Former gas station, fountain store on St. Charles slated for demolition (again)

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The former fountain store at 7901 St. Charles Avenue. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The former fountain store at 7901 St. Charles Avenue. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A nearly 80-year-old building on St. Charles Avenue that was once a gas station, bagel shop and more recently a fountain store is slated to be torn down and replaced with a new house, less than a year after neighbors successfully protested plans for a condo development there.

The opening party for French Fountains in 2003. (photo courtesy of Michelle LeBlanc Fine)

The opening party for French Fountains in 2003. (photo courtesy of Michelle LeBlanc Fine)

The pink building at 7901 St. Charles Avenue — just across Fern Street from Vincent’s Italian restaurant — dates its use as a gas station back to the 1930s, according to city documents. Prior to Katrina, the building was a garden shop in the 1970s and subsequently became The Bagel Factory, and Michelle LeBlanc Fine leased it to open her business, French Fountains, there in 2003, she said. In 2011, LeBlanc Fine closed her retail business to focus on manufacturing and design consultation and moved into an office a block down St. Charles, and the old shop at 7901 was subsequently used for another proprietor’s consignment business, LeBlanc Fine said.

The building is an example of Spanish Revival architecture that was popular in the early 1900s, “one of the most diverse and colorful periods for architecture and urban design in American history,” LeBlanc Fine said in an email. She said she has been told that the building formerly had a low-pitched red-tile roof to accompany its characteristic stucco walls and the rounded arch over the door.

“The building tends to elicit romantic inspiration from those who come to admire it,” LeBlanc Fine wrote in an email. “During the 10 years that I operated my garden of fountains there, visitors from all over the country would come to linger in my gardens. Over the years, there were so many people who came by to say that they had always wanted to own this building and many who wanted to turn it into a coffee shop or community space for activities.”

Last year, however, a Metairie-based developer sought rezoning to build a six-unit condo building on the property. That plan split neighbors, technical problems with the zoning ultimately scuttled the project, and Terry Tedesco Homebuilders bought the property in March, according to city documents.

On Monday, Todd Tedesco appeared before the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee asking to tear the building down and replace it with a two-story, single-family home. When asked about the previous controversy over the site, Tedesco attributed the neighborhood’s former complaints to the density of the condo proposal. A single-family home with double-gallery porches, by contrast, will simply fit into the neighborhood, he said.

The project has its own complication, however, Tedesco said. While some remediation of the site was attempted in the 1990s, not all the gas tanks were removed, and the standards for such cleanup projects have since been dramatically raised, he said. Part of the reason the building needs to be torn down, he said, is that some of the eight remaining gas tanks are partially under the building.

“It’s very difficult to deal with, especially with the tanks,” Tedesco said. “We want to clean the site up, and get everything ready to go.”

The company is currently conducting inspections of the site in preparation for the cleanup, which will be overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, Tedesco said.

“This is a binder of what they found,” Tedesco said. “It’s pretty intense.”

The Bagel Factory at 7901 St. Charles Avenue, photographed in 2002. (photo courtesy of Michelle LeBlanc Fine.)

The Bagel Factory at 7901 St. Charles Avenue, photographed in 2002. (photo courtesy of Michelle LeBlanc Fine.)

Three members of the NCDAC voted against the demolition — the staff representatives from the City Planning Commission and Historic District Landmarks Commmission, as well as appointee Lee Bressler — but it passed with seven votes. The request now heads to City Council for a final decision.

LeBlanc Fine said the building would have been ideal for a small community center, coffee shop, yoga studio or store for art or plant sales. The complications posed by the buried gas tanks and the building’s zoning are significant, she acknowledged, but also lamented the likely departure of the picturesque little building.

“To lose this famous icon on our avenue will be a sad occurrence for many who see it as a landmark designating the beginning of Riverbend, where St. Charles meets Carrollton at the bend of the Mississippi River,” LeBlanc Fine said.

[Note: This article was originally published at 5:55 p.m. Monday, June 1, but it was updated June 7 with the comments and photos from LeBlanc.]

28 thoughts on “Former gas station, fountain store on St. Charles slated for demolition (again)

  1. I’m not at all surprised to hear that there are 8 gas tanks still on the lot.
    Between the 30’s and 70’s….tanks were placed anywhere. When they leaked….They just filled them with sand.

    They even placed them inside of warehouses….And so many old downtown warehouses still have tanks in the ground.

    • The lot is only worth about $150,000. Greed always prevails. Wonder why this was on the market for so dang long…….

    • What? NO! lol
      I used to live across the street from it on Fern. You could hear so many frogs in the fountains at night. It was so awesome.

  2. I would have killed to buy that place…….This is disgraceful that someone with money isn’t restoring and reconfiguring the property into a single-family home. If we can repurpose firehouses, shouldn’t we be able to do it to former commercial properties?

  3. Good gawd, NO!!!! Look at how nice that old Gulf station is in Algiers. This is a beautiful and very unique old building that already fits into the neighborhood.

  4. i lived on Fern for a year two doors down. The parking there is horrendous with Vincents across the street. better have a driveway! hate to see that lovely building go. the fountain store was a very romantic touch to the urbanscape.

  5. Although difficult to tell by the picture above, the building is probably less than 800 square feet and maybe even 500. It would be neat to see it incorporated into the layout, possibly even a garage, but wouldn’t be much of a house.

  6. It is a cool building with lots of history. I hate the idea of it being torn down. Too bad it can’t be incorporated into a renovation. Do we have any idea what the proposed new building will look like? All that has been reported is that it’s a 2 story single family home. Let’s hope it’s not a McMansion that isn’t in keeping with the area.

  7. I so wanted to make that little building into my dream compound. That little building, add a loft inside, and a beautiful courtyard with a pool…and the back building as a guest house. But, then I found out the price…way too high. I wonder if there would be any assistance for a regular soul to remediate and fix that beautiful building up? I doubt it….

  8. Ok, I hope they don’t, but… let’s be honest here: it is extremely likely that they will eventually take action to redevelop the site, but whatever structure lands on the lot certainly remains to be seen, so, why can’t the building at least be saved by having it shored up and moved to a different site? There are 1000s of vacant lots across the city or maybe even close by that would benefit by having such a structure relocated to them. A foundation could even be prepared for it and it could be repurposed into myriad different ways,… don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong, I believe in preservation as well as conservation, and we need to get creative if we’re even gonna have a chance at salvaging a gem like this…!

  9. Seeing as it is already approved for demo: If only someone would want the building, they could buy that and move it to another site, then it could be a win win win – the owners get the building removed at a profit, instead of the cost of demolition and still get to access underneath to do remediation and then rebuild – someone gets a cool historic building to put where ever they want, at a discount, and the city becomes safer, yet retains some of the historical integrity…..any takers?

  10. My friend started a discussion thread on Facebook and she has a great idea. This building and location would make a great Visitor’s Center where people could get info, take tours, etc.

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