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1644 N. Villere St. Historical Landmark: Perserverance Society Hall

Leaner N. Villere (29)

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This Early Mission Style building suffered some devastating damage in the rear addition built in or about the 1920’s. The front, original portion of the building is intact. The city is pressuring the owner to take a free FEMA demo. However, preservationists know that this building is historically significant. Willie White is trying to persuade them to deconstruct the camel back portion. This would have to be done with a cherry picker to start. This would ensure that the remaining structurally sound portion of Perservance Hall would be preserved. The small congregation has been meeting in the church without electricity.

This building has been nominated for the Louisiana Landmarks “New Orleans Nine” the nine most endangered buildings in the city. The final list will be released in the next week or two. Stay Tuned.

Essay by Anne Woodruff of The Jazz Restoration Society

As early as 1868, a Societe de la Perseverance was listed in a city directory at roughly this location. Perseverance B.M.A.A. (perhaps “Benevolent Mutual Aid Association?”) was organized on November 13, 1853 and incorporated on July 21, 1892, according to signage documented in a ca. 1930 photograph of the structure. Like Francs Amis, Perseverance was an elite Creole-of-color society.

The hall played a central role in the community and was often mentioned in musician interviews at the Hogan Jazz Archive. Perseverance frequently hosted society banquets and hired musicians to play following dinner, from one until six in the afternoon. Musicians who performed here included Wooden Joe Nicholas, Buddy Petit, Isidore Barbarin, Joe Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Big Eye Louis Nelson, Chris Kelly and Sam Morgan.

As a child, Paul Barbarin lived behind the hall on Urqhart Street. According to his interview summary at the Hogan Jazz Archive, Barbarin “could hear bands playing for Monday banquets at that hall; one Monday his mother told him Buddy Bolden was playing that day, and she remarked further that one day Bolden would “blow his brains out” on the horn, as he played too loud.”

Unlike nearby benevolent halls, Perseverance Society Hall retains its historic facade from the turn of the century. The most striking feature is its arched Mission-style parapet, fairly unusual in New Orleans. Details include stained or colored glass windows, a recessed front, a central double door, entry lamps, and a commemorative plaque set into the façade. (A round, colored-glass window below the parapet, seen in the ca. 1930 photograph, was later replaced by a rectangular ventilator.) The hall has changed little since it was photographed by William Russell in 1961.

The hall’s interior also retains its original 1900 appearance and includes the musicians’ mezzanine, located at the back of the hall area. Period features include a chandelier, wainscoting in the main hall, and thin beaded board covering the rear rooms and the camelback. The camelback and its double stairs probably date from around 1920. In the 1909 Sanborn Atlas, the hall terminated in a two-story wing with galleries. The camelback, and probably the wing it replaced, provided space for the kitchen, offices and lodging.

Perseverance Society Hall was purchased by Mother Conrad for the Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church in 1949. At my 2002 visit, the building had already suffered damage to its wood siding, especially in the camelback and rear first floor. Several parts of the building were unusable, including the stair leading to the balcony and the rear kitchen; the dining room was missing sections of plaster. At the time church members reported that they lacked resources to stop the building from further deterioration.

Now, a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, the hall is in urgent need of stabilization and restoration. Most obviously, the camelback addition is in the process of collapse. The front hall, however, which is the original structure, survived the storm basically intact and could be restored fairly easily. Church leaders are making efforts to save the structure but funds must be located very soon or the city will lose another priceless landmark

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  • Amy

    THIS BUILDING HAS BEEN ABANDONED FOR SO LONG. IT IS ABOUT TO FALL ON MY BEST FRIEND’S HOUSE. I WOULD CAPITALIZE THAT BUT I AM ALREADY YELLING. THIS BUILDING NEEDS TO

    GO
    GO
    GO

    TAKE IT APART IF YOU WANT BUT THE NEIGHBORS HAVE NO LOVE FOR THE THING AND NEITHER DO ITS OWNERS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    IF THE OWNERS CARE SO DAMN MUCH ABOUT IT THEY SHOULD HAVE THE

    CONSIDERATION & DECENCY

    TO REMOVE THE DANGEROUS PARTS OF THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY. WHY DON’T YOU SHOW IT FROM THE ANNETTE STREET SIDE WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT IS LEANING OVER A BUILDING BEING REPAIRED BY A GOOD PERSON??????

    I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANYONE SINCERELY CARES ABOUT THIS BUILDING OR THAT THE “CHURCH LEADER” OWNERS OF THE BUILDING GIVE A SH*T ABOUT OTHER HUMAN BEINGS AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD- THEY CERTAINLY DON’T LIVE THERE!

    PROVE ME WRONG.

    I PRAY THE BUILDING IS DEMOLISHED BEFORE IT COLLAPSES ON MY BEST FRIEND.

    sorry for yelling.

  • randall

    well the front original part is perfectly stable. and yes there are pictures of the building leaning over, just click on the picture and it will send you to flickr.

