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New Orleans has always been an eclectic mix of historic architecture and neighborhoods, but it would be a drastically different city without the dedicated work of the Preservation Resource Center (PRC). The PRC is committed to the preservation of New Orleans’ historic architecture and unique neighborhoods. Patricia “Patty” Gay, the former Executive Director of the PRC, and Maria Pardo Huete, past Junior League of New Orleans President and current Director of Development and Community Relations at the PRC, are key resources in getting the scoop on the PRC’s journey from JLNO project to a pillar of our community.
The PRC was founded in 1974 in response to rampant bulldozing of historic buildings throughout the city, as well as an attempt to build an elevated Riverfront Expressway through the French Quarter. Concerned community volunteers started the Building Watchers Tours in 1973 with funding from the Junior League of New Orleans. The tours had trained guides who led monthly tours into different historic neighborhoods around New Orleans: however, the tours alone were not creating the impact JLNO felt was necessary to preserve our communities. Realizing the need for more sustained impact these volunteers went back to the Junior League and petitioned to get the funds to hire a full-time director. “It was because of The Junior League [of New Orleans] that PRC was able to hire a director. That was the key thing… Once we had our director, we knew we had to keep going,” says Patty. And keep going they did!
Once a small, JLNO volunteer-led effort, the PRC now has several projects and programs of its own. Patty and Maria highlight a few of the PRC’s projects and programs, including Operation Comeback, Rebuilding Together, First-time Homebuyers Educational Series and First-time Renovators Educational Series. With the Operation Comeback project, the PRC acquires vacant and blighted property, renovates the buildings and sells them to homebuyers. Rebuilding Together is a volunteer-driven effort that aids homeowners in repairs and renovations that they otherwise would not be able to make. According to Patty, the PRC's work in the Holy Cross neighborhood has resulted in the rehab of almost 50 vacant or blighted Operation Comeback properties, which have since been sold to homebuyers. Additionally, Patty shares that the PRC has completed nearly 125 Rebuilding Together homes for low income homeowners in the neighborhood. "So, we helped more than twice as many low income homeowners down there," Patty proudly states. Overall, the majority of the PRC’s work with homeowners lies with Rebuilding Together – having completed approximately ten times as many of these volunteer homes than Operation Comeback homes.
The First-time Homebuyers and the First-time Renovators Educational Series are there to educate homebuyers and homeowners on what it means to buy and own an older home. “One of the things that we’re trying to do is encourage folks who would not be, or who are worried about, buying an older home and to help dispel the myths of what it is to buy an older home. So that we maintain these old homes and the neighborhoods, and the fabric of the neighborhood is preserved. Because we’re a city of neighborhoods,” explains Maria.
The PRC also has a Cultural Heritage Program devoted to the preservation of New Orleans’ unique heritage through education, community awareness and advocacy. Currently, they are working on a project located at 1432 N. Claiborne Avenue to preserve the last remaining structures of Straight University, an African American college that operated between 1868 and 1934, later becoming today’s Dillard University. Past projects have focused on identifying and preserving the homes and cultural legacy of New Orleans jazz musicians, including the former homes of Edward “Kid” Ory, Henry “Red” Allen, and Kid Sheik Colar. In 2014, the PRC launched the Preservation Resource Center Jazz House App with maps of the Jazz Houses and other resources on New Orleans’ jazz and architectural heritage.
For the last four decades, the PRC has been essential to the development and preservation of all the different New Orleans neighborhood identities with a strong focus on advocacy and education on the importance of preservation.
“I think our push is to get folks out into the different neighborhoods. Because Mid-City is going to have a completely different vibe from Uptown, and Gentilly is going to be completely different from the Garden District. So it’s that flavor of the different neighborhoods,” says Maria. For those who don’t know where or how to begin exploring New Orleans diverse communities, visitors and locals alike are encouraged to visit PRC headquarters on Tchoupitoulas Street. The guides and exhibits the PRC has available highlight that in New Orleans we are truly a city of neighborhoods—the PRC is the ideal place to start your journey and learn more.