Nov 162011
 

One of these houses was recently approved for demolition, and one was deemed necessary for preservation. Want to guess which is which? (Photos via Preservation Resource Center, prcno.org)

Watching from the sidelines these last few weeks as New Orleanians applaud or boo proposed demolitions throughout the Uptown area, I am once again left scratching my head from what seems to be a certain sense of inconsistency.  Here’s why.

4517 Saratoga (via prcno.org)

Recently a little ol’ shotgun in the 4500 block of South Saratoga, No. 4517 to be precise, generated a heated discussion largely in opposition to the removal of the dwelling.  Yes, it’s a quaint old building.  Yes, there are literally dozens upon dozens and again, dozens more, comparable to it.  Unless you live nearby you’ve likely never seen this one in particular, and you may not ever happen across it, because frankly South Saratoga is a relatively sleepy street and the 4500 block in particular has little noteworthiness.

The demolition dialogue played out for days in emails that cc’d everyone from neighbors to neighborhood associations, to City Council and well, to me.  Basically, the takeaway was that the demolition should be denied for two reasons.  One, an old shotgun has more character than whatever presumably inferior construction might replace it, and two, renovating the space would be much less expensive than demolishing it.  To be sure, there was a certain level of “we know better than you, Mr. Property Owner,” both from the impact on the neighborhood’s visual field to the bottom line of cost differences between renovation or demolition-construction.  The request was denied.

5428 St. Charles (via prcno.org)

Next up, a ginormous and unremarkable behemoth of sticks and bricks sidled up to the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue was the subject of a similar demo request by its owner, Mr. Goldring.  The address is 5428 St Charles, about a mile away, a neighbor of roughly 11 blocks to 4517 South Saratoga.  The home appears from plain sight to be in fine repair, and is in a highly visible location.  It must be the orange to South Saratoga’s apple, however, as in this specific case the request for demolition was approved.  Yes, approved.  Last week, fellow columnist Owen Courreges wrote a well-received, entertaining and informative piece on the matter entitled “How to tear down anything in three simple steps.”  In reading it last week I initially refrained from comment, but then it struck me: what real difference is there in these two fruits?  Both owners sought approval to tear down their own structures.  Neither is amazingly historical or exceptional in execution.  But both demolitions will (or in 4517 S Saratoga’s case would have) change(d) the visual field as well as likely be cost prohibitive.  Is this a consistent and level demolition playing field we’re witnessing?  I say no.  Why then is this allowable?

Jean-Paul Villere

Marvel Comics used to publish a series of stories that posited alternate realities to favorite characters and storylines called What If?  What if Spider-man joined the Fantastic Four?  Things like that.  And so I wonder: What if  4517 South Saratoga and 5428 St. Charles were to swap ownership? Would the outcome have been the same?  What would be different?  What would be the same?

At the end of the day I am a preservationist.  Ask anyone.  But I’m also all about giving people — everyone — the opportunity to accomplish their goals, including self-chosen demolition.  In these two cases, I think the outcomes are distinctly different due to socioeconomic circumstance and perhaps we should leave it at that.  But perhaps there is another solution: Mr. Goldring, out of the goodness of his own heart and in a sharing spirit, might be willing to assist Mr. Bartholemew in appealing his denial, so that he too might experience the joy of accomplishing a demolition.  What if that happened?  Hmmm, what if, indeed.

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FOOTNOTE: At long last the basketball backboards have appeared in Samuel Square! Does anyone know who, when, and how this took place, so credit may be given where credit is due? Once we have a working water fountain again, the park rehab might just be complete!

Bright new backboards await a pickup game at Samuel Square Park on Napoleon Avenue (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for UptownMessenger.com)

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

  • sharon goodson

    Great article. I am torn between wanting New Orleans to always look the same to private property rights. I have also seen many examples in this city of demolition by neglect. If you can insure that someone will renovate and restore the S.Saratoga property rather than let Virginia Creeper vines take it down for us – I am for restoration. However, if I am left with yet another crack house in the neighborhood – I vote to tear it down. Mr. Goldring however will likely give us a better alternative on his property. I doubt that he would waste a valuable address. The old “location, location, location” applies to St. Charles. Hopefully the S.Saratoga owner will opt to sell it to a motivated buyer and both stories will end happily.

  • Justin

    Goldring’s case is demolition by neglect. Had he maintained the building on St. Charles there would be absolutely no need to demolish it now. I knew a few families who used to live there many years ago. The building was very well built. What an absolute shame! Too bad the associations that used to be in place to protect the old homes on St. Charles have changed hands to younger people who do not understand the history or the need for preservation. They will learn too late.

    • Jean-Paul Villere

      What exactly was neglected beyond repair? It didn’t flood. The roof is clay which means it will last forever. “Demolition by neglect” smacks of inappropriate. What was sooooo terrible???

      • Michelle Kimball

        Jean-Paul, “demolition by neglect” is when an owner allows a building to continue to fall into disrepair because of lack of action on roof repairs, vegetation on the building, deteriorating structural elements and alike. From the HDLC website: “If a property owner fails to maintain his/her building(s) and allows neglect and deterioration to occur, that property owner can be cited by the HDLC for “demolition by neglect,” that is, for allowing the building to deteriorate to the point where it is demolished through neglect. Once a citation for “demolition by neglect” is issued by the Commission, the property owner must correct the violations as noted by the Commission. If the property owner fails to cooperate, the matter is turned over to the City Attorney’s office for action in Civil District Court. There the property owner may be assessed a fine for every day he is in violation of the “demolition by neglect” citation. Through this process, the HDLC works to address the problem of blighted properties in our local historic districts by getting property owners to act responsibly and perform minimal maintenance of their properties.”

  • Michelle Kimball

    A point of clarification on the S. Saratoga house — the owner is using federal funding for the project, not his own funding.

  • Dean Gancarz-Davies

    The backboards have appeared courtesy of NORD. A callaborative effort to “Flight the Blight” at Samuels Square playground was the inspiration. The City of New Orleans, Neighbors United, NORD, the Freret Property Campaign, Xavier, Loyola, Tulane, and neighbors from the Freret and Milan neighborhoods cleaned, painted, built, and installed to make Samuel Square a more viable and beautiful park.

    Dean Gancarz-Davies
    Neighbors United