Land Use

Bank-turned-burger joint: decidedly heavy on the dressing

Juicy D’s at night: Under city rules, each neon rectangle is a sign – all of them illegal. photo: Karen Gadbois

Local bloggers are running an informal contest to see how long it takes before whatever subject that pops up turns into a conversation about food.

My bet is that a lot of discussions just as quickly turn into conversations about zoning enforcement.

Today’s topic – the old Whitney Bank building on Carrollton at the corner of Oak — goes both ways at once.

The landmark Emile Weil bank, back when it still looked like one.

The current tenant, a combatant in the burger wars, is something called Juicy D’s. Juicy D’s weapon of choice is an allegedly organic  ”steamed burger,” one that you can “eat guilty free,” according to the restaurant’s Facebook messaging.

OK a health food hamburger may be an oxymoron to some of us; it exists in my imagination on the same shelf as whole-wheat pasta. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Today’s meditation is not on pickles and onions, but the way the burger joint has garnished the bank, an Emile Weil original and designated historic landmark now owned by the Fidelity Homestead Association.

Neon highlights every window like eye-liner (to get away from hamburg imagery for a moment.) That makes the little red awnings, what … ? Eyelids?. And god knows what’s going on with the long horizontal neon rectangles up top — eyebrows? Frida Kahlo-style?

While the rules and regulations of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance are tough going, even for those of us who are fascinated by land use questions, it’s pretty clear that the building is in flagrant violation of the signage rules.

Section 12.1.2 of the city zoning ordinance defines a sign as including any “light” or other representation used as an “attention arrester.” And it goes on to specify that the size of a sign is measured as the “area within a line including the outer extremities of all the letters, figures, characters, and delineations, or within a line including the outer extremities of the framework, or background of the sign, whichever line includes the larger area.”

That means Juicy D’s is bedecked with nine giant floor-to-ceiling signs, not counting the eyelids and the eyebrows, which would bring the count closer to 20.

This is a pretty extreme departure from the signage that was approved by the City Planning Commission and the Historic Districts Landmark Commission when Juicy D’s was in the permitting stage. According to the paperwork, the awnings were legit but only two of them could be emblazoned with the Juicy D’s logo. The neon? No way!

The presence of a Vegas-style streetwalker on old-timey Carrollton at Oak has been brought to the attention of city officials. Kambium Buckner, a spokesperson for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, says the owner will be cited for the excessive signage.

And so, once again it seems the best laid plans are not always the best made. It remains to be seen if what went up will come down.

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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. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, 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.

  • lbanana

    One night while channel surfing I saw the owner of this place before a city planning board on the local access channel. The issue if I remember correctly was the windows and some sort of non-compliance on the design of the “new” windows he wanted to install. Now he has this issue of mind glowing light. I must remember to drive by at night and check it out. Problems all around for this burger joint!

  • Pltnm

    Because the source of all of New Orleans’ problems is excessive signage on hamburger stands. If this is a code violation, then that’s an argument against the code, not the business.

  • Jenel

    The source of New Orleans problems is lack of respect, f
    or fill in the blank
    each other, nature, the work that has gone into the CZO and alms use planning, laws, the infrastructure… the list goes on.
    I’m all for the uniqueness that is New Orleans, but a little code enforcement could go a long way. Just cause one runs a business one does not get to run roughshod over the laws and the neighbors.

  • Eli

    I’m cool with neon but this building goes way way overboard. Being ugly is bad for business. They should change it up for that reason, if not for the zoning code.

  • Skip

    Lighting is not the same thing as signage. The ordinance is bad. Should we take down the LED lights around the Superdome because it creates one enormous sign? Didn’t think so.

  • Uptowner

    There’s a difference between big neon and LED lights in a downtown, modern area like on the Superdome and a quaint, oak tree-lined avenue with historic southern mansions….

    If they were on Canal i would be much more inclined to like it, but they’re not. Oak @ Carollton is far from Times Square and doesn’t need to look like it and that’s EXACTLY why there are ordinances.

  • Pltnm

    @Eli Feel free to boycott, picket, write angry letters, whatever, but the blunt force of regulation should not be used to enforce aesthetic judgements.

    @Jenel “Run roughshod over neighbors” is a bit overwrought for some light bulbs, don’t you think?

  • Patrick

    There is no problem with the lights. We live in a city and should embrace urban living. The outside perception of New Orleans is a backwards country town and all these little things are why. We keep over preservng ourselves to the detriment of growth while smaller cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami have passed us up.

  • Merilee

    The issue with the lights, etc., aside, is no one going to comment on the fact that their signage reads “Eat Guilty Free”…? Who let them print such a grammatical error, I wonder?!?

  • I actually like the new lighting.

  • Nuria

    Maybe the neon is supposed to distract people from the fact that they completely messed up the aesthetics of a historic building by throwing up a bunch of awnings across, rather than above, the windows. What a bizarre design choice. If they just wanted a bright building with weird proportions, why didn’t they build one on a tacky street next to a McDonald’s where nobody would care?

  • Fess’ Ghost

    Come on Folks. Leave aside the Philadelphia lawyering and amateur analysis of the ordinance wording.

    Clearly the intent of the ordinance as expressed by the words in 12.12 is to limit the exterior ornamentation use of lights as an “atention arrester”

    Not to mention that it is just damn tacky. Oak Street is not Bourbon Street.

  • Ferngrrl

    A few points.

    1. When will we have the neutral ground lights BACK ON at night???? (S. Carrollton from Claiborne to St. Charles, that is.) Is this not a safety issue anymore?!

    They’re still out, allegedly because of the streetcar repair work.

    I’ve asked our City Council person this a few times the past year and a half, and haven’t gotten non-vague answers.

    2. I don’t dislike the Whitney neon.

    3. Why the heck hasn’t the guy *cleaned the [Whitney] building*???!!! I mean, seriously.

  • Ferngrrl

    Merilee about “Guilty Free”: Yes, you’re right! Thank you! Shaming, especially for a university-area place. Some of my out-of-town guests have laughed at it. Somehow, I don’t consider that to be good marketing.

  • Ferngrrl

    Did the owners work with the area n-hood associations, CRNA, CCA, or Oak St group at all?

    Of course, if Drew Brees can open a [not-very-good] chain sub sandwich shop in an old house on Maple Street, next to Fresca, I guess we n-hood people don’t count for much anymore other than paying property and sales taxes.

  • Ferngrrl

    Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami are not nearly as old as we are and their histories are not nearly as complex. Nor are they considered Caribbean cities. They’re just in a different category.

  • Nags

    I do not think the owners worked with any of the N’Hood Associations – because each of them would a advised against such a hideous light show. I would be interested in knowing the views of the Oak Street Business Association or the Oak Street Main Street organization.