Saturday, March 20, 2010

FOUND! Presentation drawings of the Wheatley School (1954)

On Thursday I took a day-trip to the Lakefront to search for documents related to the Phillis Wheatley  Elementary School in the Orleans Parish School Board archives at Special Collections, UNO Library. I had low expectations and never dreamed we'd actually find THE drawings.  I was told to look for Colbert's correspondence file, as sometimes architects tuck a sketch in with a letter. 

It was a long shot and also happened to be an absolutely gorgeous day. I took nearly two hours to get to the library, as I kept stopping to take photos of modernist houses along the way. The first one to stop me in my tracks had tile which reminded me of Albert Ledner's National Maritime Union at Washington and Tchoupitoulas.* Later in the day I learned that this house at 4119 Vincennes was indeed designed by Ledner in 1954 for Irving Roth. photo 

Next I photographed a series of houses on Lakeshore Drive, including Ledner's Moradian House (1978). photos  I was almost at UNO, but then forced to turn off Lakeshore Drive due to road closure. This detour took me back through Lake Terrace on Oriole. More gems.

Finally turned on my blinders and made it over to the UNO Library and up to Special Collections on the 4th floor. Within minutes I was presented with binders of finding aids which led me rather quickly to absolute success.

We have been searching for drawings of the Wheatley School for years. Mr. Colbert lost his personal archive when his house flooded. Representatives of the Recovery School District told us the OPSB archives had flooded as well, so IF they had drawings, they were likely lost in the soup and tossed. Thank goodness they were wrong. About ten minutes after entering the UNO Library I was holding a set of nine presentation drawings of the Wheatley School from 1954. The drawings have been digitized and I will write more specifically about them as well Colbert's correspondence soon. 

Upon leaving UNO, I called Keli Rylance at SEAA to share the good news. She gave me another address to seek out as well which led me to photograph one of the oldest homes in Lake Vista. photo

All in all, an absolutely brilliant day.

* Sadly the NMU tile was recently stuccoed in a renovation. photo

Friday, March 12, 2010

A great day on Canal Street

Auto Life Insurance building 5
City Council upholds the HDLC designation of the Automotive Life Building (Curtis and Davis) at 4140 Canal. 
Pan American Life Insurance Co. (2400 Canal, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, 1952) to get an historic restoration. 
see press release at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Demolition Permit for 1st Modern School in New Orleans

Permit here. View vintage photo in The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Avery Alexander (McDonogh 39) Elementary School in Gentilly (3800 St. Roch Avenue) was designed by Curtis and Davis in 1952.  It was recognized as a model facility and was the first modern school built in New Orleans. This is a "finger school" in plan, with four lengths of classrooms connected at one end to a broad wing of administrative offices, the library and auditorium. The bands of classrooms are connected by an exterior corridor on one side. Both sides of the classrooms and the hall have operable aluminum and glass windows, so they benefit from ample natural light and ventilation. In addition, the hall also filters the sunlight from the classroom, reducing heat gain. Grassy courtyards fill the space between the stretches of classrooms. While the school flooded post-Katrina, the design of the structure is historically significant and appropriate to our climate. 

In 2008 the Louisiana Landmarks Society acknowledged McDonogh 39 along with Wheatley, Lafon and Carver Schools in its New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List. The school is outside the jurisdiction of the NCDC, so the demolition permit was granted without review. 

Nominations to the 2010 New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List are due March 22. [info, forms]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


At the end of February Docomomo New Orleans convened to elect new officers. I am honored to be President and excited to be partnered with Vice-President Wayne Troyer, Treasurer Hilairie Shackai and Secretary Maryann Miller. We are thrilled to welcome Interns Lindsey Derrington and Ian Daniels of the Tulane School of Architecture Historic Preservation program.

We are working on establishing an active agenda for the spring, but first would like to take a few moments to review the impressive accomplishments and significant challenges of our recent past.

2008. Docomomo US officially recognized the Louisiana / New Orleans chapter under the leadership of President Toni DiMaggio. Toni was supported by Vice-President Jim Albert, Treasurer Melissa Urcan and Secretary Rainier Simoneaux. In our inaugural year we participated in the Section 106 Review of two structures integral to the Civic Center complex, the State Office Building and State Supreme Court. Ultimately both were demolished without plans for redevelopment. In March we successfully nominated four mid-century modern schools to the Louisiana Landmark Society's New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List. In June Design Within Reach hosted our first social event. John Klingman presented a slideshow of modernist buildings in the area, some at risk, others already and since demolished. In October we organized Modernism and Desire: A Streetcar Tour of Endangered Buildings in conjunction with AIA New Orleans. At the end of the year many of our members commented on the 106 Review of the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish which threatens to obliterate almost all modernist schools from the New Orleans landscape. 

2009. The Year of the Emergency Cocktail. Formal meetings were supplemented by sudden calls to arms at the Columns and Bridge Lounge. We successfully fought for Hoffman Elementary in the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee reviews only to have the decision reversed by City Council. We were inundated with FEMA 106 meetings related to Wheatley and Lafon Elementary Schools. We participated in public meetings and continue to monitor the process of the 106 review. The year ended on a high note with the announcement that Charles Colbert's Phillis Wheatley Elementary School was named to the World Monuments Fund 2010 Watch. We need to remain vigilant as the building remains at risk. The Recovery School District still fails to secure the building allowing vandalism to increase.

2010. Not only did the Saints win the Super Bowl, but the Superdome's design was recognized as an acoustical weapon for the 12th Man at home. Landmark it now!  Speaking of landmarks, the HDLC recently designated several modern buildings on Canal Street. These include the IBM/Red Cross Building(2460), Grace Episcopal Church (3700), Automotive Life Insurance Building (4140), Singer Sewing Company (4176) and Hope Mausoleum (4841).  

One of our immediate goals is to increase our presence online and on the streets. A blog, facebook and twitter are being established as a preliminary web presence. Members of Docomomo will be invited and encouraged to contribute. We also intend to focus on ways to educate the community about modernist buildings in all New Orleans neighborhoods. Currently we are working on submissions to the New Orleans Nine Most Endangered List for 2010 (due March 22, forms here). Next meeting is scheduled TUESDAY March 9 at 6 pm, Tulane School of Architecture, room 305. Hope to see you there! 

Francine Stock