Since Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, it seems like everyone has come forward with a plan for the adaptive reuse of the Art Deco masterpiece. And yet eight years later it stands empty. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to put City Hall and Civil District Court in the building, though he hasn’t gotten the judges to agree. The Lens solicited the views of our readers and city leaders; over the next several days we are publishing edited versions of their ideas. Post your reactions in the comments below each story.
Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to put City Hall into the magnificent Charity Hospital building is a start. No single building in New Orleans, other than the Superdome, makes its presence felt so strongly on the skyline and the street. To let it stay dirty and derelict inflicts gloom on the entire city. Get it back to life now.
A new City Hall can lead the thinking toward a collection of uses that can fill up the gigantic, million-square-foot structure. Neuroscience center, nursing school, courtrooms, biomedical incubators, hotels, condos – whatever. Bring them on. We don’t need to have all the wings rented in advance to get this moving. The tenants will come.
To see how great Charity will look, admire the stunningly renovated Louisiana State Capitol building and the stunningly renovated Lakefront Airport. These are of the same decade, same state government, same accomplished architects, same Art Deco style, same materials, same limestone. They look fabulous, and Charity will too.
Don’t let Civil District Court be a deal-breaker. The mayor doesn’t need this diminished institution to make the Charity plan fly. The judges are trying to get us to pay for 14 courtrooms when we need only seven.
In fact, Charity could tidily house all the courtrooms of all the parish and municipal courts. They’d fit neatly because we only need 20 of the current 45 judges in Civil District Court, Criminal District Court, Traffic Court, Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, First City Court and Second City Court.
Don’t think for a minute about tearing down the current City Hall. It’s a mess now because of the shabby treatment city government gives its properties. But the building will be regarded in the next decade as a distinguished modernist design, and will clean up well. When this new City Hall was finished in the 1950s, some thought we could dispose of the old City Hall. It’s a good thing preservationists stopped them, because that’s the building we are now proud to have as Gallier Hall.
Charity and everything around it – the new LSU and VA hospitals, the renovated Iberville project – will be more valuable when we take down the portion of Interstate 10 that hovers over Claiborne Avenue.
To witness just how extravagantly solid the Huey Long regime built Charity, see the ignored but persuasive study commissioned by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana that proved after Katrina that Charity could be refurbished into a better hospital than the new ones.
To see an Art Deco city hall that its citizens are immensely proud of, look at Buffalo’s 1932 building. It’s about half the square footage of Charity, but at 32 stories, it’s a comparable.
Jack Davis has been a reporter, editor and publisher at newspapers in New Orleans, Chicago, Virginia and Connecticut and follows urban design issues in New Orleans.
Others weigh in on the future of Charity
- “A clear need for mental-health facilities presents an obvious use for Charity,” by Lynda Woolard
- “Proposal for recycling Charity Hospital emphasizes mental health services,” by Janet Hays
- “Renovated Charity Hospital could be home for social services, medical museum,” by Marianne Maumus
- “Talk of reusing Charity Hospital building is familiar to preservationists,” by Sandra Stokes and Walter Gallas
- “Financial separation of New Orleans’ civil, criminal courts must end,” by Calvin Johnson