Plan to replace Octavia Street home splits city demolition panel

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The house at 536 Octavia Street, photographed in May 2014 (via Google Maps).

The house at 536 Octavia Street, photographed in May 2014 (via Google Maps).

An architect’s plan to tear down an Octavia Street house he uses as a rental property and replace it with a home for himself that he described as more in keeping with the neighborhood drew mixed reviews Monday from the city’s demolition panel, who sent it with a split vote to the New Orleans City Council for a final decision.

The plan for a new house at 536 Octavia Street. (via City of New Orleans)

The plan for a new house at 536 Octavia Street. (via City of New Orleans)

Robert Stumm told the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee that he has owned the house as a rental property for about 10 years, but now he and his wife want to move there. The house is structurally sound, but the architecture differs dramatically from the Eastlake-style cottages around it, he said — particularly the 10-foot raised porch that the couple wants to lower to a more standard entryway 40 inches off the ground.

“Structure not being of any significant architectural value, it’s kind of a sore thumb on the block,” Stumm said. “We want to tear it down and build a new home.”

The neighbors have complained about the cars coming and going and parking all around the house from the young men who live there and the people who visit them, the couple said. The neighbors will be pleased that the Stumms will be moving in themselves, removing those additional cars, and the new house will blend in better with the neighborhood, they said.

“It is an anomaly on the block,” Anne Stumm said. “They’re all adorable shotguns. This one’s just like this stucco thing, that I don’t know where it came from.”

Eleanor Burke, the representative of the Historic District Landmarks Commission on the NCDAC, countered that the house’s bungalow does have a place in the neighborhood. She also criticized the plan for a new house as too much taller than its neighbors.

“While it may not be the same style as the other buildings, it’s complimentary to the streetscape,” Burke said of the existing house. “My feeling is that this building is attractive, and also contributes to the neighborhood.”

Board member Helen Jones encouraged Stumm to pursue a renovation, focusing on alterations to the front and back without removing so much existing floor space that the project would count as a demolition.

Robert Stumm said that the house also needs a new foundation, which would require a more expensive process to construct while the house was still standing. Furthermore, he said, his plans are in keeping with the zoning of the neighborhood.

“The fact that there’s really nothing architectural about the house, it’s easier and more efficient just to tear it down, put a whole new structure and build the footprint back,” Stumm said. “… As the building owner, we have the right to build within the zoning.”

The committee voted 6-4 on a motion to recommend allowing the demolition, falling one vote short of the seven needed for a recommendation in favor. Instead, Stumm’s request will be forwarded without a recommendation from NCDAC to the full City Council for a final decision.

* * *

In an unrelated action, the NCDAC did vote 10-0 in favor of allowing the demolition of a home at 300 Cherokee Street in the Riverbend. The owner, Ann Davis, said she plans to replace it with a camelback home very similar to those near it.

“It really is a huge eyesore,” Davis said.

The committee had no questions for Davis. The recommendation in favor of her demolition will also be forwarded to the City Council for final approval.

The house at 300 Cherokee Street was recommended for demolition. (March 2014 photo by Google Maps)

The house at 300 Cherokee Street was recommended for demolition. (March 2014 photo by Google Maps)

8 thoughts on “Plan to replace Octavia Street home splits city demolition panel

  1. I’m still trying to find out what the mission is of this agency. I thought it was to make sure we didn’t lose housing units in some frenzy of demolition. Does it have preservationist duties now?

  2. I would disagree that the house isn’t “of any significant architectural value”. It’s a New Orleans style basement house, circa 1920s. It’s been made ugly by the addition of vinyl siding (it appears from the picture), midcentury steel railing, and it looks like the porch has been altered to the point that it no longer suits the house. The vinyl under the eaves likely covers what were originally exposed rafter tails. The stucco facade recalls our Spanish influence. I own an Arts & Crafts era basement house downriver in East Riverside, and these homes can be quite attractive if you embrace what they’re meant to look like. This house still has its original six-over-two windows, just like mine. Removing the later add-ons, remodeling the porch, and painting with Arts & Crafts era colors that accentuate the architectural details would make this house something that people slow down to look at as they walk past.

    The rough sketch of the “new Eastlake” looks little like actual Eastlake houses from the 1880s and 90s. There are plenty of authentic Eastlakes Uptown for comparison. Even if the the style looked like an Eastlake the brand new, “fake” old houses really do stick out like a sore thumb. They lack the character and craftsmanship of our true historic homes. One can spot the flat look of “simulated divided lite” windows a block away.

    This house is well worth saving, and though it may not look just like the neighboring houses I believe the diversity of our historical architecture is one of the things that make New Orleans such an interesting place.

    • I don’t think the house is “worthless” or an eyesore, but it isn’t special enough to warrant this, either. I don’t mind this sort of thing if the new design is good, and being an architect, he can definitely do a good job. The builder mutant houses trying to look like New Orleans houses are a joke and one of the reasons for that is that no architects are involved. His design looks ok, but there are no details.

  3. Eastlake? Those are bracket style houses neighboring it. And Charles Eastlake would cringe at what we call Eastlake.

  4. My wife and I live next door to this house and would like to correct something written in this article. First, the “young men” who live in this house are a doctor and a lawyer who “come and go” as frequently as anyone else in the neighborhood. As far as I’m concerned the tenants in this building have been respectful and kind people that we will be sad to see leave. If the owners wish to tear this house down, that’s within their right, but they should not imply that the tenants create parking problems to justify their plans.

    • That whole paragraph made me question the journalistic integrity of the author. “The neighbors” said this, “the neighbors” said that. No actual neighbor was quoted. I got the feeling the Stumms were the only ones interviewed and they put words in the mouths of their neighbors, which were irresponsibly passed on by the author. “The neighbors” want the old house torn down and replaced with a new one, tall enough to blot out the sun, with no mention on a single dissenter? I seriously doubt there’s such a consensus on the block.

      • Hi, Will. We were reporting on comments made by the building owners at the meeting, where there was no one who spoke in opposition.
        Thanks for adding your perspective.

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