Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reality Check

929 N. Villere St. (1)

This very blighted house was approved for demolition by the HDLC (Historic District Landmarks Commission) a couple months ago. It was torn down on Sept. 27th, 2007 after sitting vacant for more than 15 years.

According to the Tax Assessor's Database, it was last transferred at a tax sale.

Sale Type: TAX
Sale Price: $ 0
Sale Date: September 25, 2004

FEMA had officially stopped doing demolitions in New Orleans back around August 5th. After about a month of lag-time, the City has gotten it together and is back on the task of removing blighted/abandoned housing in New Orleans.

929 N. Villere was a very early example of our unique Creole Cottage. However without any plans for redevelopment this building was contributing to blight in Treme.

These are a few other blighted properties demolished in the past week:


Washington Avenue Warehouse

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Big Lie, Small World*

UPDATE: Monday, Sept. 24th. My debris pile was picked up by the City in the past few days. One less thing to get depressed about today. I really needed the help at this point. I also got my household trash out at home before Team-Veronica, made it around the hood today. I got up late due to my new, wacky schedule I am trying to get used to. My needs are not that much different than the adaptive issues we had back in Oct. 2005. So today was a lucky day, or I just have learned patience? From here on out, things will be much better. No more of this nonsense, I hope. Truly, A Brand New Day, or ok, year. Six months . . . six hours? This definitely contributes to my new perspective.

Didn't stepping outside this morning feel refreshing? It was like California weather, no humidity! Likewise, things have suddenly turned a refreshing corner in regards to my being able to make personal decisions about my life rather than my life feeling like an episode of Lucha Libre for the past two years. I am restacking and counting my bricks.

We have put the Treme lot on the market. The insurance issues are clear and there being not much money to actually rebuild as it all was dumped directly into the mortgage (one reason people can't actually rebuild as they had imagined) leaves us only one option, really.

As things go in this hellbound recovery, the debris from the final clean-up of the foundation is now caught in the gap between the Army Corps' leaving and the City's taking over the task of debris removal. My neighbors suddenly are 'in touch'.

I reported my debris pile last month when we took down the foundation, which was prior to the Army Corps' official pull-out. Now, I am in a battle to get my debris picked up. The Army Corps has bailed on us after only two years.

I as an American citizen, have to beg for large garbage pick up after a Gov't Failure/Natural Disaster in America. Iraq gets an upgrade to top priority. Maybe I need to blow up my debris pile with some TNT left-over from WWII to get it picked up?? Maybe I need to crash a plane into it?? I'd love to set it afire if I hadn't really great neighbors. . . I am fed up. As they are. . . . So, I am in the queue for City pick up, but my neighbors are getting impatient. For the first year, I was so worried the Army Corps would come and clear the land without permission, now the problem has turned completely around. So there you have it ! Welcome to my existence in hell for the past two-years, in limbo with my insurance company, now in limbo for the new reality of cleanup. I am sure I am not alone in this respect. Schizo New Orleans life.

Here is Chris' email from across the street from me. It was a dud email address, so I could not respond directly to him. Chris is soon to be a father and will be relocating to a more suburban and family-friendly part of the city. I imagine he wants my lot clean before he puts his house on the market or just rents his place. He's not at all interested in raising his child in Treme.

"Laureen,I found your site through Metroblogging some time ago. Myself and several other neighbors have unsuccessfully tried to have the city pick up the trash heap that your workers left across the street from the remnants of you house. Could you have someone take care of it. I don't think that the Corps or anyone else is collecting debris from the neighborhoods. Thanks,Chris 1509 Gov"

I have contacted the QOL officer for the Treme and the 311 people who set me up in the first place. They have ALL assured me they are working on the list per the Sanitation Department on behalf of people like myself who were left in limbo. The reference No. is 201-6028. My correspondence with the agencies has been consistent and up to the minute. Stephen is getting his FEMA trailers removed as well. I happen to question the 'several' part of Chris' statement. We don't have several neighbors. At least not several who actually give a shit. We may have several if you count the guys who sit around drinking beer all day.

This is the first thing working its way out of my life at this time.

On the other end of brick restacking, I had recently thrown out a symbolic bouy to force myself to take the LSAT in an all out effort to return to my life in legal research. The perfect job here in the city seemed rather just out of grasp. So I decided it is what I really want to do and if I had to, I would go to law school to do it. I have invested many years of my life in learning and I have grown to love law libraries as a specialty.

In the simple act of throwing out this chance-riddled flare toward my own future, an opportunity of irresistable appeal was handed to me. Sometimes you only have to formally discard one thing in order to make karmic room for another thing of larger importance. I have been fortunate enough to have the option of going back to my professional field of legal research and am grateful as I can be for this critical change toward a more stable job that directly relates to my pre-K life. I have not yet recallibrated where my writing will fall into place, but I am sure it will. Frankly, I am bored to death with it right now. I am bored with observing this place. Emily has offered me one important thing about my perspectice vis-a-vis my work and writing since Katrina. A writer will write. No matter what.

Thanks to you all for your patience ~ I hope to get the debris pile is moved soon.

*Sting: Brand New Day

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Everything Counts

Lil Roger Running in Circles
My Nephew Running Circles

Because we are living at the rate of two years for every one year since Katrina in our new life of intense civic engagement in New Orleans, I am finding that blogging has been helpful. I found that I can go back to my previous posts over the last two years and see how much I have learned and what I/we have accomplished. Mostly I am shocked, because in my head, it's all a blur. I sometimes wonder if we are running in circles or making real progress. Beginning from this post Red Sticker , I learned how I know how to get solidly removed from these lists. Now, I can get a house in tax adjudication threat fixed and I have gotten houses in very precarious situations more time, so the owners can stablize them.

After working with Karen on Squandered Heritage, I am now a "List Master". Not only that, I can suggest a contractor who is an expert on these old homes and an engineer who can give you a report on-the-spot. I have successfully helped owners apply for grants for historic building repair.

