recognizes, but that doesn’t make it less significant for its unique roof, buttressed altar space, the gorgeous single piece marble altar from Italy dropped by the hirelings who were gutting the building (who also tore out mosaics and tossed them into the scap heap to get at the asbestor underneath).

    No one is trying to prevent Holy Cross form building there. The behavoir of the HC partisans is of a sort I didn’t tolerate in my children when they were younger, and which at work I would consider a personal failure if it triumphed.

    The important point for me is that there at least be a dialogue in the place of threats, or what other building is safe if our betters decide that progress must prevail?

  • Puddinhead

    Mark, once again, I have to ask–which “HC partisans” are you speaking of? Do you mean the “angry mob” at the press conference at Cabrini? Because the only “Holy Cross partisans” there were my wife, my two sons (both HC students) and their three best friends, three brothers who are our Gentilly neighbors as well as HC students themselves. The school isn’t so large now that, between the five boys, they wouldn’t recognize other Holy Cross-affiliated people there, be they (of course) faculty or staff or parents of their classmates. They knew no one else at the press conference. Which isn’t all that difficult to understand…if you simply accept that which is fact–that most of the people there in support of the project as designed were not connected in any way to Holy Cross, but were there as representatives of the neighborhood associations, and included the president of the neighborhood across the street, Vista Park, who appeared later that evening on WWL-TV with Father Maestri (and I, rightly or wrongly, get a sense that your distaste for the man somewhat shades your feelings on this issue).

    Of course, as it has been recently framed in the local blogosphere, the residents of the neighborhood the site is located in should have no input into a decision; Jarvis DeBerry, who lives across the street and has written in favor, is simply “selfishly” looking out for his own personal monetary interests. I would assume we need to extrapolate that the rest of the members of the fourteen individual neighborhood associations and the umbrella Gentilly CIA who have come out in favor are similiarly “selfish”, and their opinions should also be discounted.

    As for behavior at the press conference, your architect, the students he brought with him, and the four SFC parishioners he could muster to support him attempted to scream and shout enough to drown out whatever any of the neighborhood assn. representatives or City Council members had to say to reporters while the cameras were on; the “HC partisans” initial “shouts” were along the lines of “Will you please shut up and wait your turn?” As I’ve stated elsewhere, my elder son was pushed (not the kind of shove that leads to legal action, but had hands put on him nonetheless) by one of the architecture students, and he an my wife were told my Mr. Verderber that they and the others there were just “too uneducated to grasp the significance” of the building. As they were attempting to discuss with Mr. Verderber why it wasn’t a good idea to have a public museum on the campus of a private middle and high school, he looked around and announced “Why am I even talking to you people? The reporters aren’t even here any more,” and promptly gathered up his things and left. So much for dialogue with the neighborhoods.

  • Puddinhead, there are schools in the French Quarter, Los Angeles and Manhattan (the award-winning Stuyvesant being one) outside of which busloads of strangers are dropped off almost daily. If one assumes that each of these tourists is a career pedophile, I can see your point. Other than that, I don’t catch the drift of your argument against having the monument/church and the school on the same campus.

    Mark, I hate to say it, but using your argument, every building is historic.

  • Puddinhead

    Maitri, I’m was trying (not very well) to make the point not that the students will actually be in danger of anything more than distraction (Dr. Verderber’s proffered “re-design” of the Holy Cross site plan to allow the church building to remain as is looks to show about twenty feet or so between the church/museum and the classroom building he squeezes in next to it, although there’s no scale on either his version or HC’s published site plan that he cut and pasted to make his version), but more that the idea will be used in the competition for prospective students by the other schools attempting to attract the same families as Holy Cross. All of these schools generally hold their open houses at about the same time, and it’s essentially a sales pitch. Each school tries to make itself look more attractive than the others in an effort to land a target enrollment, and further to attract the best applicants it can because high student achievment will make the school even more attractive to ensuing years’ crops of applicants. A lot like college recruiting in that manner. It’s also a sales pitch in that while pointing out their school’s (or “product’s”) strengths, just like any salesman a representative won’t hesitate to casually mention another school (or “competing product’s”) weaknesses. If a visiting family seems interested in athletics for their son, they may be shown how much bigger and more modern the school’s gym and locker rooms are compared to “School X”‘s facilities, if the family has mentioned that they were also interested in School X. For years Holy Cross has had the disadvantage of competing schools being able to point out how “safe” their surrounding neighborhoods were, sort of intimating (or flat out saying) that a trip down into the Ninth Ward was akin to sending their children to Beirut for school.

    Not that HC was above this approach themselves; I know that several years prior to Katrina they had one of the more extensive student computer networks among the comparable schools, and certainly were using the fact that their students were being immersed in using the Office suite from fifth grade while some of the other schools were at the time waiting until tenth grade to even begin teaching keyboarding techniques. I know this because it was one of the main reasons my elder son chose HC over another school.

    Again, though, I don’t pretend to be unbiased in this argument, as a Holy Cross alum, parent of two HC students, and Gentilly resident. And admittedly also someone who’s never thought too much of the SFC building from an asthetic standpoint long before Katrina or this controvery were ever on the radar. Which is not to say that someone who loves comtemporary church architecture’s opinion isn’t just as valid as mine–just that my tastes have always run more toward more traditional church architecture that reflects more of an “inner-city parish” feel, like Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady Star of the Sea, or Sts. Peter and Paul.

    Incidentally…a meeting is to be held at St. Leo the Great tonight for members of my church parish, St. Raphael, which is in the same situation as St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in that is has been made “inactive” due to a lack of parishioners since Katrina. I fully expect to hear that the Archdiocese has determined that the parish buildings can best serve the community at this point through their conversion into something like housing for the elderly. The church building may or may not end up slated for demolition. Will I be happy about this announcement if it comes? No…of course not. It will be yet another reason for me to rue the devestation that the flood wreaked on my neighborhood. Will I accept that it would probably be the most appropriate (and most “Christian”) use of the property as the situation warrents at this time? Sadly, after driving every day through the parish neighborhood, yes. There is no where near the population right now to warrent the cost to operate a separate church parish based at St. Raphael, especially with St. James the Major available so nearby.

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