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

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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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