Since my house was hand salvaged by Willie White, my fascination with his level of knowledge led me follow him all over this city to teach me how these houses are put together. He has taken the time to show me the learning curve about "architectural forensics". We have crawled under many of our city's oldest buildings in the last year and what I thought was new was actually old. He taught me how to evaluate a building from the bottom up.

It really gives me a shudder to look back on my post for the approach of Hurricane Katrinawhich is now just horrifyingly prescient. To compare this with that last one from when MY house was on these threatening demolition lists it's all very logical that I am now assisting my fellow residents in getting some peace of mind by negotiating the labyrinth of processes I had to overcome myself. I can read that Red List post and see how I felt so afraid and the feelings of despair I held about the whole nightmare. And now I can see what we can do !

Many thanks to Karen for creating Squandered Heritage a viable project, something truly useful that I can look at as a real, solid outcome of all this. This, on the 2nd Anniversary of this all-consuming recovery from a great disaster. We both now know, it will be many years of continued diligence before things are stable. It's been a wild ride but as I look back, it makes sense.

As we had said to one another back in October of 2005, when we were under curfew, clearing our own streets of debris, helping our neighbors gut their homes, helping our friends open their restaurants to feed our fellow residents and give them a place to meet and heal over a meal. Today, two years later, we are still hungry for any sort of information from the people who are in charge at various agencies. We are still helping people gut their homes. The saying still stands.

Everything Counts.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Salvage Online

As I begin to sell my own salvaged items from the house, I spoke to my salvager and we decided it would be smart to start a site to put architectural items online where people can browse at their leisure.

All the salvage warehouses are getting quite full with the high number of demolitions. I have begun with my own items from my salvage of my house. The hand salvage cost about 14K. This is not going to help me recoup those costs but could help find good homes for the items saved. I hope to add more content from various non-profit salvage programs in order to provide people a place to browse some of the best items online.

Hopping from salvage yard to salvage yard is very time consuming. With so much available, an online way to view them might be helpful in getting these specialty items back into commerce. My idea is that is be a clearinghouse for online architectural salvage. At least a cross-section of what is available.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Taking Inventory

Pod Inventory (9)

Last night there was another shoot out in Treme which left two dead. The City Council scandal this week, the assessor's nightmare which citizens are burden with and the general spaz de media which is about to happen because of K-2 is just making this place all the more torturous. This place is sucking the life out of everyone. It's not the heat, it's the stupidity.

Someone I know was at a family reunion last weekend and many people asked her how things were in New Orleans. She was a) aghast that they really had no clue and b) she said she could not answer that broad question.

We have resolved the insurance issue finally and now I am putting my lot on the market. I am working with Willie White to remove the foundation and flooring, which he will be able to keep thanks to his tight tarp job, a year and a half ago now.

I am taking inventory of the salvaged items in the pod so I can sell them.

Things here will improve but it will take years and years. . . I do not want to die waiting for that to happen.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


"It's a shame to be caught up in something that doesn't make you absolutely tremble with joy." - Julia Child

Rocheblave Exterior Profile West Side   P7179824

Rocheblave Interior Haunted Hallway 2   Renovation (3)

The Set

Other Things Worth a Look-See Today:

*A Very Honorable Mention from Daniel O'Neil

*David Schalliol's Isolated Buildings Series

*Please . . .

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Joe's Cozy Corner Original Facade Revealed

Joe's Cozy Corner 2005 (1)

This is Joe's Cozy Corner, where Kermit Ruffins used to hang out regularly, at the corner of N. Robertson and Ursulines in Treme. He mentions Joe's in his songs. The owner, Joe Glasper, was jailed after he shot someone outside his bar who refused to stop selling beer out of his trunk. The bar remained open while Joe was incarcerated.

In May of 2005, Joe Glasper died suddenly in jail a week before we were to close on the sale of the house which I purchased from the Glasper family. The bar has been shut since just before Katrina. There was a great Jazz Funeral for Joe. He had hosted a long history of bands in his bar and was a regular stop for all second lines. Some say had Joe not died in the jail, the family of the victim he shot would have killed him anyway.

PaPa Joe's Second Line

After Joe passed, a couple kind-hearted local women were renting the place and had been in the process of starting a food pantry/community center. They painted the bricks purple. The old shoe-shine stand which stood out front has been relocated by some full-time drinkers who hang out at St. Philip/ Clairborne Ave.

Then, in the past couple weeks, one of the people focused on renovations at the Corner of Ursulines and N. Robertson uncovered another old facade decorated with it's original advertisements. This is the second one of these in the immediate area.

N. Robertson at Ursulines in Treme (3)

Incidentally, I found another one at Marais and Independence in the New Marigny area.

Marais and Independence Gem Uncovered

More Photos

Sunday, July 08, 2007

My Life With Maggots

Gross Shit Dumped on Property (1)

For the past year or so since the storm which destroyed my renovation house in Treme I have been dutifully going out to mow my lot around the foundation that is left. I feel strongly about my duty as a good neighbor to keep it clean. Most people would pay someone to do it for them but it makes me feel connected. I used to dig doing it. I like physical work but it's just become downright depressing lately. More and more, I have to psyche myself up.

Mowing around the foundation is part of the issue. The foundation represented my determination to rebuild. It could save me a lot of money if I ever can. Right now, it's a constant reminder that insurance companies have fucked thousands of us over. I always fantasize about what could be there and long for almost any structure to be a positive message to the neighborhood of victory and committment. In Historic Treme, any property up-and-running has a big impact.

Recently, someone who lives nearby has been dumping their trash on the easement out front. Last time, a week or so ago, there was a bunch of maggot-riden fish heads in newspaper along with the usual random beer bottles and Boon's Farm castaways. I am pretty hardened to trash issues since Katrina and can scoop up maggots/roaches with the best of 'em. Today, there was a bucket put up against the fence with flies buzzing around it and a repulsive smell which is still in my nose hours later.

