Oct 12 2010
Activists Argue for Preservation of Houses on University Medical Center Site
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Weeks after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu successfully negotiated a way to spare as many as 100 houses from demolition as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proceeds with plans for its new Mid-City hospital, historic preservationists are calling for a moratorium on destruction in the adjacent neighborhood where the state plans to the build the successor to Charity Hospital.
The move of the first of 100 residential properties from the footprint of the new VA hospital in Mid-City was photographed Sept. 10.
There appears to be no similar house-moving program for the state footprint, where demolitions began last week.
The activists gathered Monday on Cleveland Street, just off South Galvez Street, which will divide the two medical centers, to decry that state contractors are dismantling houses before the state has its entire $1.2 billion construction budget on hand. The state has almost $800 million for the project and is in the early stages of seeking federal mortgage insurance that would allow the University Medical Center board to borrow the rest.
“It’s outrageous that this demolition is going forward,” said Bill Borah, a New Orleans lawyer and long-time advocate of a master plan for the city.
The state footprint, which is bound by Galvez, Canal Street, South Claiborne Avenue and Tulane Avenue, is strewn with blight, but it also is home to dozens of houses that boast architecturally significant features of the federally recognized Mid-City Historic District.
Besides residential properties, the parcel includes Deutsches Haus, the German social and cultural center, and the renovated McDonough No. 11 school. As for the blight, the activists note that it was worsened when the City Council imposed a moratorium on building permits as part of its push for a new hospital.
Mary Howell, an attorney who has an office near the hospital footprint, called it “a waste of resources” to tear down houses and businesses rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, many using money from government grant programs.
City Hall was closed Monday for Columbus Day, and the Landrieu administration did not comment on the activists’ call to halt demolitions.
Michael Diresto, a spokesman for the Louisiana Division of Administration that is managing the state project, said Monday that he knew of no push from the Landrieu administration to move houses from the state footprint. Diresto said state officials have consistently said they would consider changes as long as they don’t affect cost and timeline. The state’s plan does include an architectural salvage program that preserves parts of houses — doors, windows, chandeliers, mantles — for future use.
The hospital projects have become a political tightrope for Landrieu, who has attempted to satisfy preservationists, neighborhood associations and those pushing the projects. He has consistently supported the sites, but criticized plan details. The mayor convinced the VA and the state, which is handling land acquisition for both complexes, to divert money from VA site preparation budget to move some houses rather than raze them. He’s also refused to grant the state necessary street closures unless its architects retool the University Medical Center design to make it more integrated with its surroundings.
Borah praised Landrieu’s “reasonable interventions” but urged the mayor to do more.
Jack Davis of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, laid the blame in Baton Rouge.
“The difference (on the VA side) is that the decision-makers over there are people who care about New Orleans,” Davis said. “On this side, it’s the state and (Louisiana State University) who have shown nothing but contempt for the quality of life in New Orleans.”
Though the preservationists have praised the plan to move houses from the VA site, that program will not spare the S.W. Green House on South Miro Street, which was constructed in 1928 by the son of a former slave. Green’s house is noted as the city’s best example of early 20th century African-American architecture. The Louisiana Museum of African-American History is sponsoring a public forum Tuesday about the home and its potential fate. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, 219 N. Derbigny St.
Bill Barrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3452.
Source: The Times-Picayune
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