Proposed “Gris Gris Social Club” in former firehouse on Annunciation concerns neighbors

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The former firehouse at Annunciation and Terpsichore is proposed to become the “Gris Gris Social Club.” (image via City of New Orleans)

Since he first discovered how New Orleans’ social aid and pleasure clubs exist in the city through zoning laws six years ago, Uptown resident and documentary film maker Trent Robinson has been trying to figure out how to create one of his own.

He may finally have his chance, he told members of the Coliseum Square Association on Monday night. He’s applied for a license to run the newly-envisioned Gris Gris Social Club out of an old firehouse, located on 907 Terpsichore Street in the Lower Garden District.

At a regular neighborhood meeting, Robinson invited all of the association’s members and nearby neighbors to be members of the club, for about $1400 a year, or for fees that could be paid on a per-day basis.

He may not have as many takers on the offer as he thought, however. To his apparent surprise, Robinson on Monday received pushback from several neighbors who said they were concerned about several aspects of the kind of social club proposed, including options for late-night live music, “day passes” for non-members and fees associated with the club.

“It sounds more like a music venue,” one neighbor, 35-year-old Mike Bertel, objected. “We don’t want a club or a music venue around there, if it’s not done the right way. And the only way it’s done the right way is if you apply for zoning change.”

Since it fell out of use as a firehouse, the building was for a while the highly-regarded restaurant Dijon, a particular favorite of City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s. After Dijon closed, however, the building was briefly home to a venue called “Club Ra” in 2015 that hosted late-night parties that alarmed neighbors and drew the ire of city officials.

The land is currently zoned as conditional use, a land use allowed to operate as something different if the design is approved by a review process through the city, in an historic urban neighborhood business district, according to city documents.

The non-residential districts of those historic neighborhoods address “small-scale” commercial areas such as the traditional corner store or other “pedestrian-oriented” commercial clusters at street intersections.

“The regulations are intended to control the types of uses allowed and the scale of development to encourage their vitality while maintaining compatibility with nearby residential areas,” the New Orleans Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, or the law that governs land use throughout the city.

Robinson, who graduated from Tulane University and now lives in the Garden District, said he is still waiting for Safety and Permits to grant him the zoning needed for his property to become a social aid and pleasure club.

A search through city records shows that a business license was approved for the third floor of the building, where Robinson said he would put his office.

In the meantime, he said, he’s rented the fire house and three adjacent properties for his proposed venture. Among other benefits, his members would have access to a restaurant that would serve breakfasts and lunches, live music in the evening and perhaps even cooking classes.

Members would also have access to a bar, a pool table, televisions for watching sports and perhaps even a community garden or parking, Robinson said.

Robinson also envisioned an educational aspect to his club, where would encourage “interaction” between students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and members. He said he imagines arts, culinary arts and music classes.

Members might also have the option to rent the club out for special events, he said.

“It would have things to derive pleasure from the club’s members,” Robinson said. “Mostly it will be there as a place to provide community, have fun and interact with others.”

While the club would exist for the purpose of bringing artists and people who enjoy the arts together, Robinson told Lower Garden District neighbors that “anybody could become a member.”

Some residents at the meeting objected to Robinson’s definition of what a social club is, pointing out the history of how the institutions generally interact with its members.

The tradition dates back to the late 19th century, when benevolent societies existed largely for African Americans who had recently become emancipated. There were also faith-based clubs and fraternal clubs.

Many benevolent societies would work to give something back to its members or the community. Often, newly freed black men would get health or funeral insurance, which allowed them care when they were sick or a proper burial if they died. Hence the rise of second lines.

The cost of the clubs varies widely, too, from as little as $20 a month to more than a thousand a year.

While Robinson said he is still working with the mayor’s office on securing the permit need to run the club, he said he would be willing to sign a good neighbor agreement with the Coliseum Square Association to ensure that he maintains security, closes at an agreed-upon time and does his best to mitigate garbage.

Still, many members said they wanted a more detailed presentation on exactly what the club’s bylaws would be and where it is in the permitting process before giving their blessing for the proposed institution.

“I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Bertel said. “But he needs to have a clear plan.”

Banks McClintock, who along with Bertel lives next to the proposed development, agrees. He also said that the development being proposed sounded more like a bar or music club than a members-only establishment that would occasionally provide live music.

“I think everyone would like to see something cool there,” McClintock said. “But right now I just don’t know what his club is.”

6 thoughts on “Proposed “Gris Gris Social Club” in former firehouse on Annunciation concerns neighbors

  1. While I understand the concerns it is becoming more than aggravating that these non-elected neighborhood associations have become the de facto usage nazis on everyone else’s property. When did New Orleans become a town full of cranky Yankees?