In the past couple weeks, in addition to the fish-head moment, I had to pick up a dead cat, which my good neighbor helped me with. It sat in the hot trash for a few days, rotting . . . stinking. After the good people at SDT picked up that horrific load, I left my 90 gallon can out to get a rain-rinse and air-out in the sun. When I went the next day to get it and rinse it with the hose, someone had put their fucking crab discards and the styrofoam container in which it was served in my trash. This now had maggots too. I thought hard about dumping it out and bagging it up properly but I am getting worn down. Finally, I just threw some bleach in there and gave up on cleaning the can properly. It has killed the live-rot and the smell. My only small consolation here is that I guess it would have been on the street if my trash can had not been there.

I mowed around the worm bucket today on Gov. Nicholls today and took some photos but it was so gross that I could not touch it. It's there now as a science experiment. They left it, they can live with the next phase of this bio-hazard.

I took some more photos of my immediate area on Gov. Nicholls in Treme and put a little narrative on the photos. For all the bad things that are back in that area, there are just as many good things. The people who were working hard prior to Katrina are stuck; Lionel is gone, my neighbor Stephen no longer around working on his house. However, the houses that were stagnant across the street and in decline turned around. (Passebonne Cottage got grant money through the African American Museum.) This could be due to insurance money doled out or not doled out.

Photos of Gov. Nicholls @ N. Villere St/ Treme

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Architectural Salvage: Rewards and Risks

Architectural Salvage has been a long tradition in New Orleans architecture. Many buildings we see now are actually the second or third structure on the original site. The current structure having been built with materials from a more modest structure which occupied the lot previously. This can make determining the age of a building a bit tricky.

The true age of a building cannot always be nailed down to a specific year, rather, it is often a twenty-year span, or period. "Architectural forensics" is the examination which is required to really see the changes that have been made to a structure over time. It requires looking at every nook and cranny of a building; one finds that doors were closed up and additions added the back, fireplaces removed, galleries once open, closed for additional living and storage.

We saw what was uncovered when this building was 'de-bricked' on Ursulines St. in this previous post regarding a Treme preservationist's forensic discovery.

To do this sort of evaluation, it is first necessary to understand the basic structures of New Orleans' homes. This book is a staple for any architecture buff in New Orleans. New Orleans Houses: A House Watcher's Guide by Lloyd Vogt. Pelican Press, 1985.

Physical Risks of Salvage: Worst Case Scenarios

The structural demise of a building is usually due to multiple issues; neglect, natural disaster, unchecked termite damage. The post-collapse review of a building teaches us a lot about how buildings stand up as well as how they fall down. There are many buildings in the city right now which are various states of fragility due to demolition work or renovation work, both of which can cause a deadly collapse in a storm. This happened just this week in the case of the two story house at 2212 Marengo Street.

2212 Marengo St. (1)

This house collapsed during a quickly developing afternoon storm which also produced lightning that caused another house in the immediate area to catch fire. The Marengo house which collapsed, was under salvage as part of a full demolition. The owner was making decisions as they worked regarding what might be saved and reincorporated into the new construction. However, the decision has now been made for them.

Basic surface salvage is sometimes called 'skimming' a house. Skimming removes inner details such as mantels, and also exterior details such as brackets and windows. In the case of Marengo, the goal was to take down and salvage as much as possible. This is much more involved than skimming. Unfortunately, the isolated afternoon storm torqued the house with a spiral wind. Thankfully, no one was hurt and none of the adjacent homes were damaged.

2212 Marengo Collapse (1)

Marengo Street House Before and After

Working Against Time

Just as in construction, there are pivotal phases of demolition/renovation that are critical and must be worked through as fast as possible before weather threatens. Preventative bracing can be built if time permits.

The expert salvager working on Marengo St. has 20 years experience doing this in New Orleans. While working on the house, his team discovered that the house had a double layer roof. A regular shingled roof was applied over the top of an old slate roof. Slate roofs are great but they are very heavy. This was an additional factor working against this home in its fragile state.

The salvage team was very close to beginning the top-down process of hand demolition on this house. Usually, the windows and main features are removed, inner details such and decorative mantles and trim. Then the salvager begins taking down the structure in a methodical fashion beginning with the roof and working down and around the building. This method ensures that the the structure remains as stable as possible while hand demolition takes place. This is the same technique used in the hand demolition/salvage of the church on Valence St. which I took many photos of as it was demolished without bulldozers in order to save the materials for the new structure.

Valence St. Church Demo

Architectural Poachers: The Dark Side of Salvage

There are some people for whom architectural salvage is big business in New Orleans. These people pay for elements which have been stripped from homes throughout our Historic Districts by random people who walk in with brackets, cornices and other cypress trim pieces. They are culprits in stealing architectural elements when they accept and pay cash for items whose ownership and provenance cannot be proven by the seller. This is very much akin to poachers who poach nearly extinct animal species in the world's quickly dwindly jungles.

There was a recent case this when a man in the Treme area who had just bought a house on Kerelec St. M. had just begun a courageous renovation of this badly damaged home when someone stole the milled headers off the windows on his house.

He sent out a plea for help to people in the preservation world who know the ropes. We pushed him to go to the various salvage stores and try to find the cornices that belonged to his house using photos he had as proof of ownership. He was successful when he got to the Bank, a known purchaser of items from architectural poachers. M. got his cornices back!

This problem has been rampant since Katrina because so many homes are left vacant and few neighbors are around to catch suspicious activity. It is also prevalent in our cemeteries and clients are often wealthy, elite scroungers from places like California.

The Bank Central City Second St. (4)

More Renovation Photos on Kerelec St. House

The widespread copper scrapping market deserves mention here because it has been devastating to homeowners since Katrina. This is not salvage, this can happen to anyone, even if your house is fully operational and you are away at work. It has been black-market hell for homeowners in New Orleans for years and a scourge since Katrina. It is not reused as pipe, it is sold to molten into new product. I wrote about this on Metroblogginglast year and it's still a problem, though, there has been a crackdown in District B.

