Correction: Based on misinformation provided by City Hall, an earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that FEMA’s March 1 meeting on the West Bank is open to the public. It is for consultants only.
By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |
The latest skirmish in the preservation wars: whether to demolish century-old sexton’s cottages in four historic New Orleans cemeteries and replace them with concrete block sheds.
City Hall has applied for demolition permits and, almost seven years after Hurricane Katrina, has secured $46,000 in FEMA funds to tear down the damaged cottages once occupied by cemetery caretakers.
Two of the cottages are on the grounds of Lafayette cemeteries No. 1 and No. 2, within blocks of each other on Washington Avenue; another is within Holt Cemetery on City Park Avenue, and the fourth is in the Carrollton Cemetery on Hillary Street.
Angie Green, executive director of Save our Cemeteries, a non-profit “dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the historic cemeteries of Louisiana,” has issued a statement opposing three of the four demolitions. The exception is the one within Carrollton Cemetery, which has been heavily modified over the years.
Demolition would “be detrimental to the overall feel and tout ensemble of these cemeteries,” Green’s statement says.
As reasons to proceed with the demolitions the city cites “long-term neglect and termite infestation that has impacted the structural integrity.” The cottages will be replaced with concrete block structures of “appropriate design,” according to documents provided by the city.
Green said that she would never consider concrete block to be historically appropriate in this context.
Drawing primarily on bond funds and a small FEMA reimbursement, the city has dedicated approximately $2.8 million for repairs to city cemeteries.
The cost of the concrete-block structures that the city proposes to build is uncertain. Caretakers would not be expected to live in them.
Joining Green in opposition to the city’s plans, Sandra Stokes, director-at-large of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, declares Lafayette No. 1 to be an “internationally known tourist attraction” and “economic driver” for the city.
The cemetery is across Washington Avenue from another major tourist draw, Commander’s Palace restaurant.
The cottages “were built in the 1800’s- and reflect the era,” Stokes argues. Their “historic rehabilitation is clearly feasible,” she says.
A report on the sexton cottages issued by FEMA raises another concern. Demolition has “the potential to affect archeological resources as well as human burials” within the cemeteries, according to archaeologist Richard Williams.
Consistent with federal rules, to identify interested parties who may want to advise FEMA on the proposed demolitions, a
public meeting will be held on March 1, from 10 a.m. to noon, at FEMA’s West Bank office, 1 Seine Court.