Junior League volunteer at the PRC's 2017 October Build at Hollygrove Market. | Photo by: Taylor S. Pospisil
After 95 years of community service, the mark of the Junior League of New Orleans stretches across the Crescent City in many ways and winds back through decades of history. One of the most prominent examples of JLNO’s influence is the ever-blossoming popularity and impact of the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), a project JLNO started in 1974. Today the PRC is a nationally renowned organization that promotes the preservation, restoration and revitalization of New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods. Originally launched as a JLNO initiative, the PRC has since grown into a community staple that now stands on its own. Given its Junior League roots, it’s fitting that the PRC is beginning its next era with a passionate, dynamic woman sitting in the driver’s seat as its new Executive Director. After a nationwide search to replace longtime Executive Director Patty Gay, Danielle Del Sol is now charged with carrying on the mission of protecting and preserving New Orleans’ most treasured buildings.
Fresh out of Hendrix College in Arkansas, an ambitious young journalist named Danielle Del Sol launched into her new professional life as a business and real estate reporter in Little Rock. The Miami native found herself covering two opposite spectrums of the real estate world: downtown historic rehabs and contemporary buildings going up in a suburban bedroom community.
“The latter all looked and felt the same, took time (and gas) to reach, and all involved new construction — the waste from which takes up 40% or more of the space in our landfills,” Danielle says. “Natural areas were clear-cut for these development, and ironically the new subdivisions were often named after the natural surroundings they replaced — Deer Run, Wild Oaks.”
It was at that moment Del Sol embraced not just the nostalgic beauty of historic architecture, but also the practicalities of what they can deliver to their communities.
“The historic rehabs were bringing already beautiful but neglected neighborhoods back to life,” Danielle says. “They were essentially recycling expended energy and materials in keeping and restoring buildings, promoting walkable neighborhoods. Plus, each building was unique and interesting, and each neighborhood had its own personality. There was history and character behind each. As buildings came back and improvements were made — areas became safer, the economy improved.”
After a stop in North Carolina, Danielle decided to head back to the classroom to learn more about her new passion and how she could channel it into a career. That decision brought her to New Orleans, where she enrolled at Tulane University to pursue her Master’s of Preservation Studies at the School of Architecture. While Danielle was completing her degree, she interned at the Preservation Resource Center and put her journalism background to work, writing for the PRC’s magazine Preservation in Print.
After graduation, Danielle went to work for the PRC and eventually became the editor of Preservation in Print, winning numerous awards for her coverage. Through her years of working with the PRC, Danielle’s admiration for the organization grew stronger and her vision for its future clearer.
“There was a lot of wisdom behind the founding of PRC by leaders of the JLNO in 1974 to establish a true resource center that could empower people with the information they need to buy and renovate a historic property themselves — or know how to best care for the historic home they already own,” Danielle says. “The PRC has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, now hosting a variety of programs that, together, hope to address preservation needs in New Orleans in a holistic way. What those needs are have changed dramatically since 1974, though, and not all our programming has kept up. Some of what we do is still incredibly targeted and effective, but other programs need to evolve to better help a broader constituency base in the city.”
As one of Danielle’s first decisions as Executive Director, she initiated a strategic planning session to analyze the needs of a younger, more diverse audience. This wife and mother of two envisions guiding the maturation of the PRC so that it addresses New Orleans’ most current problems in an innovative and inclusive way.
“We have the reputation for opposing everything and standing in the way of progress,” Danielle says. “The PRC of the future needs to be a place that is proactive and influential, where the residents of New Orleans can constructively discuss issues and examine possible solutions. The PRC has an incredible wealth of history and assets. I hope that my legacy is that the PRC assists residents of all incomes to improve their homes, neighborhoods and city. I want the PRC to help policy makers reach decisions that wisely reuse the historic wealth of this city for all to enjoy for many generations to come.”
The PRC that Danielle is working towards still involves JLNO in many capacities. Through the years, JLNO has continued to support the PRC, even though the two organizations operate independently. JLNO members volunteer thousands of hours a year to rebuild homes for low income homeowners. They also staff tours to educate the community about New Orleans’ historic architecture.
“I continue to be amazed at the way JLNO’s investment in the PRC succeeded into growing an organization that has, for over four decades, been incredibly influential in New Orleans,” Danielle says. “What foresight of the JLNO, and what a powerful strategic investment! That contribution is incredibly meaningful, and the passion that the JLNO’s members still bring to their roles at the PRC is really exciting to see. We are very grateful for the continued partnership.”
Rebuilding Together Committee Members Christie Clemens, Jessica Whitworth and Katie Roth paint the second floor walls during the October 2017
Rebuilding Together project with PRC. | Photo by: Taylor S. Pospisil.