Home Renewal: A Neighborhood Takes Shape
From the side yard of 4804 Dauphine St., it’s just a short stroll to the green expanse of the levee’s bend. At the top of the slope, a stunning view unfolds of the curving Mississippi River, the place where it meets the Industrial Canal and, in the distance, downtown New Orleans. This view both foretells the future of this neighborhood, Holy Cross, and conjures the story of its past.
It is a story that unfolded partly within the walls of the house on Dauphine, says architect David Dillard. Dillard volunteered to help the Preservation Resource Center with its project at 4804. He notes that the main part of the house was originally a double, with only four rooms square. “It would have been built to house workers,” he says, “most likely people working on the riverfront.”
Because much of the Holy Cross neighborhood rests on the natural levee, its elevation insulated it from flooding and allowed it to develop before technological advances led to the pumping of low-lying areas.
In a strategic position
The downriver end of the neighborhood is taken up by Jackson Barracks. Built in the 1830s during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, its site was chosen for its close proximity to the downriver forts that protected the city from invasion. At the time, as Jackson himself had experienced firsthand in the Battle of New Orleans, invasion from downriver was the chief military threat the city faced. Fourteen of the original buildings remain at Jackson Barracks, and since the 1930s, it has served as the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard. Post-Katrina, Jackson Barracks is undergoing a massive rebuilding effort.
In the 1870s, when 4804 Dauphine was built, the area as we know it today was just beginning to take shape. Just down the street, the Holy Cross brothers opened an orphanage in 1871, on a tract known as St. Isidore’s farm. By 1879 it had evolved into St. Isidore’s College. And in 1895, its name was changed to Holy Cross School, from which the neighborhood derives its name. It was at that time the brothers built the striking administration building, which remains intact. Following Katrina, the school’s board decided to relocate to a site in Gentilly, but is set to embark on a master planning process for the old location in Holy Cross. In the meantime, the site will be used as a public school in the Recovery School District.
The good, the bad and a revival
Also in the Holy Cross neighborhood are the picturesque “steamboat houses.” A sea captain named Milton Doullut built the houses early in the 20th century. In style, they reflect a Japanese flavor then in vogue, while emulating the steamboats with which he and other residents of the area would have been more than familiar. The crow’s nests atop the structures provide expansive views of the river traffic.
The 1920s brought a monumental change to the area: the construction of the Industrial Canal. The canal’s presence had the immediate effect of severing the neighborhood from the rest of New Orleans. Eighty years later, one of the levee breaks following Hurricane Katrina sent the contents of the canal rushing through the Lower Ninth Ward and into the historic high ground of the Holy Cross neighborhood. Today, the area remains significantly depopulated.
However, there are those hoping the neighborhood’s historic fiber, its higher elevation and its excellent access to the riverfront will give it the assets it needs to thrive in the future. Among the hopeful is the Preservation Resource Center. “The PRC has been focused on Holy Cross for some time,” says Stephanie Bruno, director of the PRC’s Operation Comeback program. “Before the storm it was blighted properties. After the storm it has become flooded properties.”
Rebirth at 4804 Dauphine Street
The “Comeback House” at 4804 Dauphine St. is located in the historic Holy Cross neighborhood—the riverside section of the Lower 9th Ward. Hurricane Katrina toppled a pecan tree into its roof, and the levee break at the Industrial Canal flooded it.
The driving forces behind the project are the Preservation Resource Center, through its Operation Comeback renovation program, and the Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference, which will be in New Orleans, October 18 to 20 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The house will be used for educational tours during the event and showcase products on display at the exhibition.
Restore Media LLC produces the Traditional Building show, which will feature seminars, workshops and a trade show for historic building product vendors. The event typically draws architects, designers, builders, craftsmen, preservationists, historic homeowners and developers. Restore Media publishes the magazines Old House Journal, New Old House, Traditional Building and Period Homes.
For more information, go to: www.traditionalbuildingshow.com, www.prcno.org or call 800/985-6247.