The pews are gone. The baptismal font and religious statues have been removed, and the church bell is no longer in the belfry. Even the stained glass windows are in storage elsewhere.
For now, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church at 2400 Napoleon Ave. awaits the next chapter in its nearly 100-year history.
Construction on the Spanish Colonial Revival church began in 1925 — 80 years before floodwater from the levee breaches that followed Hurricane Katrina ended the first chapter in its existence. It is currently offered for sale and awaits rebirth and a new incarnation.
Gordon McLeod of The McEnery Co., the listing agent for the property, explained the complicated arc that brought the church and its rectory to this point.
“The water damage from Hurricane Katrina came at a time when the archdiocese was closing and merging a number of New Orleans parishes, and so Our Lady of Lourdes never reopened after August of 2005,” McLeod said.
It had the strength to withstand the floodwaters, however. “It was built in an era when steel was beginning to be used for the structural components of large buildings, so it maintained its structural integrity despite having been filled with water in the storm,” McLeod said. “The structure is sound with the exception of the transept corners, which will require some shoring.”
Designed by architects Diboll and Owens, the building features a rusticated stucco exterior with a facade punctuated by two square, copper-domed towers, separated at the ground level by a loggia having three arched openings and a terracotta tile roof.
The church anchors the uptown-lake corner of the square bounded by Napoleon Avenue, and La Salle, Jena and Freret streets. Also on the square are the church annex, or rectory, and the now-closed Holy Rosary Academy, a separate property.
“The archdiocese considered other uses for the church building, but eventually deconsecrated it and put it on the market in about 2015 after subdividing the church and its rectory from the school,” McLeod said. “That was about when Greg St. Angelo’s group (616 Girod LLC) bought the property.”
In April 2016, the church and rectory were purchased for $1.3 million by 616 Girod LLC, whose principal agent was St. Angelo. For the next year, the future looked bright for the former house of worship: An Uptown opera center was envisioned for the site, with the sanctuary hosting performances and a portion of the rectory being used for costumes and staff support.
Sizeler Thompson Architects devised plans for the church and rectory, and Landis Construction began work as the general contractor for the adaptive reuse of the property.
But just as the redevelopment project was gaining momentum in April 2017, work stopped abruptly.
First NBC Bank, the entity financing the project, was shut down by regulators. Worse still, 616 Girod’s principal, St. Angelo, was indicted and subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the bank, his employer of at least 10 years.
The collapse of the bank and St. Angelo’s legal issues meant that the church and rectory were in limbo for about two years until Landis Construction Co. acquired them for $1.9 million in May 2019.
Landis has been restoring the buildings and converting the rectory, or annex, into offices. That building is being sold to an undisclosed buyer.
“Right now, Landis is about 85 to 90% finished with the historic rehabilitation of the annex, and it’s under contract,” said McLeod. “Parts 1 and 2 of the tax credits have been filed, and the buyers are in their due diligence period.”
McLeod described the entity that is buying the former rectory as “a well-known and highly respected local business” that plans to relocate its offices from downtown to Uptown, attracted by the option of having a free-standing, three-story building with ample parking. The closing on the sale is expected later this summer.
With the sale of the rectory imminent, that leaves only the church building without a new use.
“For now, the church is weathertight,” said McLeod. “Landis has been an excellent steward of the building and has tended to a variety of small projects needed to ensure its construction readiness.”
Offering almost 12,000 square feet of floor space and plenty of architectural assets, the sanctuary rivals many other former New Orleans houses of worship that have been repurposed in recent years.
Principal among the list of adaptive reuse projects is Hotel Peter and Paul, the successful conversion of the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, school, convent and rectory on Burgundy Street in Faubourg Marigny. Others include the Norwegian Seamen’s Church on Prytania Street in the Lower Garden District, slated to become a wellness center.
The home of the Southern Rep Theatre is another prominent adaptive reuse project: The theater is now housed in the converted St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Bayou Road in Esplanade Ridge. The former First United Baptist Church on South Norman C. Francis Parkway in Mid City found a new use as an apartment building.
With its Uptown location and proximity to the burgeoning Freret corridor, Our Lady of Lourdes is considered a natural candidate for a conversion project. For inspiration, a buyer may need to look no further than the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church on St. Ferdinand Street in Faubourg Marigny, now known as the Marigny Opera House. A popular venue for ballet, theatrical and musical performances, the building has also hosted the filming of music videos as well as weddings, including the 2014 celebrity wedding of Solange Knowles and Alan Ferguson.
“We have spoken to potential buyers who are interested in making (Our Lady of Lourdes) into an event space, as well as those interested in a food hall concept,” McLeod said. “It requires a buyer familiar with historic tax credit deals and a great personal desire to return it to commerce.” Amen …
Reporter R. Stephanie Bruno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.