Jean-Paul Villere: Napoleon’s horrible haircut

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Workers "clear the air" on Napoleon Avenue. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

A neighbor returned from a road trip last week, and their first text to me upon being back in New Orleans said, “What’s with the hack job on the oak trees on Napoleon between Freret and St Charles???”  Indeed.  

Jean-Paul Villere

Her text was at once spot on but funny too as it didn’t mention the ginormous yellow crane towering over all, also on Napoleon and also between Freret and St Charles.  My response began “It’s all apart of the drain line prep being done.”  And what an amount of prep it has become.  So, yes, if you’ve been away for a week or three and you traverse Napoleon with any frequency, you’re likely to note a few changes, starting with the ample air space and clearance being cut along the avenue.  If you’re a visual person, your first clue — beyond the ridiculously (some might say comically and again) ginormous yellow crane — translates to more sunlight.  A la Lakeview after 2005.  There’s a lot less foliage over that way than there used to be.  Except Napoleon’s haircut seems more orchestrated and purposeful.  At least this remains my hope.

But make no mistake, the tree cutting smacks of a hack job.  These tree trimmers do not appear to have graduated from the Mr. Myagi School of Bon Sai Pruning.  Their skills are straight out of the book of triage.  Get it?  Triage?  Tree-age.  Oh well, I tried.  Bad puns aside, seems their limb removal sensibility stems from only that: what makes sense to remove.  So they’re lopping off here and broad cutting there.  

Now, when you peer south down Napoleon, the avenue takes on the guise of a makeshift landing strip.  No more lush canopy.  Just stubby, nubby branches failing their reach, some wrapped in yellow caution tape.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Keidis once sang “With all these dying trees I scream,” and while I understand these trees do not appear to be dying right in front of us, I can hear their screams.  You can too, if you listen.  But, the job is far from complete, and a dead oak or six might just make the body count of this little drain project.  I understand flood waters and amazing winds have whipped these trees in recent years, but nature never took a blade to their appendages.

All in all, I get it though.  I do.  Safety first.  This project requires clear air space.  And the narrow confines of the Napoleon median paired with the ginormous yellow crane leave little room for error.  I watched the other day by Samuel Square as they were setting up, and the crane’s cable had gotten knocked so it began to waver and shake.  And this cable, like the crane, is no small effort.  It is a lot of weight with a lot of force and it’s all noodling around without much control.  My nerves tensed just so, and I saw our long time fruit vendor mere feet from there with his daily offerings, and I’m like “Shouldn’t Mr. Joe be wearing a hard hat as he’s bagging up his customer’s orders!?”  Ack!

My nerves will likely go into hyperdrive once the project gets into its next phase which presumably involves giant legs of drain pipe spinning in the air to be placed inside the median.  Severed tree limbs are one thing, but public safety is another.  And I’m wondering if, while these events unfold, might Napoleon be shut down altogether.  Maybe?

The giant yellow crane lays in wait. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

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, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

18 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: Napoleon’s horrible haircut

  1. That ginormous crane is in front of my house right now and I heard the very unpleasant sound of a piling being hammered into the ground for the first time this morning a little after 8 a.m. And I have to say that I hope that crane with its cables stays safe because we are gonners if anything associated with that crane goes out of control and falls on our house.

    Yes, I know it is all necessary for drainage in the long-term, but it is not going to be easy living on Napoleon for a long time. And although I am sure the horrible noises will be during the day, I still have a 2-year-old at home who takes a nap–nap-time should get very interesting. And the tree-trimming I also understand and just hope that they fill back in over the street some day. How many years is this project?????

  2. A heavy handed mess. The hell with the property owners and the citizens. I’m happy somebody mentioned this latest assult by an uncaring city government on cruise control.

  3. Actually no. There used to be a hearty crepe myrtle population along the median. In the past year or so all the salvageable (read: pretty) ones were harvested and replanted on both sides of Samuel Square. The unsalvageable (read: ugly) ones were recently (or now) being cut down to stump. The oaks in question are all on city property though trunked between the sidewalk and the street.

  4. The giant yellow crane lays in wait…. Whar is it layig? Eggs? Theverb form is “lies.”
    “Lay” is transitive. It takes an obect. “Lie” is intransitive. It does not take an object. We lay the pillow on the bed and then lie down to sleep.

  5. Ahhh – the SELA Napoleon Ave Canal Phase II project. The S&WB/Army Corp of Engineers had a neighborhood meeting 2/12/12 where we were told that this project would connect to the drainage canal already under Claiborne as part of the “north Napoleon portion” and end at Carondelet. The plan was to reroute some water/sewer lines/boxes first starting March 2012, then start making the underground drainage canal in this order: Willow to Robertson [Nov 2012 – Oct 2013], followed by the portion Robertson to Lasalle [Oct 2013 – Jan 2014] , and last was to be Lasalle to Carondelet which was supposed to start January 2014 and finish in early 2015. Presumably the goal was to finish before Mardi Gras 2015 but the planners had no idea that Mardi Gras parades actually come down Napoleon from Claiborne on Fat Tuesday – the attnedees had to break that news flash to them. They showed photos of the big yellow crane, which is supposed to cause much less colateral damage than the pile driver used on on the north Napoleon project where they damaged so many houses. We’ll see how that goes. Their timeline can be viewed at by clicking on the link to Napoleon Ave Phase 2 and then on the 2/12/12 presentation powerpoint.

    Big surprise – they aren’t following their own timeline and have provided no update to the neighborhood or even on their website ! Wonder what the next surprise will be !!!

  6. The fruit vendor (Pat) said that at some point he will have to relocate to Nashville, near the intersection of S. Claiborne.

  7. I watched them work, and I’ve checked out the results a few times since it happened. The guys doing the cutting actually did as professional a job as I imagine they could. The wounds are painted with arborists paint, and the cuts were as thoughtfully placed as could be. Not much you can do with a 10″ oak branch that is in the way of your pile driver. These scars will still be there 50 years from now. I drove slowly down Napolean the other day with my kids. One will be a teenager before they finish this work.

  8. Hahah, yes, the neutral ground does look like a landing strip now. I also wish they’d done this when we weren’t so dependent on shade. Ah well, optimistically, there will be less to fall when the next hurricane comes through.

  9. The “hair cut” has nothing to do with the crane, and more to do with the sheet pile that will be driven to make the deep excavation possible (without collapsing and killing the folks working down in the trench). I am involved with a similar project for Louisiana Ave., and a smiilar thing will be done there. All branches larger than 4″ in diameter are supposed to be trimmed under the supervison of an Urban Forester with the City’s Department of Parks and Parkways.

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