Monday, August 24, 2015

What happened on Day 300

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 5

This was the Coliseum Square Baptist Church on Camp Street in the Lower Garden District. The church dated to 1854. I took these pictures in December of 2005. Hurricane Katrina didn't do this damage, though.  The building had been derelict for some time before.  It would have to be demolished eventually after it was badly damaged by a fire the following June.

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 1

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 3

Here's a bit of post-Katrina blogging nostalgia for you.  Our friend Maitri Erwin used to be in the habit of counting each day after the flood. She got all the way up to Day 1306 when she and her husband moved away for work related reasons in 2009.  (They're frequently back in town for various events and such.)

Back on Day 300 she was lamenting the loss of the church.  Maitri's post echos concerns of local preservationists asking that the long vacant building be saved, though it's seems like the fire had made the matter a fait accompli.
One might argue that brand new development over blighted property, however historic, provides that much-needed influx of capital, but for how long? It is an egregious exercise in Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish when we turn our historic properties over to demolishers, condo developers and boxy buildings only for our city to lose its real value over time. People will not visit New Orleans to tour the former location of a church or period house, much less empty lots or modern housing which mimics any city in America in the process of gentrification.
Again, it's pretty clear that after the fire, saving the building probably wasn't an option. But the confusion and frustration on everyone's part (which was pretty typical of the time) is palpable. Brian Denzer recorded interviews with the district fire chief on the scene as well as a neighbor named Rene Padilla. Padilla sounds like he'd been involved to some degree in neighborhood efforts to save the building although he also doesn't seem to have a whole lot of good information. "Somebody's gonna build some awful looking condos there," says Padilla who is himself a transplant condo owner from California. Later in the interview he adds,  "I heard a rumor that the school next door has plans to build there right away."

Well, if that was the case, they've got a funny idea of what "right away" might mean.  I visited the spot last weekend and found an empty lot there. You can still see some of the bricks and what's left of the church's foundation.

Here's one last look at the church facade.

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 4

And here's the view from approximately the same spot on the sidewalk today.

Colisesm Square Church bricks

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