A couple who want to demolish their historic Henry Clay Avenue home and replace it with a new house found an unsympathetic audience at City Hall on Tuesday, and their plans will now carry an unfavorable recommendation when they appear before the New Orleans City Council.
Architect Tracy Lea, who owns the house with his wife, told the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee that despite their improvements to the house over the years, its maintenance has become problematic, and that they would prefer to replace it with a house of their own design. They searched for a lot elsewhere in the city, but could not find one preferable to their current property on the edge of Audubon Park.
“We like the piece of property that we own now, and would like to continue to live there,” Lea said. He added, “Architecturally, it’s not a good example of any particular style. It’s not a shotgun. It’s kind of a plain house. It’s an unremarkable house on a beautiful piece of property.”
The actual age of the house is unknown. Lea estimates it to have been built in the early 1910s, saying that it does not appear to match structures shown on earlier maps of the lot. Lilly McNee, a historian with the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission, disagreed, saying that the home may have been moved while being raised, but that she believes it appears on maps dating back to 1883.
“I think it’s a lot older than the teens,” McNee said. “I’m pretty positive of it.”
Two preservationists, architect John Schackai of the Louisiana Landmarks Society and Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center, both described their personal admiration for Lea, but urged that his application be denied.
“We believe the building was the first that was built on this block,” Schackai said. “This is part of a federal historic district, and one of the reasons it is so is because of the collection of houses that is there. If you allow the demolition of this building, your going to set a precedent that can not be overcome.”
A better precedent, Kimball said, would be a building farther up Henry Clay that the NCDC refused to grant a demolition for in 2007, and is now “stunning.”
The commission rejected Lea’s demolition request by a 7-2 vote with relatively little discussion. One of the votes in support of demolition was Hillary Carrere of the city’s code-enforcement division, who said he would have preferred to hear some opinion from neighbors to the house. The other vote in support of Lea was from Edward Horan.
The other major Uptown property on Tuesday’s agenda, a mansion on St. Charles Avenue also planned for demolition to make way for a new home, was postponed for 30 days as the property owner and preservationists discuss the issue.
To read live coverage of Tuesday’s meeting, click “Replay” in the box below.