Jean-Paul Villere: Freret’s white whale

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A surveyor outside the Barreca building on Freret Street. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

A surveyor outside the Barreca building on Freret Street. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

Jean-Paul Villere

PROLOGUE: In 2009 on Freret St at an open house I held, a septuagenarian realtor I can only imagine being more local than local sneered in my general direction as she exited, “Freret’s never coming back.”  Then being a believer myself, I felt at once insulted and repulsed, as if she’d purposely urinated on the floor and thought nothing of it.  After all, in many ways I came to feel it was her generation that had largely abandoned the city proper, swapping distinctive neighborhoods for blanched strip malls and multi-laned thoroughfares, leaving behind a devil-may-care swath of once vibrant stretches, the very core that the surrounding region’s commerce and population sprang from.  Now, in 2013, Freret crowns front pages, but without question there’s still much to be done.

Saunter down Freret and Napoleon today, and you’ll immediately be greeted by redirected traffic and pile-driving.  Annoying yes, but a larger positive at hand.  Revised drainage and fresh asphalt on the horizon.  And uninterrupted at that, the 2013 storm season still squeaking by just so, no fuss, no muss.  Make hay, New Orleanians!  That sun is still shining!  Make hay, I say.

Stroll a little further past Jena and up to Cadiz, the four corners all tell a different stories.  Noteworthy is Michelle Ingram’s boldly oranged and grammatically awesome four-legged haven in Zeus’ Place, the first to plant her flag at this intersection post Katrina.  Followed up directly across the street where Wagner’s once stood, now home to the holy trinity of yoga, 24/7 fitness, and award winning burgers.  Newest kid diagonal from Zeus’ stands Publiq House (and hey! tonight’s Bingo Night!).  And then there’s Maude: the Barreca-owned behemoth of a white whale that all told consumes more than a quarter of a city block once home to Wah Cleaners and many other long-gone, never-to-return businesses.  So what pray tell is going on there?

Survey says?  Surveying.  At least it was on Tuesday.  I noted the boys from Gandolfo Kuhn yesterday matriculating on the street corner, so I inquired as to the future of the site.  They knew nothing (or at least weren’t telling me).  So I rang the listing agent from when last it was last listed and asked again.  I was told it was being readied to be returned to market, but as to when or what the list price might be?  That was not disclosed.  But I wasn’t kidding when I referenced Herman Melville’s classic, make no mistake, this corner is Freret’s Moby Dick.

Over the course of years this site has been under contract many a time and fallen through for various reasons each go.  The most public one might have been when the buyer to be failed to achieve demolition approval of the two adjacent double shotguns up Cadiz for proposed parking.  When the ax fell on that, the buyer moved on.  Then I heard from an established architect that Trader Joe’s had heartily considered the site but in the 11th hour withdrew interest, opting to open in Baton Rouge first before taking a gamble on the Crescent City.  Two words to you Trader Joe’s: your loss.

But really let’s survey this thing.  What do you think should happen here?  I don’t want to get all Candy Chang and “I Wish This Was” on you, but what’s missing here?  Whether a single business like a grocery or a multi-use site, what in your estimation would be the best use of this corner?  Keep in mind, it’s huge and has ample parking.  Was a Trader Joe’s spot on?  Maybe the mythological rebirth of Movie Pitchers?  Perhaps a distiller?  Or maybe, just maybe, the Barreca’s have had an epiphany and they’d like to donate it for the NOPD to redevelop as a 21st century precinct?  C’mon Barrecas, you can’t take it with you.

EPILOGUE: When you’re a 70-something native New Orleanian white lady real estate agent you might think you’ve seen it all, and therefore you might think you know it all too.  But you’d be wrong.

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

22 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: Freret’s white whale

  1. Thank you!!!!
    Barreca has = Blight for years, as seen in this 2011 story (thanks again to Dennis Woltering and WWL.)

    Not listed above, is some of their other blight they sold after years of many trying to buy which is now High Hat, Ancora, Wayfair (with residential above), and the newly opened Rook Cafe.
    But it’s 2013 and they still all this blighted and vacant (with no MLS (?) ) and all dilapidated well before Katrina-
    + NOTE TO MEDIA; Want a good story? Explore their property taxes…
    What’s up with that!
    Sure would be great if they payed just half of what they claim and list (?).
    Best from 5110 Freret,
    Andy Brott

  2. awesome piece. Thanks you, Jean-Paul! And also for all you’ve been doing to help revitalize this key spot in the city. For my two francs, I’m really glad Trader Joes did not come there. I think something better will land there eventually. Maybe sooner than we expect.

