Raymond Twickler Jr. traces his family’s metalworking business in New Orleans back more than a century, but the prospect of rebuilding his Cadiz Street shop after Wednesday morning’s fire next door has the 72-year-old wondering whether he should go on.
“At my age, I have my thoughts. That has to be taken into consideration,” Twickler said. “This is my first day back, and I’m assessing the damage.”
Shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters were called to a four-plex apartment house at 823 Cadiz Street that was already “heavily involved,” with the fire spread to Twickler’s shop next door, officials said. No one was harmed, but it took 61 firefighters to bring the blaze under control and prevent its spread to any other buildings, and seven residents from the two buildings were displaced.
Most of the apartment house is still standing, though the fire utterly destroyed the top left quadrant, where charred studs outlined a blackened skeleton against Wednesday’s blue sky and some columns toppled partly down. Standing outside the charred apartment house, supervising the initial mop-up there, was Eric Taylor, a contractor who had been renovating the house, repainting the front and replacing the hardwood floors.
The damage was most heavily concentrated in the upper-left apartment, but the building owner definitely plans to rebuild, Taylor said — though first it will need to be boarded up and secured against theft.
“It’s got to be a complete gut,” Taylor said, noting that it will need some new framing and a new roof as well. “It as a cosmetic renovation, but it’s turned into a major job.”
At the metalworking shop, the walls closest to the apartment house are charred as well, with gaping holes especially near the upstairs apartments. Inside, water and soot mixes on the floor, and damaged insulation hangs from the ceiling, but the rear area that holds the machinery remains mostly secure.
“We were fortunate,” Twickler said. “This is not the best, but it could have been really nasty.”
The power remains off, and as he sat in the half-light of his shop, Twickler reflected that the lack of electricity won’t be a total hindrance. Only a few of his tools run on electricity, and his techniques date back to a time before power tools. Twickler said his grandparents’ grandparents applied for their first metalworking licenses from the city in 1892, and his own grandparents lived above the Cadiz shop for years.
Twickler said he has already brought the shop back from two major fires over the decades. The first was in 1960, shortly after he graduated high school and began working there, and the second was in 1980. Both of those blazes started on neighboring property, then spread through the radiant heat to ignite Twickler’s shop.
“It’s the dirtiest work I’ve ever done in my life,” Twickler said. “I’ve done a lot of roofing work, and that’s dirty work. But not like a fire. That odor I smell — it’s bringing back memories.”
Twickler’s son-in-law, Steve Tramonte, took off work from his own job Wednesday to help secure the shop, hammering plywood over open wall sections. If Twickler decided to close the business, the family would certainly understand, Tramonte said. On the other hand, Twickler’s love for his craft makes that hard to envision.
“He’s one of the oldest ones in the city bending metal now,” Tramonte said. “All he knows is work.”
If Twickler does decide to rebuild, he won’t be doing it alone, judging from the steady flow of visitors and well-wishers on Wednesday. Neighbors and customers, contractors Twickler has worked with — all stopped by to offer their sympathy and any help they could lend. Some even offered to bring their own work crews over to get Twickler back in business.
“My time has been good,” Twickler said. “I don’t look at this as work. I look at it as fun, to make things out of metal. I still do, and I’m old.”
As Twickler reflected on his future Wednesday, a shocked customer came in — he hadn’t heard about the fire before he arrived, and was originally only coming to ask about some work on a metal chimney. With a resolve honed over six decades, Twickler settled onto his three-legged stool, opened his order pad and began calculating the measurements for the job.