In Sudden Demolition, New Orleans Loses First Historic Building Since Katrina

Naval
1903 Naval Brigade Hall

Credit: Cassandra Sharpe

New Orleans lost one of its jazz sites last week when out-of-town firemen suddenly demolished a 102-year-old former music school damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Although New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin condemned the surprise demolition of the Naval Brigade Hall, he has written a proclamation that suspends the authority of the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission.

In response to Nagin's still-unsigned declaration and the loss of the city's first historic building since Katrina, a grassroots group called Save Our Neighborhoods has formed. At a meeting last night, the group pledged to oppose Nagin's plan.

"Once the Naval Brigade Hall was demolished, that set fear in our hearts," says Bari Landry, group member and resident of the flooded Lakeview area, a National Register-listed historic district. "If they could tear that historic building down in a heartbeat, what's to stop them from tearing my home down?"

The Naval Brigade Hall, a three-story brick building that was a site on the National Park Service's jazz tour, fell on Sept. 26. After World War II, the hall became Grunewald's School of Music for jazz musicians.

Without permits or permission from the city or owner, the visiting firefighters used a new machine called a "strong arm" to bring down the Warehouse District building, which the city of New Orleans had declared uninhabitable earlier that day.

"I was on the verge of tears. In a matter of hours, they reduced that facade to a pile of rubble," says Jerre Madere, a neighbor who watched the demolition and begged firefighters to stop. "It was like little boys with a new toy."

Said Nagin in a press release: "They were unaware of the proper procedures and the 'chain of command. Steps have been taken by the New Orleans Fire Department to ensure that this will not happen again."

In a survey of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Historic District Landmarks Commission found that 115 buildings in seven historic districts are seriously damaged and 56 more are compromised.

Long empty, Naval Brigade Hall was in the process of being renovated as condos when Katrina brought down two-thirds of its facade. "It was more of an eyesore because the windows had been boarded up, and it had been sitting there vacant for years," says Madere, who didn't evacuate and heard the facade fall. "But everyone in the neighborhood was excited to see that the facade was going to be restored."

Save Our Neighborhoods is dismayed that Mayor Nagin did not appoint neighborhood leaders or historic preservationists to in his rebuilding committee.

"People who didn't know this city destroyed an important part of jazz history. It's gone," Landry says. "We don't want that to happen to the rest of this city."

 

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