Another new threat to our architectural heritage is the unscrupulous, selective poaching by contractors who are being paid to rebuild or renovate a home and put out bounties on a specific item they need for a particular job. Doors are particularly vulnerable and in some cases, entire blocks of houses have had their old doors stolen. Owners have had to resort to the installation of cheap, Home Depot doors which are not historically correct replacements but are stop-gap security measures. For homeowners who can't find or afford salvage materials, the Home Depot-ficiation of our historic homes is a big preservation issue you will notice only if you take a stroll down our side streets in Mid-City.

What We Know: The Value of Individual Elements

The unique cypress millwork detailing our homes is not something that can be recreated with same quality with modern material. An individual bracket can weigh 40 pounds. These pieces often survive the rest of a building's deterioration due to termites or water. When a building collapses, the millwork pieces often pop out with little damage. I found this to be the case with my own house's collapse as well as this instance at the Prytania St. demolition on Thanksgiving day, in which no formal salvage was even attempted of this 1920's structure which had some great Arts and Crafts elements worth saving.

The empty lot sits now, with a sign, pleading for lease. This demolition was done under the false premise of Katrina damages. It was in a non-flooded area surrounded by Touro Hospital, Uptown. Frankly, the owners were simply too lazy to fix the roof and get it back into commerce. The PRC agent who was there with me on Thanksgiving Day, a suspicious day for a demolition, discovered this after looking it up on

It took two weeks to demolish this building, it could not have been in bad shape. After the building was gone for a week or so, a real estate sign appeared on the vacant lot. I called them. The agent cheerfully suggested someone could put a coffee shop there. I said, "You had a coffee shop there."

I saved this piece of the archway over the door, these elements usually pop out unharmed, I asked demo man to get it out the pile for me.

Something salvagers know is that the pine flooring of New Orleans homes is often still salvageable after floods and collapse. It is in high demand as people remediate flood damage post-Katrina.

Bricks from entire masonry buildings can be reused. The bricks from fireplaces are commonly also reused. They are not only used in housing reconstruction, they are used in gardens and paved walkways.

Ironwork is reusable and very expensive to buy new. Fencing and railings can be reincorporated into new construction.

Windows with their casings are great elements to add to new construction because they add dimension to a facade and stained glasswork is particularly expensive to recreate but worth finding an artist to recreate for repair work on a mildly damaged old window.

Old doors are particularly beautiful with their detailed cypress millwork. These can run $800.00 each but are functional and add signature warmth to a house.

In the end, there is no dispute that new construction can be enhanced with original architectural elements. Remediation with salvage is arguable with your insurance company if you are in a National Historic District, most of us are. We cannot replicate the old materials/craftsmanship. Our unique building materials are finite resources. We live in a legacy. It is our responsibility to those before us to restore our homes as close as possible to their original character. We must think beyond the future but also to the past. We should follow the examples before us, using all the resources at our disposal. Once gone, they are gone forever.

Salvage Places in New Orleans: (websites are not available for all outlets)


Habitat Restore

The Green Project


Educational Links:
Louisiana Studies in Historic Preservation

Monday, June 25, 2007

When I Grow Up I Want to Be A Junkie

Today I report on the various perspectives from all over the city; Crime, Tits on Bourbon St, Econ Dev. and the privileged people Uptown, Schools, the Destruction of entire neighborhoods for Econ Dev., and Flooding problems, and the Vaccuum at the top. Let's begin with this report from Treme today:

I learned from Miss J. yesterday that her son is in jail for burlgary. She heard from a neighbor that he'd been arrested around the corner but she doesn't have any additional details. I checked it out on the sheriff's website, and sure enough, he was booked yesterday and has a bond of $35,000. Between the burglary, the looting, the crack, and his "lady friends" who come over all the time, I really hope he stays away for quite some time.

Leo is about 48 yrs old! He ain't staying in jail for more than five minutes. C'mon! Miss J., his 85 year-old Mom, will mortgage her house to keep his deadbeat ass out of jail and on our street, contributing to the drug traffic and prostitution. She just wants her son around to be with her. Is she completely oblivious to the criminal he has become? This backbone of the city's crime problem rests on this demographic. The hard-working parent gets old, the kids are in line for the roof over her head, so why work? Professional loitering.

Meanwhile in Uptown, I was at dinner with well-travelled academics last night. The land of, "It is what it is." Topics here include, art, literature, bickering with co-workers, the school system, the Third World vs our own Third World.

We need a Target in Mid-City ! We need bio-medical research facilities.Oh, but we can't get that until we fix the public schools, who in their right mind would move here? We're doomed until we address that . . thank god so-and-so got her kid into Lusher. I hear Lusher isn't really a better school, it's just a white school.

Another person text messaged me that the Swingers Convention was in town one night. The Bourbon St. titty flashing scene was ratcheted up to the idiotic frenzy that everyone thinks makes New Orleans a destination city. Meanwhile, residents in Tulane/Gravier worry about real problems. The demolition of their whole neighborhood. This email comment from one resident regarding the development of the LSU/VA hospital, while Charity Hospital sits empty.

Today's TP indicates that the Governor has figured out a way to go ahead with the project with the size and scope that she wants. I have only one question. If we have at least a year before we start being bought out and some of the decision will have to made by the next Governor, I can go on with my life and plans for my house as if this is not a huge factor. If something is going to happen in a matter of months then I am forced to stay in limbo.

Regarding basic, inner city flooding problems, here is how we are left to deal with serious issues in the city. This email was sent by a well-meaning citizen regarding the problem of Carrollton Ave Flooding under the I-10 overpass, which is shut down in moderate rain due to flooding. It's actually becoming laughable.

