By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |
Neither the Landrieu administration nor preservationists followed up to save houses featured in ads for the HBO television show “Treme,” series executive producer David Simon wrote in a letter released this afternoon.
The five houses that grace the cover of the recently released first-season DVD set were demolished earlier today.
Simon’s statement comes a week after he and his co-producers, Eric Overmyer and Nina Noble, sent a plea to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, at the behest of preservationists, urging the city to “renovate and not destroy” the houses across from Taylor Park in Central City.
Though the homes aren’t in the neighborhood from which the series takes its name, the producers said they wanted a backdrop that immediately provided a sense of place.
“Since penning our amicus curiae, we waited patiently to hear back from both City Hall and the preservationists — hoping the former might see possibilities in the properties and seek to engage our assistance and that the latter might be putting together financing and support to which we expected to contribute…We heard from no one,” Simon wrote.
In relating a phone call with the mayor, Simon said Landrieu said that he didn’t read the letter until shortly before the buildings were torn down.
Jack Davis, a board member for the National Trust for Historic Preservation who help lead the failed salvage effort, said he found out only this morning that the “Treme” executives had written the letter last week.
Davis said he and members of the trust’s New Orleans field office work behind the scenes to save these and other structures from demolition, and that the “Treme” team was one of many groups and individuals he approached regarding these houses.
In Simon’s statement today, he elaborated on his offer, saying that the “Treme” team had already demonstrated its philanthropic commitment to the city, and that it would have been willing to contribute more to restoring the doubles on the 2700 block of South Derbigny Street.
Individuals and companies affiliated with the HBO production “have already raised or personally contributed close to a quarter of a million dollars to New Orleans non-profits including the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Roots of Music, Common Ground, Habitat For Humanity and Associated Black Charities, among others,” he wrote. “We certainly expected that having spoken to the ideal of creating viable housing out of those shotguns, we might be obliged to make such a housing and preservation initiative a sponsored charity as well.”
Simon took offense at some commentary he saw that was apparently critical of the effort to restore the severely dilapidated houses.
“Many have actually characterized our appeal as an attempt by some dilettante Hollywood-types to preserve some urban blight for purposes of filming and/or profit, and to do so without offering resources for the effort,” he wrote. “Remarkable, really.”
Such comments were rife on news blogs and Twitter, so Simon may not have been referring directly to Landrieu. Earlier in the day, though, the mayor was not shy about taking on preservationists in general at a bombastic press conference this afternoon.
The mayor opened with a snark-filled aside to preservationists who were present, asking if they had “any money.” Later on, he said one in the group, Sandra Stokes, lived in Baton Rouge. Stokes, who used to live in Baton Rouge, now lives in downtown New Orleans. He asked the others where they lived, his tone implying that they did not live in areas that share Central City’s blight problem.
“People show up at the last minute and say ‘Please don’t,’ well, we are moving on in the city of New Orleans,” the mayor said later. “The day is over that we are going to have discussions about air.”
“I’m calling on the producers of Treme, I’m calling on anybody that has resources that wants to partner with us, that wants to bring something other than suggestions to the table, I mean a real way, because talk is cheap… a real way to make sure we keep the things that make our culture rich… I’m all game,” Landrieu said.
The mayor didn’t stop there, either. Watch raw footage from the mayor’s press conference here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said a structural engineer visited the houses on behalf of the “Treme” producers and judged the houses salvageable. However, the engineer visited at the behest of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. And to clarify, the story referred to Jack Davis, a board member of the trust, as someone working with the producers, perhaps implying he was working at their direction. In fact, the trust appealed to the “Treme” producers and others in the effort to save the buildings.