Municipal Auditorium & Armstrong Park Jazz Complex Buildings Sustain Damage From Hurricane Ida

The four almost 200 year-old historic buildings in Armstrong Park along with the Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Ida, according to the Save Our Soul (SOS) coalition which has been opposing the relocation of City Hall to the auditorium.

“The damage that Hurricane Ida inflicted to the Municipal Auditorium and adjacent buildings further intensifies the necessity to take City Hall’s proposed relocation to Armstrong Park completely off the table and instead move quickly to remediate the damage,” said Ausettua Amor Amenkum, SOS co-chair.

Though Armstrong Park has been officially closed since the storm, SOS coalition member Leo Watermeier was able to gain access and provided a first-hand account of the damage. “Hurricane Ida’s winds really did a number on the Auditorium’s roof. From the French Quarter side, it’s easy to see that more of the protective covering has peeled back exposing the plywood undercoat,” said Watermeier.  The storm also brought in considerable rain through dozens of broken windows.

Watermeier saw extensive damage as well to the four historic buildings that make up what is known as the Jazz Complex. “At Perseverance Hall, the damage is mostly confined to the roof and blown-out windows,” he explained. But the adjoining structure known as the Kitchen Building, which was the home to WWOZ radio for almost 25 years, might need to be rebuilt.  The second floor back wall is gone as well as the large window in what used to be the station’s studio. A tree fell on the Rabasso-de Pouilly House. The extent of damage overall is not yet clear. The Reiman House probably had the least among of damage but still needs repairs to the roof and new handrails.

Perseverance Hall was built in the 1820’s and fully renovated several decades ago. It was last used by the National Park Service as classroom space for a children’s music program. The Kitchen Building was completed as an annex to Perseverance Hall in the 1830’s. The 1880’s Reiman House was relocated to Armstrong Park from Mid-City as part of the vision of architect Robin Reilly whom the City hired to design Armstrong Park. Reilly had the courtyard wall build to make the Reiman House part of the compound. Reilly truly care about his work and never received the recognition he deserved.

The Rabasso-de Pouilly House was also constructed in the 1820’s and named in part for the Paris-born celebrated antebellum architect Jacques Nicolas Bussiere de Pouilly. He designed the St. Louis Exchange Hotel, St. Augustine Church, the Colored Waif’s Home and the current St. Louis Cathedral. In addition, de Pouilly was well known for his designs of high-style tombs for wealthy New Orleans families and benevolent organizations. Most are located in St. Louis Cemetery #2. De Pouilly resided in the Rabasso-de Pouilly House and died there in 1875.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has consistently turned down requests from SOS to tour the building’s interior, citing safety reasons. “Hurricane Ida is another reason why the Cantrell Administration should not relocate to the Municipal Auditorium. The damages keep racking up and City Hall doesn’t seem to care,” said SOS Cheryl Austin, Greater Treme Consortium.

Treme stakeholders are concerned that the Cantrell Administration has not conducted the damage assessments of the auditorium and the jazz complex buildings to initiate the necessary insurance claims which could provide funding for repairs. They fear that another storm might hit New Orleans this season and further damage the structures. All these buildings should be candidates for FEMA’s Blue Roof program.

“It is with increased dismay that we see the destruction that Hurricane Ida has brought to our historic Armstrong Park Complex. The valuable park structures that remain are in immediate danger of further ‘demolition by neglect.’ This is a failure of numerous Administrations to protect these integral architectural gems that are an important part of the history and founding of our City. We should act now to prevent their further deterioration,” said SOS member Glade Bilby II, President, French Quarter Citizens.

It’s expected that stakeholders will be contacting Mayor Cantrell and the Council with another request to inspect the properties as well as to review any written damage assessments.

In the 1960’s Mayor Victor Schiro considered the Treme neighborhood undesirable and had much of it razed to create land for a cultural center. Though the cultural center concept was never completed as originally envisioned, Armstrong Park was built.  “With all the demolition that took place in Treme during the 1960’s, it’s amazing that there is not a concerted effort by the City to preserve these four remaining buildings,” Watermeier concluded.

Mayor Cantrell has expressed an interest in relocating City Hall to Armstrong Park for several years now. FEMA provided $38 million in funding to repair the auditorium after Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. Only temporary repairs to the roof have been made since that time. Earlier this year, Cantrell issued a request for professional services with responses due in early October.

She also offered SOS an opportunity to present their vision for the Municipal Auditorium but insisted that a committed funding source be included in their presentation. The SOS proposal is also due in early October. Cantrell said she had no funds or resources available to assist SOS in their planning process. Yet other major New Orleans parks are currently conducting joint planning exercises paid for with federal funds.

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