Most of us have spent the last 12 to 18 months and our resources(IRA'S,Insurance,etc.) to get back into our homes and will standstill for contiued mistreatment. As discussed with the Mayor during our ACORN meeting, the Recovery Office should handle this because it was a high priority in district A during UNOP. During last weeks city-council meeting with the Recovery Office Ms.Midura spoke to how we had been under-represented and needed help to find a resolution. Hopefully ACORN, AAPR and Amercore will not have to put down sandbags for this storm season(approx 125,000 bags for 3ft wall).There are better and faster long-term fixes than what S&WB has planned. Will keep you informed on progress.

Sandbags? How about tying them around my ankles? This is all laughable.

The mayor refuses to fund NORA to get this critical agency up and moving. The Mayor's office of MIT turned down a new system of reporting and tracking issues residents report such as potholes, leaks in sewerage lines, etc. They opted to stay with the 311 system of calling in such problems. I thought that was a temporary system? You can't follow up on problems you report. The proposed system would have given you a way to check the disposition of any issue. I guess one of the mayor's buddies runs that piece-of-shit 311 phone 'system' which requires more of the donut-eating, deadbeat manpower New Orleans is famous for.

What remains to be seen are how the IG (Inspector General) and OIM (Office of Independent Monitor, which will monitor the 'police' force) offices work or how long before the leaders in these new offices get assassinated . . .

It's as if we are trying our best to destroy the city, not rebuild it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

De Signing Treme

Today M. and I went out to post the flyers for the HFTA (Historic Faubourg Treme Association) general meeting and we started pulling down these stupid plastic advertising signs as we went along. Then we really got possessed. We took down over 50 signs in our immediate area from Claiborne to Rampart, Basin to St. Bernard.

M. had this curtain rod in the back of her car that came in handy as well as fold up stool which we needed to get the really high ones. It was hot and she was bionic in her sandals and skirt. We got a plenty of "yeah, you right!" Hollers.

We also talked to a man who stopped to ask us what we were doing. An African American guy from Lakeview who just is puzzled about the lack of City recovery work going on, grass, and maintenance kinda stuff. We said we are all taxed to battle the quality of life issues ourselves here and we must be determined. He said he didn't know if he wanted to come back to an area with no people. We said he should consider moving into the areas that are more populated.

Then, he took out a cough drop. Then he dropped the paper on the ground, M. said, "Hey!" We laughed, because it was so small, sure. He agreed, it is at that level that those of us who are living here ( he is still stuck in Texas) must care. We encouraged him to work with his Councilwoman to address his concerns, and to keep the faith.

PS: There is an ordinance on the books prohibiting these types of signs and our neighborhood signs biodegrade. Spend more time reading the Municiple Code and less Blogs.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I Know More Than I Knew Before

We have reached a pretty solid plateau of recovery. The furrow in my brow can't get any deeper. Some things are really improving in New Orleans. They are. I am a problem solver, so I tend to focus on areas still in need of improvement. But we are reaching a tipping point. Some things are not going be fixed and will continue to get worse. We will continue to have new problems. FEMA is now selling the temprorary trailers to owners for $680.00. They are now, officially, part of our permanent landscape. Good luck trying to get rid of them down the line. Well, until we get a rough round of 80 mph winds . . .

Given this shift in perspective it is time to evaluate and adjust our social habits that have been a reflexive push and pull for active citizens over the past year of rebuilding. Remember, we live in Pajama Town, and it's summer and it's hot. The social paradigm of New Orleans is to move around as little as possible. It makes you sweat. Try to enjoy it.

I have put some behavioral observations/tips in one list. I am sure it's not complete.

1) Insert yourself into any given process at the proper time. Too many meetings/chefs will kill your libido.

Set a deadline for actions to be complete. Go do it. Send an update when you get back from the latest festival or fishing trip.

2) No more meetings on short notice when there is no real emergency. What is with this and how did it begin happening?

Look, meetings and booty calls are two different things. Stop getting them confused.

3) Do you know why you did not know? Because you did not ask! Knowing what you don't know is a big part of problem solving. Try to think beyond this very moment fill in the gaps of the larger picture with practical and targeted questions and some research. Be useful.

4) Practice not caring. Say it daily. Even if you really do care, just say you don't. Repeat after me: I do not care about the bubbling puddle of water in your block. I do not care about the latest political fuckup. I do not care if the city floods. This simple exercise will help you keep things in the proper perspective of where you actually live and bring your rage down to a manageable level. I know you care mostly about yourself, but c'mon, everything has a limit.

5) Chat can be a great alternative to a 'meeting'. Twitter, however, is just evil.

6) Now is the time to wean yourself off the meds. Now that things have calmed down around here, your false reality is becoming more noticeable. Start stockpiling them, you'll be immediately useful during Katrina II. Keep paddling. It's working.

7) Leave the city at regular intervals. Someone had to pound this into my head and it's really good advice. I know from reading Tolstoy, that feedback is a good thing. In fact, now seems to be a good time to rest up for the next big thing. Pack your insurance papers.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Safari

Monday. Rainy. I am looking at the paperwork for our Fiduciary Agreement with CityWorks, I also mowed the grass before it started raining. My list today includes e-mailing my FEMA Debris and Demo contact to get some properties removed from their demo list because they don't meet the proper criteria. Donna Addkison couldn't seem to give the Housing and Human Needs Committee a straight answer about taking care of this last week. So I am doing research on the properties, pulling the seams. The list given to us from the city had Army Corps spelled, "Army Core". I am fortunate because I get to do this while at home, making beef tips, answering random e-mails from readers and drinkin a Fresca.

N.O. housing efforts are criticized;Council members say gutting order failing

Yesterday, I spent half the day with R., our young Squandered Heritage contributor. Sunday mornings are the best days for photo safaris because there are a lot less people pulling up behind you while you are stopped in the middle of the street staring at stuff.

I set R. up with a camera at Christmas and he started taking photos a couple months later. K. and I got him onto Flickr and then he was rolling. K. got him set up to post, she's the editor, and now R. goes out and gets the photos faster than I can read the damn lists! He's enthusiastic, or maybe he's just bored. His contribution has been a big help lately as K. and I have been doing a lot more 'other' stuff. R. is funny, he knows a lot of random shit. He knows about the churches in the city, which is helpful to me, because this has been a blind spot in my knowledge. R. is always excited about anything "Antebellum" on our architecture tour. He is always asking me what I think other people or committee THINK about things . . . I explain that this is kinda hard to do but you can often guess. . . or just ask them.

