d o c o m o m o l o u i s i a n a is a regional chapter of an international committee dedicated to the

documentation and conservation of the buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SOM Restoration Begun in New Orleans

As reported by the Regional Planning Commission 27 April 2010:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs begins restoration and repair of the original Pan American Life Insurance Company Building, "This marks the first of many steps to come as we work towards our goal of creating a 21st century state-of-the-art health care system for our Veterans," said Ms. Julie Catellier, Director Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. "Veterans have waited patiently for the return of a Veteran's hospital since the floodwaters of Katrina forced the closure of the VA Medical Center on Perdido Street. It is an honor to serve our Veterans and continue our mission of providing health care to America's heroes."

The Pan American Life Insurance Company Building at 2400 Canal Street, listed individually on the National Register for Historic Places is a significant representation of post-World War II International style architecture.

Designed by internationally renowned New York and Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the 1953 building was the headquarters of the Pan American Life Insurance Company. The building has a steel frame, glass walls and aluminum sunscreens to shield the interior from the sun. Original features included an elevated terraced entrance and interior courtyard. More recently, the building was used as a City Hall Annex but is currently closed and out of service.

Restoration of The Pan American building will help preserve New Orleans' unique architectural heritage while simultaneously honoring New Orleans' proud history of innovation and design. Studio NOVA, a joint venture of NBBJ and local partners Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Rozas Ward Architects, is the design team for the restoration of the building. Clark/McCarthy Healthcare Partners, in association with local firms Woodward Design+Build and Landis Construction Company, was selected as the Integrated Design and Construct (IDc) contractor and is currently providing preconstruction services to the VA and design team. The Pan Am building will be the first building to come on line as part of the new VA Medical Center, housing education, training, recruitment and administrative services. The VA Medical Center project is scheduled for completion in 2013. The new facility will provide comprehensive healthcare to over 70,000 enrolled Veterans when it opens. To see the latest VAMC renderings, visit: neworleans.va.gov

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thermo-Con Homes

One of Two Thermo-Con Homes at N. Broad and Agriculture Street. Built 1947.

Higgins Incorporated of New Orleans patented Thermo-Con Concrete and sought to promote its use as a building material throughout the southern United States, as well as the Caribbean, South America, and parts of the South Pacific region. In 1946, the company built a Thermo-Namel demonstration house at its Industrial Canal plant, and one year later followed with the Thermo-Con Demonstration Houses erected on the corner of North Broad Avenue and Havana Street. Other Thermo-Con residences quickly followed, and included a cluster on Havana Street, ones on Althea and Hydrangea Lanes in Lake Vista, and one on Vicksburg Street between Harrison Avenue and Bragg Street. A developer in Atlanta used the material to build a 104-apartment complex in North Buckhead, and another developer planned to create 200 3-bedroom houses in Pass Christian Heights, Mississippi. Thermo-Con's use went beyond residential architecture: fire walls in Fort Worth, Texas; USAF buildings at White Sands, New Mexico; and warm-up pads for the USAF at Andrews and McChord Air Force Bases.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thomy Lafon Elementary Headed for Demolition; Hope Remains for Salvage and Documentation

The latest in a long series of FEMA consultation meetings concerning Thomy Lafon Elementary School took place on March 24, 2010 at the Garden Study Center in City Park.

Designed by Curtis and Davis and completed in 1954, Lafon was nationally hailed as a model in progressive school design. The building stands at 2601 Seventh Street at the former center of the Magnolia Street Housing Project, recently demolished to make way for the Harmony Oaks housing development. Though the school was in operation until Hurricane Katrina and did not flood, from the outset the Recovery School District has been adamantly opposed to its reopening and has sought FEMA money to raze the building. This proposed use of federal funds for demolition has triggered the Section 106 process as established in the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. The act requires that properties to be affected by such plans be evaluated for their historic worth to mitigate harmful affects to significant structures. Lafon was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places last June by FEMA and the State Historic Preservation Office, embroiling the building in further controversy as interested parties lobby either for or against its demolition.

Unfortunately, the question of Lafon’s preservation has been rendered virtually obsolete by a bizarre twist of fate taking most of those involved by complete surprise. Recent research has shown that the building stands on land once occupied by Locust Grove Cemeteries #1 and #2, roughly active from the 1860s through the 1890s. Though it seems that some bodies were relocated prior to the construction of the first Lafon School in 1905, historic accounts and recent archaeological work indicate that remains are still interred on the site. This brings into play the Louisiana Unmarked Burial Sites Preservation Act and the Louisiana Cemetery Act. These dictate that the site not be used in any way inconsistent with cemetery use, though oddly enough, precedents have been set for using unmarked cemetery lands as parks or playgrounds. Lafon could legally be converted into a mausoleum, but current zoning laws and the wishes of Harmony Oaks’ residents make that option highly unlikely.

News of the cemetery legislation first hit in December 2009, and the March meeting was largely dedicated to reviewing the draft Memorandum of Agreement between FEMA and consulting parties. MOAs establish a course of action to be taken with a specific property; in this case, the draft outlines how Lafon cannot legally or feasibly be reused and, by default, will be demolished. Two DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana representatives were present, architect Wayne Troyer of Wayne Troyer Associates and intern Lindsey Derrington of Tulane’s Masters in Preservation Studies program. Both suggested revisions to the MOA which would soften this loss. Mr. Troyer proposed salvaging some part of the building and incorporating it into the playground which will likely be built on the site, including the preservation of the Jack Hastings climbing sculpture which was commissioned in conjunction with the school. After SHPO representatives raised concerns that the MOA called only for Historic American Building Survey-level photographs of Lafon which would not be submitted to the Library of Congress, Miss Derrington suggested that Tulane students could volunteer service hours to execute full-scale HABS drawings. Those present at the meeting were receptive to both ideas, and DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana looks forward to working with FEMA and the Recovery School District to retain as much as possible of this incredible building, and to ensure that it receives the documentation that it deserves.