A new lighthouse: brick by brick
Plans for a resurrected New Basin Canal Lighthouse call for high elevation, steel framing and other design features to help the new structure withstand future hurricanes. But getting the lakefront landmark built again will take a special type of brick, each paid for by supporters of the lighthouse cause.
The historic lighthouse was all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and since 2006 the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has been working to rebuild it as a tourist attraction and headquarters for its environmental outreach programs.
“We consider it to be the anchor for the redevelopment of the lakeshore, which isn’t coming back as fast as it could be,” says Anne Rheams, deputy director of the foundation, an advocacy agency for the 10,000-square-mile watershed that comprises the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.
The foundation’s plans would open the lighthouse to the public for the first time in its history with an interactive museum and an educational program focused on the lake region’s natural history and heritage.
The first lighthouse on the site was built in 1839 to mark the entrance of the New Basin Canal, the massive shipping channel dug at the cost of thousands of laborers’ lives and later filled in. Updated lighthouses were built on the same spot over the years, though the one Katrina destroyed dated back to the 1890s. It served as a Coast Guard station until 2000, when it was decommissioned.
Hurricane Katrina damaged the structure too badly to repair, so the foundation decided to build a new structure. They will weave salvaged historic building materials from the original into the new lighthouse to retain the same appearance of the old landmark.
The foundation leases the land for the lighthouse from the Coast Guard, and that federal ownership makes the property ineligible for FEMA reimbursement for storm damages.
“We’re solely relying on the kindness of strangers, as Blanche DuBois would say,” Rheams says. “So we’re raising all the funds from scratch, from people all around this basin area and from people around the world, really.”
The foundation’s private fundraising efforts have gathered $300,000 so far and Rheams says they need approximately $500,000 more to complete the project. The foundation has begun a campaign selling personalized bricks to be placed at the lighthouse’s entrance. The group hopes to sell 2,000 bricks for $200 each, with engraved names and messages from donors.
As fundraising continues this fall, the foundation plans to open the lighthouse to tours during construction.
For information and project updates, go to www.saveourlake.org. – I.M.