Latest request to demolish historic Lower Garden District church building denied

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The First Spanish-American Baptist Church building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place. (Robert Morris,

The First Spanish-American Baptist Church building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place. (Robert Morris,

The latest request to demolish the First Spanish-American Baptist Church building in the Lower Garden District — listed in 2011 as one of the most endangered historic structures in New Orleans — was denied with more stern words from city officials Thursday, but the fate of the structure remains uncertain as it continues to decay.

The building at 1824 Sophie Wright Place is already open to the elements, but it has lost more of its outside walls since the last inspection, and an outside staircase has come unattached from the building and is leaning away, said Rhonda Lange of Demo Diva, representing the church.

“You honestly just have two walls standing with no support,” Lange said.

The Historic District Landmarks Commission noted that the building has been before them several times in progressing states of neglect over the last 10 years. The Louisiana Landmarks Society placed the 19th-Century building on their 2011 list of New Orleans’ Nine Most Endangered Sites.

“Once a bakery, it is one of the few of its kind that abuts the property line at the street. Its position at the entrance to the business corridor of Magazine Street highlights its blighted condition,” the Society wrote. “Through the Coliseum Square Association, the surrounding neighborhood fought blight for forty years to become an evocative neighborhood with one of the few large working fountains in the city. The city has yet to act on the owner’s negligence.”

Jim McAlister, president of the Coliseum Square Association, said that through the church’s inaction, they are trying to let the elements accomplish what the city has prevented them from doing — tearing down the structure. The association launched a mail campaign to drum up support for preserving the building before this hearing, and the HDLC members were given a thick stack of postcards from their efforts during the meeting.

Bonnie Slaughter, another neighborhood resident, said she had hoped the building’s inclusion on the New Orleans’ Nine would spur redevelopment back in 2011.

“Since that time I’ve been very disappointed,” Slaughter said. “It looks sadder and sadder.”

The harshest words for the church, however, came from the commissioners. HDLC Chair Jesse LeBlanc said he is personally aware of an architect in the neighborhood who tried to buy the building, only to be rejected by the church. The building’s structure is clearly unsound, he said, but numerous people have expressed the opinion it could be saved.

“If the church doesn’t have the money to do it, why not sell the building?” LeBlanc asked.

The commissioners unanimously voted to deny the request to tear down the building, citing it as an example of a citywide problem.

“This is a common tactic that some slumlords do,” said Commissioner Alonzo Knox, saying the property should be sped to sheriff’s sale amid its mounting code-enforcement fines.

“If we approve this, it’s almost like rewarding them for violations,” said Commissioner Stephen Peychaud.

Rhonda Lange of Demo Diva speaks before the Historic District Landmarks Commission on Thursday, with members of the First Spanish-American Baptist Church in the background. (Robert Morris,

Rhonda Lange of Demo Diva speaks before the Historic District Landmarks Commission on Thursday, with members of the First Spanish-American Baptist Church in the background. (Robert Morris,

The commission also denied a request by the Recovery School District to replace wood windows at the International School of Louisiana building on Camp Street with aluminum windows, and deferred a request by Trinity Episcopal Church to replace a window with a new door on Bishop Polk Hall. To read our live coverage of Thursday’s meeting, see below.

10 thoughts on “Latest request to demolish historic Lower Garden District church building denied

  1. Isn’t that place not far from Calliopi St, which is close by the Bridge House and the New Orleans Mission. High, high crime for decades. The HLDC want future plans, but who is going to spend time and money for plans when it’s next to all the homeless and panhandlers in that area? Look at all the businesses that moved out that area before and after Hurricane Katrina?

    What is hypocritical is for the HLDC to deny knocking it down for blight, but then allow the homeless and panhandlers to panhandler and commit crimes and harass every single person in the area and then expect businesses to survive in that area.

    • AhContraire,

      No… This actually isn’t very close to Calliope, and the area isn’t considered very high crime. It’s about the only blighted structure in the area because there’s enough money and commerce around to make it quite valuable. There is no reason at all to support the landowner in this.

      • See, this is the problem.

        There are many people in New Orleans who are in denial of the problems and don’t think homeless, panhandlers, criminals can’t walk, ride a bike or can drive a car.

        How long, via walking, do you think it takes someone to walk from say bridge house to the from the Bridge House to 1824 Sophie Wright Place? Why did you know Google Maps can give directions, distance and time between two locations?

        It’s 0.2 miles, or a 10 minute walk as stated by Google Maps.

        To say Bridge House and the New Orleans Mission is not close is just ridiculous and shows either their are not good with directions or maps, or they are just in denial of the crime problems in NOLA.

        • AhContraire,

          It doesn’t take long, but you aren’t talking immediate proximity; you’re trying to bring in something at least several blocks away (and with respect to the New Orleans Mission, probably about a mile away). While crime does bleed over, it usually doesn’t do so that far. I am not familiar with Bridge House being a significant source of crime, anyway.

    • Many of the best and most expensive neighborhoods are near the interstate. We deal with it in order to have all of the other things that contribute to the vibrant quality of life here. This property is in the Lower Garden District, one of the hottest, on-the-rise neighborhoods in the city, adjacent to the beautiful Coliseum Square (with houses going for $1.5M) and adjacent to new business opening almost weekly. This is happening because very little of the historic fabric of the neighborhood was lost, unlike so many other neighborhoods that will continue to struggle. The HDLC should do everything in it’s power to save any contributing historic structure. Otherwise you get an out-of-place 1950’s motel like the owners of this building own next door.

      • Out of Place Motel? Are you referring to the New Orleans Mission or Bridge House? Those two, IMO, are far worse than any seedy hotel on Tulane or Airline has ever been. If you really wanted to preserve some of the historic fabric of that area, why did this business, Starr Textiles, MOVE from Magazine St, in that same area to Jefferson Parish?

        To say you have a vibrant quality of life sounds more like PR SPIN if you think Bridge House and the New Orleans Mission add to the quality of life.

        The real and history quality of life was before 1920 when Dryades, even with Segregation, had 200 black owned businesses. And by the way, they didn’t have to lock their doors back then, black or white, as the crime was so low, there was no need for bars on windows, dead bolt locks, alarms, security cameras, etc.

    • Fast track? So you are advocating selective strictness in code enforcement for non-profits? The plain facts of the property’s condition and (lack of) maintenance should not be allowed to speak for themselves? This is a call for discrimination in law enforcement — do you really want to get behind that?

  2. My place of employment is actually adjacent to this property and it has become quite dangerous. We had to replace a section of fence a couple of years ago because part of the exterior structure fell in on our side, destroying the fence. Parts of the building are literally falling onto the sidewalk. Their solution to this has been to rope off a section of the PUBLIC SIDEWALK with “keep out” signs, which I’m pretty sure is not legal. Parts have fallen on vehicles parked in front of it, and some have nearly hit people. This is a thriving neighborhood, a new coffee shop has opened across the street, turning a building that sat vacant for decades in to a viable business, and it is a block from magazine st , where new shops and restaurants are constantly popping up, alongside businesses that have been here for nearly a century. It makes me sad to see the decline of this property over the last decade, with no form of reprimand on the owner. They really are just waiting for the demolition to take place from neglect.

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