R. and I explored some really bad areas in town that R. was amazed by, due to the fact that they are almost wastelands but people are living there, in their FEMA trailers. We wanted to evaluate these areas together and just checked on some 'situations' around town to see the latest developments. We saw Leo at the Culvert, who was another topic at the Housing and Human Needs committee meeting on Thursday. R. was properly freaked by Leo. But you can drive through on Magazine, well, you could on Sunday. Another thing on our safari agenda was to get some photos of addresses where Jazz Musicians used to live, we're making a new blog dedicated to that. We'll see how it goes.

At two points on our safari, we got stuck by the trains. We saw a guy walk up to and climb over the connectors between two cars, so he could cross the tracks while that train was moving through at a snail's pace. We laughed because the guy did this while talking on his cell phone. R. tells me about a giant molasses disaster that happened once in Boston. It so happens that my sister's job is shipping molasses by train/boat.

Part of the deal for this week's field trip was that R. had to get that Flickr organized because it's really easy for the photo situation to get out of control. R. says I am a drill sergeant.

R.'s Flickr

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Preservation Triage

This is a post I originally posted to

On the drive back from NC today, I got a call. I have to attend a hearing tomorrow morning to save this structure from the wrecking ball. Again. There is a spiritual sense regarding my return and fragile properties. I was not surprised. Last time I came back, the Apricot St. house was mistakenly demolished, and I had this sense to call Karen, "check on Apricot". Sure 'nuf, it was gone. Due to an error on the part of Tony Faciane, which I later learned through documents we obtained from an RFPI. Apricot St. was our sacrificial lamb and the lessons we learned in that case gave us the confidence to work harder to avoid marginal mistakes.

This little house on N. Robertson had been on the imminent danger list last year because it's in a bad way. However, Miss N. and her husband bought it after the storm along with some other properties in the immediate area of N. Robertson and Ursulines. They have already stabilized and redone most of the properties they assumed in this very high risk block and have made an enormous impact with other investors, including Gladys Marigny and Scott Veazey, two well known historic renovators in Treme. The first thing they did was remove the damaged roof from 1114 N. Robertson in order to stop further deterioration. It has become a race against time.

I jumped through all kinds of hoops to get this off the Army Corps' Red Sticker list last year, getting an engineer's report and submitting all the necessary insurance paperwork to City Hall to help save it from demolition. That effort was a success.

Before Katrina it was on the market for a mere 30K and I even gave serious thought to buying it myself but I went ahead with the very large Gothic Eastlake on Gov. Nicholls instead. So this house speaks to me. Miss N. and her husband are going to rebuild it, it's in the queue of their projects in this area of critical mass in Historic Treme. As many people know, N. Robertson has been the core problem crime street for Treme. Before the storm, some of the properties here were simply not for sale. After the storm, the Bynums took advantage of their respected position in Treme to acquire some essential properties with the collective goal of bringing the area up out of its slum state. Chrabonnet funeral home is one property that backs up on this block and has been completely and beautifully renovated. It's an historically important anchor in Historic Treme, home to many landmark Jazz funerals and is now fueling this larger effort toward an architectural rennaissance on N. Robertson and Ursulines St.

I got a call on the way home today that it's on the docket for the Good Neighbor adjudication process for 9 am tomorrow, and N. has to attend a meeting for Women of the Storm so I am going to the hearing, to, yet again, rally hard for giving them every opportunity to get this property back into commerce.

It's brick between post makes it unique because even though it looks bad, the walls are only supporting themselves and can be saved. It probably dates to the mid-to-late 1800's and brick between post construction is unique to the quarter and Treme, so it's worth the all-out effort to save whatever we can. Furthermore, it doesn't post imminent danger to any structure in the immediate vicinity, making triage completely worth the effort.

So this is my welcome home. . . I will attend the hearing on the owners behalf. They have a construction crew working their way to this, fragile structure. Having been through this process, I am confident I can buy them some time. We know, with storm season upon us, time is now of the utmost.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Of Old Men and Young Boys

I forget that my Father is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was my Dad but he was also a veteran of the Vietnam War. I was looking to see if there was a directory of burials at National Cemetery. There is, but it's hidden in the Veterans Affairs website.

My father was drafted just after I was born, he was fortunate to make it back from Vietnam, he flew choppers on reconnaissance and sprayed agent orange which earned him a Purple Heart. After being back in civilian life for about ten years, my father contracted cancer from those chemical defoliation missions and was part of the lawsuit that the government weaseled their way out of. The texture of our lives changed dramatically for the next many years, always aware of the reality of days quickly dwindling.

Discussing my Father's last wishes became casual and matter-of-fact. Our family disagreed with his insistance on being buried so far away in Washington,D.C. We whined that it wasn't necessary to validate his courage, we preferred him to be close to home. We voiced our attitude regarding the Government, but he really felt like the Government owed him at least this much.

Military funerals are very moving and majestically beautiful, but I refuse to romanticize it. It's a dead body garden, of war. No amount of ceremony makes up for the suffering and the waste of lives of young men brainwashed by the selfish greed and poisonous pride of angry old men.

Cockade City

I haven't been able to get Petersburg,Virginia out of my mind for the past two years. One day, in about 2005, while driving from D.C. to NC, my companion pointed out that there was this town that seemed to have a lot of old houses he could see from the highway. Being curious, we had to stop. The town was almost a ghost town. All we could see in street after street were drug dealers. Where were all the people? This small community is a charming underdog of a city with a remarkable Victorian housing stock. Due to severe economic depression, much of this grand and elegant architecture has fallen into a blighted and marginal state. The affluent population seems to have moved down the road a piece to where the big-box growth is at the next highway exit.

