The Third Annual Renaissance Awards
New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans honor six renovations — three homes and three businesses — that celebrate the new while respecting the old.
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228 Poydras St.
Harrah’s is generally associated with glitz, glamour, money –– not historic preservation. But when the company decided to convert the historic building it had previously used as office space, it did so with an eye toward preserving architectural integrity.
“Harrah’s acquired the 528 S. Peters building along with the other properties on the block in 1994,” says Patrick Maher, director of facilities for Harrah’s. ”When we built our hotel at 228 Poydras St., it backed up to the 528 building. … We made it into a really nice commercial space that flows right into the hotel.”
The greatest challenge, he says, was maintaining the foundation stability of the 528 building while excavating and driving pilings for the hotel. “There was a great deal of remedial structural work done to protect the historic building,” he says. “It is now firmly supported by the extension of the hotel’s foundation.”
The original design called for the first floor to be used as a jazz and blues music club called 528 that was connected to the Riche Restaurant. After Riche became Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the former club was converted to dining space.
“It still has a very different atmosphere from the main portion of Ruth’s Chris with the brick walls and exposed beams in the ceiling,” Maher says.
The bar from 528 was kept in operation in Ruth’s Chris, and the space is frequently used as a private meeting room.
The second floor of the 528 building houses the Ruth’s Chris and Harrah’s Hotel offices, and the third floor of the 528 building aligns with the second floor of the hotel and is used as office space that includes the hotel’s business center and the Satchmo Room, one of many meeting rooms in the hotel. “The Satchmo Room is used by our hotel guests as a small meeting room, again with a totally different atmosphere from our other rooms,” Maher says.
“Harrah’s has weekly meetings in this room for our Continuous Improvement Department.”
Maher is proud of the work that Harrah’s has done to keep the historic integrity of the 528 building intact.
He does, however, miss the old 528 club: “It was a real one-of-a-kind operation on Fulton Street and had an excellent local following during its short operation.”
But he’s not living in the past; he’s excited about the present and the future. “The Ruth’s Chris dining room is still an excellent use for the space and offers a completely different experience for private parties,” he says. “It is frequently used for private parties by the New Orleans Saints players.”
The Mid-City Yacht Club
440 S. St. Patrick St.
Ben Markey and his wife, Stefanie, knew it would be a labor of love when they purchased a Katrina-ravaged building on St. Patrick Street in 2006. Their project would eventually become the Mid-City Yacht Club, a welcoming bar with friendly bartenders and a spirited, loyal clientele.
During a game of pool one evening, Ben met Jeremy Sauer and his wife, MJ, a couple who had renovated their own home in Mid-City post-Katrina. “We were forming a friendship, and he began bouncing ideas about his bar renovation off me,” says MJ, who works in real estate. The Sauers paid a visit to the Markeys’ work
“We got really excited about the project,” MJ says. “Ben and Stefanie had come to see our house and our progress.”
They liked what they saw, and the Markeys asked the Sauers to join them as partners.
“We all agreed that with our corner store location, we wanted a great neighborhood bar that looked as though it had always been just the way we built it,” MJ says.
Before the storm, the building had been in a bit of a ‘70s time warp, though it was originally built sometime around the 1920s. “The place was a mess after Katrina, and it looked as though it had very little character before,” MJ says.
“We had decided on our carpenters, T. Reese and Michael Hirsch –– very talented carpenters who specialize in dealing with historic building materials.”
The Mid-City Yacht Club combines the best of old architecture with state-of-the-art technology. The renovation took about six months, and it involved a complete “gut job” downstairs that included all new plumbing and HVAC and electrical work. Many of the building materials were salvaged; all of the trim work was done with reclaimed wood. “Our carpenters were constantly coming back to the bar with door trim or other treasures found in trash piles that we could reuse,” MJ says. “One of their biggest finds was a bunch of old doors that had been put in Dumpsters from the old funeral home on Canal Street. They were painted, but when we stripped them and saw they were cypress, we felt like we had found gold.” The cypress was used as a wainscot around the exterior walls of the bar as well as on the main bar. The Sauers’ old wood floors from their flooded home compose the ceiling and the bar top.
Jeremy handled the new low-voltage wiring, including all of the speakers for the bar’s nine high-definition televisions, which he also calibrated. Ben and MJ handled the day-to-day operation of finding carpenters and tradesmen, decision-making and selection of materials. Stefanie implemented the finishing touches, such as the nautical-themed décor.
Now the bar (whose name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that, during the flood, it was technically waterfront property) is popular among locals and has even helped revitalize the neighborhood. Its location is adjacent to the city-owned St. Patrick Park, which hosts kickball, soccer and softball games (among other pick-up sports), and the owners have helped improve the park by installing nets to keep softballs from going over
the sound wall and by replacing light poles and lights –– “whatever we can do to help keep it going,” MJ says.
“After a long day, people like to come into a place where the bartenders know what they want to drink, where the drinks are reasonably priced and ice-cold. It’s a place where everybody knows each other, a real neighborhood bar and a great place to watch any game.”
840 Tchoupitoulas St.
Joey and Carol Logreco had a clear vision in mind when they chose to renovate the historic space located at 840 Tchoupitoulas St. and transform it into wine bar, restaurant and cigar lounge Bouche. “We had three main goals,” Joey says. “The first was to keep the two perimeter exposed brick walls as focal points. They are simply beautiful.
The second was to limit the alterations to the historic front wall. The third was to ensure that the residential condominiums above us were not disturbed by the operation of Bouche.”
Beyond the practical and preservationist aspects of their renovation were a strong creative force and a personal touch. Carol says the couple incorporated their experiences into the new space. “We have taken a culmination of things that we’ve seen and done and been to throughout our lives,” she says. “Both my husband and I have traveled extensively –– to New York, Europe, San Francisco. They are fond memories of ours.”
As anyone who’s attempted a renovation knows, such undertakings are never simple. “Because the only exterior wall to the building was the historic front wall, which we truly did not want to disturb (and there is a unit directly above us), it was extremely difficult to bring the needed air into the building while venting air out of the building,” Joey says. “Additionally, the developer had not installed a relief vent for the restrooms, so we were challenged with getting air into the building for the HVAC system and air out of the building [for] venting; kitchen exhaust; cigar room exhaust, which we were unable to accomplish; and restroom venting.”
He says his favorite feature of the building is the Old World cellar. “Granted, it is not part of historic New Orleans, but it clearly is a great replication of a European cellar from the 1700s that those who had developed and designed the original buildings of New Orleans would have been most familiar with,” he says. “While it was a challenge to ensure the design of the Old World cellar was authentic, the actual implementation of the brick arched ceiling combined with brick arched wine storage bins that mysteriously open to hidden rooms took some not-often-used techniques.”
Despite the inevitable difficulties and challenges, the Logrecos finally saw their project to its completion with the opening of Bouche. As for his favorite step of the renovation, Joey “enjoyed the framing of the walls the most, for it is at this time the ideas and dreams spent in the laborious planning stage take form and come to life.” Carol’s favorite part, however, was not an actual step in the renovation process but rather “seeing the finished product, seeing it come to life because it’s a vision we had,” she says.