A plan to tear down a mansion on St. Charles Avenue designed by one of New Orleans’ most celebrated architects to make room for a new single-family home in its place must be decided by the City Council, after the committee that oversees demolition requests cast a split vote over the issue Monday.
Homeowner Jeff Goldring and his supporters touted the agreements they had reached with two neighborhood associations, the St. Charles Avenue Association and Hurstville, as well as the national reputation of their Covington-based architect, Ken Tate. Opponents countered that the architecture of the existing building is already significant, and that the family should not be able to tear the home down simply because they want something different there.
The Neighborhood Conservation District Committee’s vote was 6 to 5 in favor of allowing the demolition, falling one vote short of the seven needed for approval and sending the project to the City Council.
In a brief introduction before the committee, Goldring described growing up in a home a few blocks away as part of the reason he bought the property at 5428 St. Charles Avenue.
“What we want to do is build a single family home, and give my son and wife the same opportunities I had growing up in this neighborhood,” Goldring said.
Consulting architect Dennis Brady noted that most of the opposition he encountered to the demolition came from people concerned about the possibility that “something different” — presumably a multi-family structure, such as that proposed by Goldring’s father several years ago — would be built in place of the mansion. The existing structure is technically a three-family dwelling, but is now vacant and poised to revert back to single-family zoning, Brady said.
To further assuage surrounding residents’ fears on this issue, Goldring is entering a good-neighbor agreement with the two associations to ensure what he builds remains a single-family residence.
“This sets a terrific precedent for your board,” said Goldring attorney Bob Steeg. “If there’s going to be a demolition on St. Charles Avenue, let’s go from multi-family to a single-family.”
Opponents, however, saw an entirely different precedent in the proposal. Next-door neighbor Barry Grodsky said his own house required extensive renovation when he bought it, also, but that demolition would have been an inappropriate response.
“You’re dealing with one of the most important streets in the country. Tearing this house down is going to set an example and set a precedent,” Grodsky said. “Let’s just go up and down St. Charles Avenue tearing houses down.”
The significance of the house itself was also debated. Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center enumerated the city landmarks designed by the house’s architect, Emile Weil, including the Saengar Theatre, Touro Synagogue, both the downtown and Carrollton branches of Whitney Bank, and numerous others, and said the house in question was “in harmony” with its surroundings on St. Charles Avenue.
Ann Abbrecht, the home’s previous owner, said it was intended for a single family originally — her grandmother built it for her children and other relatives, and only divided the upstairs into two separate units for some additional privacy.
“This building is beautiful,” Abbrecht said. “You have French doors. You have marble showers. You have transoms. You have gorgeous oak floors. You have a cypress skeleton to this building.”
Louis Lauricella of Octavia Street, however, suggested that he and his neighbors believe that Tate’s work will be better.
“There’s been a lot said about the significance of architect who designed this building,” Lauricella said. “Clearly, this was not one of his better works. There is really nothing significant about this building, and frankly we look forward to having an improvement to the neighborhood.”
Finally, the two sides — Goldring had about 10 supporters speaking on his behalf, while five opponents appeared — also disagreed on the building’s viability for renovation. John McAuliffe of Dufossat Street said he drives past it daily, and that it could easily be restored.
“There’s nothing wrong with this property,” McAuliffe said. “Someone called it an eyesore. It is not. If you would wash it and paint it, it would be fine. It is a perfectly lovely piece of property.”
Architect Donald Maginnis of the Lower Garden District said that he had surveyed the property, and disagreed. “If there was ever a case to demolish a property and replace it with something better, this is it,” Maginnis said.
Such a renovation would be technically possible, said Brady, the Goldring’s other consultng architect, but not what the owners desire.
“There’s no doubt that physically you could force a single-family residence into this structure,” Brady said. “Emile Weil designed it as a triplex. It has the presence of a triplex on the avenue. It does not have the presence of a grand structure, like the rest of the houses on St. Charles Avenue. Mr. Goldring is more interested in doing a new, classically-designed house on St. Charles Avenue.”
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