Squandered Heritage Vintage

Letter to The Times Picayune

Dear Editors:
This morning, with little debate, the New Orleans Historic District
Landmarks Commission (HDLC) voted to grant historic landmark status to
the exquisite, award winning 1963 church in Gentilly that was designed
by the architectural firm of Curtis and Davis. This is the same firm who
designed the Rivergate and the Superdome, among other 20th century New
Orleans civic landmarks. As an architect, professor at Tulane who has
worked and lived here for 22 years, and as a private citizen I find the
impending destruction of this important place of worship to be extremely
tragic. I could never have imagined that this church, which sustained
relatively minor damage from Katrina’s floodwaters due to its solid
brick construction, could be cast off in such a cavalier manner. This,
without any opportunity for parish parishioners and other concerned
persons and groups to weigh in on the decision making process. There is
no doubt that if the Archdiocese of New Orleans so wished, this church
could be saved from the wrecking ball and meaningfully integrated as
part of the Holy Cross campus.

The Archdiocese needs to stand up tall and immediately reassess its
position–there would be no better location in the metro area to
redesignate St. Francis Cabrini Church as a national shrine to the
victims of Hurricane Katrina. In so doing, the church would be preserved
and visitors would travel to Gentilly from throughout the United States
and indeed the world to visit such a memorial. The walls of the outer
chapel, known as the Baptismal, would be an ideal space–covered with
the photographs of every single soul who perished. The church’s
architecture in and of itself is spiritually moving, and these
qualities, reinterpreted vis-a-vis the Katrina National Shrine, would be
a powerful statement to the entire world of the power of the human
spirit to prevail in the face of severe adversity. To underscore this,
leave the cross which sits atop its slender spire askew, as rendered by
Katrina’s ferocious winds.

The bottom line: How did the situation deteriorate to this very low
point, truly the eleventh hour, without any serious thought accorded to
restoring this civic landmark to its pre-Katrina grandeur? This entire
affair has had the tainted appearance of a “done deal” from the start,
unfortunately. I simply cannot believe that otherwise logical minds
would insist that the Holy Cross deal is “off” if the church
remains.With careful site planning there is no question that the school
and the church can co-exist side by side. Surely there is enough land to
do so. Perhaps it is not too late for the Archdiocese and Holy Cross to
put their heads together and do the right thing. CALL OFF THE WRECKING BALL.

Stephen Verderber
Tulane University
New Orleans

504-458-4738 (cell)
504-865-5389 Tulane office

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use for Squandered Heritage. For her work with television reporter Lee Zurik exposing widespread misuse of city recovery funds — which led to guilty pleas in federal court — Gadbois won some of the highest honors in journalism, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.