    • Not sure how you also have my login name…weird. Anyway, the building needs serious work from what I hear but would thrive as a neighborhood grocery (see: Zara’s) to serve the surrounding populous.

  3. I like whales….just not this one!
    They should owe thousands in code enforcement fines for the past 20 years and somehow they manage to “dodge” them. The buildings are a hazard (they still have electricity in one!).
    What ever and who ever finally negotiates the million + asking price will contend with lots of complaining about the business they choose to open. I support business over blight any day!
    Kellie Grengs
    Homeowner on Freret

  4. 1978 – 1984, the Freret Street corridor was very convenient shopping for me. In all fairness, I think you should consider that the beginning of the demise of Freret was probably Bill Long getting shot in the head outside of his bakery, (now High Hat) in broad daylight. He was an iconic (to Freret) figure with a fabulous, iconic business, the tragic and violent loss of whom cast a pall over Freret for decades. In the neighborhood of being a septuagenarian myself, and having lived through those somber times, I would ask that you not judge the agent so harshly. Forces beyond her, or me, for that matter, put Freret’s downward spiral in motion. I guess it takes you “young turks” to see the street in a new and more positive light. Good on you!

  5. I’m sure you’d be fascinated to know where else Trader Joe’s has inquired, here in the Crescent City. But I ain’t talkin’. Instead, keep petitioning them to make it here one day. It will happen.

    • There is nothing ‘New Orleans’ about that co-op.

      It’s just another example of out of town transplants twisting things around to take what few limited dollars available for helping locals there are, and using them instead for their own personal benefit.

      The residents of the St. Roch area needed a grocery store that met their needs, instead the money meant to provide that was used to create a custom mini-whole foods for the hipster transplants complete with holistic homeopathy and vegan tofu faux hot dogs at $7 a pack.

      This is the sort of “development” we need to weed out as just the newest flavour of corruption in a long history of carpetbagger abuse.

      • Umm, it’s a co-op. As in owned by members. It’s a month to month miracle they stay open, not a carpetbagger’s caper. And a welcome opportunity to stay OUT of Whole Foods. And a way to avoid GMO laden agribusiness commodity pseudo-foods and, yes, more suited to Uptown than Down. Thus, Freret.

        If you don’t understand why people choose to be part of a food co-op, then just ignore it; it will do you no harm.

  6. What Freret needs now is a small local grocery – something like Zara’s on Prytania or Langenstein’s on Arabella. Would only need a few parking spaces as those of us who live in the neighborhood would walk there. The “white whale”would be a good location.

  7. The flip side to tight knit NOLA families is that sometimes they implode when it comes to property inheritances. The rumors I’ve always heard is that the property is just a pawn in family disputes and one of the owners scuttles the deal just to spoil another’s deal.

  8. To be sustainable, the Freret corridor needs a little more balance. All of the restaurants and drinking establishments are great, but there needs to be something that draws people there during the day. We certainly don’t need any more Walgreens/CVSs/Rite Aids (or banks) in the area, so a couple retail stores and/or a grocery store would be perfect. A big-name grocery (like Trader Joe’s) would be amazing because it would draw people from across the city and they would have the financing to really do it right, but I’m sure that would require a lot of parking which doesn’t appear to exist without destroying several properties behind the building. Thus, a grocery that has some local ties (like a small, satellite Dorignacs) or maybe a place like Martin’s Wine Cellar (although I just heard they’re finally going forward with rebuilding the original location on Baronne) would be perfect.

  9. In my experience, most local real estate agents are completely ignorant of their actual job, construction, cap rates, etc.. They want in & out of transactions as quickly as possible & many times don’t even show up to their closings. I avoid them like the plague. Sometimes they are a necessary evil though.

  10. mythological rebirth of Movie Pitchers indeed. New Orleanians will be mourning that loss until there isn’t anyone left to remember it. If Freret could pull off that magic trick…that would be quite an accomplishment.

  11. I can see a local grocery store being a valuable asset to the area in that corner. I’ve recently put an offer on this lot, but Barreca is asking for way more than market price. I guess the surveying indicates that there is a buyer in the works?

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