Since submerging myself in the task of recording damage/blighted property in New Orleans since Katrina, this town has been on my mind for the quality and quantity of blighted properties to be found as well as the social phenomenon of property abandonment.

When something grabs my brain like this, I can only reconcile it by going to see for myself, to set the record straight in my mind. After two years, I was looking to see if; a) it was as good/bad as I had decided in only a drive-thru visit the first time and b) to see if the city had rebounded from its bleak state and if not. . . if not, how could it be worse?! If it was improving, could we learn anything that we could apply to the severe problems in New Orleans? Yesterday, I spent the entire day feverishly examining the architecture and layout of Petersburg, VA. Having given, literally about a hundred tours of New Orleans, I have learned how to crash-course myself in a new city.

I was encouraged to see that Petersburg is making great strides today. The real saving grace for poor little Petersburg is its history. Similar to New Orleans, in 1860, Petersburg claims to have had the highest percentage of free men and women in the slave holding states of the Confederacy and the Union.

Architecturally, Petersburg is the steward to a precious stock of antebellum masonry buildings in it's Old Town area near where the once reknowned port provided steady economic stimulation. At the center is a hexagonal market which was shuttered upon my last visit. It is now being conserved, as are many buildings in Old Town.

The Old Blandford Church, built in 1735, was closed and left to blight after a new church was built in 1791. This church has the distinction of being one of only a few churches whose entire program of stained-glass windows was completely designed and conceived by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Each window depicts a Saint for each of the States who voluntarily sponsored their own window to honor the soldiers from their region who died for the Confederate cause in the Civil War. Even more compelling for New Orleans, is that the Louisiana window was commissioned, not by the state, as is the case with S. Carolina, N. Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. New Orleans' window commission was proposed with the stipulation that it be presented by the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, a private elite organization. Thus, as we often feel in New Orleans, though we are a city, in many ways, we are our own state. Washington Artillery Park is located on Decatur St., next to Cafe Du Monde.

Also of note, the Memorial Day fashion of rememberance, the decorating of graves of fallen soldiers, was said to have begun by Nora Maury, here in the cemetery of Blandford Church, the shrine to Confederate Soldiers. Here, June 9th is the city's own memorial decoration day, commemorating the Siege of Petersburg. There is a lot more to learn from Petersburg, I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon it. New Orleans' own historical contribution is much greater, we must continue to find a graceful balance to expand on how we can teach visitors about this history through our architecture. Oh, and though they have so much blight, they also have those giant garbage cans.

A large factor fueling the current preservation progress in Petersburg may be its location. It is located only 110 miles from Washington, DC, an enormous economic engine. Also important, the Virginia-based Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities was the United States' first statewide historic preservation group, founded in Richmond.

Flckr Photo Set

Friday, May 25, 2007

Emotional Equations

The ability to generalize about things is often considered one of the great human attributes. As someone actually said to me yesterday, from the safe and the normal conditions in Kansas City, MO, one can easily generalize the emotional equation of life in New Orleans into a collective wallowing. She was, "Crocheting clothing for trolls."

Anyway, it's an easy default to meet this collective dismissive with collective anger. Collective anger eliminates the feelings helplessness and abandonment by exchanging it for a moribound sense of community. Feelings of abandonment and distrust flourish in situations where someone really has been humiliated, cheated, or insulted. This was affirmed yesterday in the Senate Subcommittee hearing, our Government is less than willing to assist the citizens of New Orleans beyond the current anemic level of allocation. Yet, today, the Senate passed Bush's Military spending bill without any timeline for ending the cash guzzling quagmire. We will continue to shovel money into the war in Iraq, which was largely based on lies, just as we have for the last five years. It's somewhat sinister that this military spending bill includes $17 billion in unrelated domestic spending, with considerable portions earmarked for rebuilding infrastructure in New Orleans. It seems, that rather than giving money to people to rebuild their homes, it was ok to hand it to Bush's big buddy contractors and banks.

Our real, long-term, heightened state of insecurity is exhausting on its own. But it looks like we are going to continue to be hostages to Bush's Terror Nation mentality, so he can continue to pipeline cash to his friends.

It turns into emotional trigonometry. The best thing we might do is to try to keep the equation linear. We need to remind ourselves that anger is often rooted in fear. Fear is often based on some 'unknown' which ultimately results in zero sums for us on the ground. After another nine months, citizens in New Orleans seem to be locked in a long series of unknowns. Our life in variables. At the beginning of another hurricane season.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


In a situation where one thing has collapsed and something new does not yet exist, many people feel hollow and frustrated. This state is fertile ground for phenomena such as scapegoat-hunting, radicalism of all kinds, and need to hide behind the anonymity of a group whether socially or ethnically based. It encourages hatred of the world, self-affirmation at all costs, the feeling that everthing is now permitted, and the unparalleled flourishing of selfishness that goes along with this. It gives rise to the search for a common and easily identifiable enemy, to political extremism, . . . to a carpetbagging morality, stimulated, by the historically unprecedented restructuring of property relations, and so on and so n. -Havel

It is hard to imagine we could live in a world so instantly connected to up-to-the-minute events and yet still feel so isolated. So left behind. I watched citizens from New Orleans testifying today to the Disaster Recovery Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., begging for more funding and expedited processes from the Road Home. Residents did their best to explain with dignity how their lives, without using the word, were ruined. They were still waiting. Waiting for real hope or waiting for Godot? As Havel says, there are different kinds of waiting.

Citizens struggled today to connect the human and moral element of politics. To make up for lost time. To overcome years of convenient separation from politicians by the mass media. Today in front of the committee, citizens of New Orleans struggled to speak. If you have not lost your home, your spouse, job, you have heard thousands of stories of your neighbors who have. You have helped them to manage as they rebuild. Or you have stood by them as they waited.