    • I love how you just throw the word “Nazi” around to discredit all of the local families and neighbors who surround this property. Apparently you also think people from the northern US are Nazis since you think that they are the same group you are disparaging?

      Well, since the renter of the property is not opening a restaurant (which is the only thing the Conditional Use Permit allows) then it is he who is trying to control the use of a property which he does not own nor live near. Since that new usage involves live music and alcohol it must go through new vetting and the neighborhood associations have had a say in change of use on that line for about 50+ years depending on the neighborhood. Do you even know what a Conditional Use Is? The zoning is based on agreed upon CONDITIONS, otherwise the zoning reverts to it’s underlying usage which is residential. People deserve the right to quiet enjoyment in their home, that is a law not a conditional use. You seem to not know the difference.

      • The property is zoned permissible not conditional as a Social Club or Lodge 20.3CCC (city code), not residential including the 3rd floor, which is what the nonprofit 501(c)7 corporation Crescent City Connection is proposing to occupy the property as NOT as a live music venue, a Social Club not exactly a Social Aid and Pleasure Club as described above which is a misquotation of public name Gris-gris: Pleasure Aid & Social Club; however, a members-only created for the pleasure, entertainment, recreation, and socialization of its membership solely – which aim to support various cultural arts and artists of our City from the culinary to visual arts and yes including musicians as well – and welcomes all whom would like to support such an endeavor to please join. The d/b/a name is to pay homage to Dr. John’s first album and the fact that the facility will serve as the Wild Magnolias’ permanent den and performance home sharing their traditions of sewing and oral histories. Besides the community garden in the three empty adjacent lots that will supply the farm-to-table kitchen and the Southern Coastal menu as well. The club will showcase art from various local visual artists throughout the property. Deacon John will perform during the lunch service and teach music/history lesson between meal periods while recent NOCCA graduates Revon Andrews and his band of fellow students would perform during the early evenings. The legendary Dr. John may grace our membership with their presence from time-to-time as well. Now you have the full and accurate story. Thank you for your consideration.

        • I appreciate all that you are saying but an “instant purchase daily membership at the door” is nothing more than a “cover charge ” or a ticket which runs afoul of a true private membership and makes this just a nightclub. That’s the REAL follow up here to this story. SAFETY AND PERMITS OFFICIALLY DENIED THIS APPLICATION on the grounds of it essentially being a live music club and bar. Fix THAT part of it instead of just explaining it away and you may have something. Many people think that a true great private membership club that respects it’s neighbors and adds to the deep history of the city is great but it seems to everyone that this is being made up as you go along just so that a live music and bar license can be had and it doesn’t have to adhere to the standards of a restaurant. It seems you are trying to be far too much and there is little to no way to sustain such a massive enterprise unless you become a nightclub. There is NO WAY do do all you describe on limited memberships only and not be a live performance venue and bar to bing in the money. If I’m wrong then do it just like Pres Hall and DON’T SERVE alcohol. Go ahead, I dare you. Do it for all the reasons you just listed but just don’t sell booze. You didn’t mention it in all of you explanation above, not even once, so booze sales for a place that’s clearly NOT a live music venue can’t be that important right? Tipitina’s , House of Blues and this place. Even Safety and Permits couldn’t tell the difference. You guys get the Wild Magnolias and Bon Temps has Soul Rebels, that’s not a “den” it’s called a house band. You just slipped in that term “Performance Home”, that’s a good one. Let me use that in a sentence, “Hey tonight I’m going to see Drake at the Smoothie King Performance Home” Later I’m going to check out late night burlesque at One Eyed Jack’s Performance Home”

          • A nonprofit social club as defined by law is one in which entertainment, the sell of alcohol, and daily membership is permissible to generate revenue to support membership activities, club and charitable associations. Accusations and assumptions are not facts and truth. This has been a six-year-long well researched and studied process of identifying an appropriately zoned property; could tell you of the hours spent speaking with local chefs, artists, and yes musicians, as well as the Mayor’s office, NOCCA; not to mention, a significant amount of my own personal funds to bring this to our city. Creating a social club for a membership to support arts and artists of our community is par the course of my history of giving back and helping where I can. Just like the fundraising events “Save Shell Beach” in 2012 to help the oldest family-owned business in our state rebuild following Hurricane Issac and “Crescent City Connection” in 2013 benefit in support of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association created with the help of LEAN: Louisiana Environmental Action Network which all led to this. My intentions are true and I take great exception to anyone questioning my integrity especially without at least hearing me out and doing your own research. I’m sorry Mr. McClintock but your mind was made up before you ever met me or taken time to speak with anyone I have been working with regarding my intentions and years of effort, sir. It’s your right to not to support my efforts but stating they are fraudulent is slanderous at worse and irresponsible at best.

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