HOME AGAIN! for Robert and Zenobia Smith in New Orleans

Robert and Zenobia Smith had about five feet of water in their New Orleans house after the Industrial Canal broke through the levee walls. It was almost a year before the City would allow anyone to spend the night in their Holy Cross National Register District homes.

Credit: Mary Fitzpatrick and Alex Lemann

A former longshoreman, Robert Smith is one of the hardest working people in post Katrina New Orleans. The Trust first met Mr. Smith during a visit to his mother's home next door, which is also a HOME AGAIN project in the Holy Cross National Register District. Everyday he would be hauling debris, sweeping the sidewalk, and raking the grass around his double shotgun home where he lived with his wife Zenobia on one side and his daughter and grandchild on the other side of the duplex before the storm.

Holy Cross is the oldest section of the now infamous Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Nestled against the banks of the Mississippi River, however, it sits on higher ground and consequently did not experience the whole scale destruction portrayed in the national media. The potential for rebuilding the neighborhood, bringing back the homeowners and attracting new residents to its modestly-priced cottages is excellent.

Volunteers from universities, religious groups and even editors of major Hearst Corporation publications helped Robert Smith put his house back in order. But no one worked as hard as he did, day in day out.

Credit: Mary Fitzpatrick and Alex Lemann

The Trust has seven HOME AGAIN projects in Holy Cross. The Trust also successfully lobbied Congress for $12 million in Historic Preservation Grants and 42 homeowners in the neighborhood received a portion of this emergency funding. Our local partner, Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans (PRC), is rehabbing vacant and blighted properties and building new homes in Holy Cross. PRC's Rebuilding Together, an affiliate of the national Rebuilding Together, is also targeting the neighborhood and partnering on some HOME AGAIN projects, including the home of Robert and Zenobia Smith. 

PRC brought students from Oberlin College and Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia to help Smith with the laborious gutting. They followed Trust standards to retain as much of the original materials as possible. Trust volunteer architects assessed the Smith property and talked with Robert about what he needed to get his house livable.

"If I could just get electricity, I'd move back in and get started on the rebuilding," Smith said. HOME AGAIN awarded him a grant to rewire his house, but it was apparent that much more work would be needed.

Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans’ Rebuilding Together program, the Hearst Corporation, and a Historic Preservation Grant worked with HOME AGAIN to rehab the Smith home.

Credit: Mary Fitzpatrick and Alex Lemann

PRC's Rebuilding Together, working with volunteers from the Order of Malta, stepped in to begin putting the house back in order. In the meantime, the City finally opened Holy Cross to residents in May of 2006 and Mr. Smith moved to a nearby house. Everyday he rode his bicycle back to Dauphine St. and worked either alone or with the many volunteers and professional contractors that began to fill his home almost daily. At one point, the former keeper of the Royal drains at Buckingham Palace was installing all new pipes for Mr. Smith while Campus Crusade for Christ students were putting a coat of paint on the exterior.

While Rebuilding Together managed the contractors, the Trust program officer in our New Orleans office, Kevin Mercadel, helped walk the Smiths through the Historic Preservation Grant process. They received their full request of $45,000. Thanks to another $40,000 and 50 editors from the Hearst Corporation who put the final coat of paint on their home, Robert and Zenobia and their daughter and grandson moved HOME AGAIN in April.




The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.