It was a difficult to watch our citizens being forced to 'sell' their sorrow on tv to convince politicians to allocate more money to the program while ICF officials, who also testified, reside in criminal comfort.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In Over Our Heads

Alright four readers. Go get ya a Guiness and sit down. This is bad news, unless you're just in New Orleans to exploit us for a story . . . you know, it's so exciting.

Matt McBride is leaving. Matt McBride, author of Fix The Pumps is the person who has been watchdogging the Army Corps since last year to be sure they do the work they promised. The work necessary for this city to survive. Matt McBride was sort of my only hope. When I found out I was nauseous, Karen, my partner on Squandered Heritage felt faint. For days we had this ominous feeling we couldn't shake. Without a functioning drainage system, which depends, not just on the popular and overused L-word, but heavily on the floodwalls which line our drainage canals and our mammoth pumping system, we are, uh, fucked. Nothing matters. I do not need to explain the necessity of monitoring the Army Corps.

Last night there was a meeting of a small group of citizens to try to reorganize behind him, to keep his work going. At least to focus on one major issue at a time. Matt sent out an 800 lb reading list (aka Head Explosion) today and some Actions for the Field Work:

National Historic Register nomination study of S&WB pump stations

USACE Project Information Report for rehab of outfall canals;
Revision 1

Revision 2

Revision 3

Revision 4

USACE PIR for rehab of Orleans Parish Pump Stations

IPET report, final version, chapters 5 and 6 (including sections of appendices dealing with Orleans Parish failures)

Team Louisiana final Katrina report

NSF-sposored Katrina investigation, based out of Cal-Berkeley

FEMA-sponsored study of flood mitigation in Broadmoor, as well as
other documents available at UNO Floodhelp portal

Every entry on my blog (including everything I've linked to)

Every entry on thread titled "Thanks Flood Advocacy!" on discussion board.

Floodgates Operating Manual

View my September PowerPoint presentation (requires free PowerPoint viewer,available at Microsoft's website), which, while it is wildly out of date, still contains important introductory information.

Read sections of Broadmoor and UNOP plans dealing with flood mitigation

I would estimate this as at least two weeks of solid reading, but
probably more like a month.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sofa Citizens

The sad truth is, the city has been in a bad state for the last 40 years and while the post-K landscape seemed like a good time to change the way things had been, as we all can see, this is not going happen. That's the truth. This is a provencial town and will never change. It doesn't matter how many meetings are held. The BS stays the same. Just look at the elections--everyone except 3 people are from the old guard. People don't want things to change here.

-- Anon

Is it necessary, at times, to practice indifference to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals? . . . Indifference elicits no response. Of course, indifference can be tempting - more than that, seductive. . . A blur between light and dark. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
-- Elie Wiesel

Three new people on the Council is rather courageous in an unstable environment. There have been other changes; Levee Board eliminated, Assessor Consolidation passed, Wetlands funding is gaining steam on the Hill, Criminal Justice Reform movements are being formalized. Will we get an Inspector General too? And don't forget your new garbage cans.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush Smackdown Gaining Momentum

Here in NC, I am on a research and writing retreat, cleaning house. It's good to leave to gauge how things look from outside the hot-zone of desperation. I am catching up on what's happening here in this very progressive mid-size city of 193,755 people. While Winston-Salem is often overshadowed by it's larger nearby 'twin', Greensboro. Winston-Salem is a college town, it offers a much more tranquil balance. W-S is the home of the North Carolina College of the Arts, the first state-supported school of its kind in the nation. It's also the home of the prestigious private liberal arts university, Wake Forest. Because of this W-S is very diverse for it's size and also has a great medical/teaching facility. Wake Forest University Baptist Center And it's clean. And I haven't heard gunshots nor sirens in a week . . .

One thing I saw was a handmade sign on the main drag that said MOMS Against War. There seems to be a fairly well organized anti-war movement around here and from the photos, looks like they have not overlooked Bush's failure in New Orleans and are using it as leverage. Wow, imagine THAT !

North Carolina World


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Straddling Success

It's pretty unreal that I have been so behind in this blog but time in New Orleans moves in such jerks and starts and too many people pull me in too many directions. When I have had time, I have been writing for Metroblogging. The bottom line is that I am tired and beginning to feel pretty jacked around in every respect, like most people who have been here since Oct. 2005. No one here knows what they are doing, they have no experience in rebuilding a city. So they focus on their own specialization, make their own best contribution. All talents are valuable here these days. Well, not necessarily cash valuable. Good jobs are not easy to come by. Everyone is full of angst here and I am pretty damn happy right now to perhaps fall back on this to publish my own interests rather than material for a specifically defined topic. In other words, no one actually reads it.

In the past few months, I have had some great opportunities to write and also to meet some very talented writers. I have been asked to also contribute an Op-Ed to the Times Picayune on the state of demolitions in New Orleans.

Here's the text of my assignment:

I check in on Squandered Heritage occasionally, and was struck by the thought-provoking essay on Richard Nickel. I wanted to invite you to write something for the op-ed page on why it's important to preserve our architecture, including seemingly ordinary private homes, here. I think some people look at these houses and don't see anything special. Then there are houses that appear to be falling down, or were badly damaged in the flood.

The exact treatment wouldn't work for our op-ed page, since Nickel was from Chicago and the long passages quoted aren't ideal for us. It would need to be local, personal, about 600-700 words long and to argue a point. I am not really sure how you'd get into this topic, except to say that a Point of View is just that: Your point of view, hinging on your experience. Perhaps you could start with an account of watching a house be demolished, or one restored. Perhaps you could describe the death of Richard Nickel in explaining your work documenting the vanishing architectural heritage of N.O.

We can include a photo and certainly a mention of the Web site. The writing on is very strong, so I feel you'd be up to the challenge, if it's something you think you'd like to do.

Unfortunately we don't pay for guest commentary, but we do find that guest op-eds stimulate discussion on the issues. I understand you're probably very busy, but consider it an open invitation if you don't have time right now!

Thanks for your consideration and I hope to hear from you soon!

Annette Naake Sisco