  • WILLIE WHITE

    AMY : HERE WE GO TO “PROVE YOU WRONG”. THE BUILDING IS NOT ABANDONED, BUT IN WEEKLY USE ON SUNDAYS (ITS A CHURCH). IT HAS BEEN LEANING SINCE KATRINA, STOPPED BY A MIGHTY CYPRESS TREE(18 MONTHS SO FAR). IT IS LEANING TOWARD AN ABANDONED SHED WHICH THE OWNER WANTS TO DEMOLISH TO ADD ONTO HIS HOUSE. IT HAS NOT MOVED OR FALLEN AT ALL. YOUR BEST FRIEND HAS PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING, AND THE INTELLIGENCE NOT TO GO INTO ANY HAZARD POSSIBLY POSED BY THIS STRUCTURE. THANKS TO THE EFFORTS OF MANY, THIS PROBLEM WILL BE REMEDIED AND A BRIGHT SPOT IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD MAY BE CREATED WHICH WILL BE A BRIGHT SPOT IN A HISTORIC JAZZ NEIGHBORHOOD. AS FAR AS “IMMEDIATELY”, HAVE YOU TRIED TO GET ANY THING INVOLVING CITY HALL DONE IMMEDIATELY. PRAY NOT FOR DEMOLITION TO PROTECT YOUR FRIEND BUT FOR GOOD TIMING AND PERSEVERANCE OF ALL THOSE TRYING TO AMELIORATE THIS SITUATION. AS FOR YOU “YELLING”, THIS IS A GOOD THING … DON’T BE SORRY! YELL AT THOSE WHO NEED TO BE YELLED AT TO GET THIS AND THE OTHER 28,999 SIMILAR SITUATIONS IN THIS CITY CORRECTED FOR YOUR FRIENDS SAKE AND OURS.

  • Ann Woodruff

    Thank you for drawing attention to this historic building (by the way, an updated version of my essay on the hall will be included in the full article in the forthcoming Jazz Archivist). Like many people, I care deeply about this building which neighbors still remember as a jazz hall. Despite what the first writer surmized, the elderly church members are terrified of losing their home of almost sixty years but could not find anyone willing or able to remove just the camelback addition. Is it hard to understand how people could lack information or resources despite their best intentions? We need to be a little understanding of the difficulties everyone is dealing with post-Katrina. I would also like to second Willie White in saying that the front section of the hall, which is the most historic part, is in good condition and is even being used for Sunday church meetings. As of this writing, the rear camelback is in the process of being removed, and parts salvaged if possible, by the city’s best demolition contractor. My husband and I, along with other preservationists and the pastor, have spent a great deal of pro bono time, as well as emotion and effort, obtaining a partial demolition permit from the city which initially refused to give us any permit at all. If we hadn’t been so persistent, the building would still be in the same condition today. For those who care about history: Perseverance Society Hall represents a very important part of this city’s heritage as an antebellum benevolent society founded by Creoles-of-color whose early twentieth century dances, funerals and parades played a significant role in the development of jazz. It even retains a now-rare musicians’ mezzanine or bandstand, required in a time before amplification. Most of the other African-American benevolent societies nearby have been altered beyond recognition, or demolished, the fate of many of this city’s jazz sites. Believe it or not, this humble little building is of national and even international importance to music lovers and historians. If we continue to tear down everything that looks old in this city without doing our research and making an effort to save as much as possible, we will lose what makes New Orleans special. We will be like anyplace USA, or worse: a sea of once-historic houses ruined by trashy repairs, surrounding the French Quarter and Garden District. People in New Orleans love to talk about our musical and parading culture without actually preserving or understanding its origins. Instead of calling for the hall to be demolished, why don’t you volunteer to help fix it up or donate money for a future restoration project? One day this structure will be a landmark in your friend’s neighborhood, rather than another vacant lot. Which would you prefer? By the way, my husband has been involved in this neighborhood for almost forty years as the owner, and caretaker, of a nearby historic jazz site. Thanks.

  • Ray

    Here’s a photo essay on Buddy Bolden that appeared on nola.com last week:

    http://www.nola.com/photos/t-p/index.ssf?032907bolden

    Perserverence Hall is one of only three buildings left in the city which are associated with Bolden, widely regarded as the first bandleader to play jazz. This is not just some pretty building; this should be a museum tour stop, and a jazz shrine.

  • Historic Preservation..more than “just” buildings.
    Thanks for the links, the information and contributions.

  • rcs

    Some good news:

    Firm awarded $300,000 to design Perseverance Hall project

    http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/uptotheminute.cfm?recid=15399

  • I am the acting chair of the Council to the Porch, the 7th Ward
    Cultural Association. We are looking to repurpose a building for our
    center in the neighborhood that we now occupy. Our boundaries are
    between Elysian Fields to St. Bernard and St. Claude to Claiborne. We
    believe that we have found an appropriate building that also fits our
    mission to preserve and explore the local culture.
    1644 N. Villere St. fits our mission and are needs.
    Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any contact for the group: I see at the end of these comments it says $300,000 to design Perseverance Hall project…that was in 2007. It is now 2011. We are interested. If anyone has any information, could you please contact us at the Porch.

    Robin White

    504-914-3008