Holy cross

École Sainte-Croix: the how and why of the loss of historic buildings

After years of frustration and tireless work by many trying to protect the former Holy Cross School, a Lower 9th Ward landmark, Holy Cross Neighborhood Association President Calvin Alexander has it all. seen and heard everything – all the promises and all the excuses.

According to Alexander, “It is long overdue for Angela O’Byrne, owner of Perez, APC and 4950 Dauphine LLC to assume their responsibility to preserve and maintain this historic building that they own.”

The situation with Sainte-Croix is ​​deja vu. The neighborhood had already experienced the loss of the historic Semmes school to a developer who said he was doing everything to save the building and that it was structurally sound. As a result, HCNA fought diligently for responsibility. Over the past eight years, residents have repeatedly requested that the building be secured and that lights be installed as vagrants lived inside the structure. More recently, residents have had to request basic yard maintenance and have been forced to secure the parking lot to prevent drivers from using it for high-speed maneuvers.

The owners were also cited by the City for the property’s minimal maintenance and negligent demolition. In 2018, the Louisiana Landmarks Society named Holy Cross School as one of New Orleans’ most endangered sites. Residents and HCNA had meetings, made calls, and filed complaints with Security and Permits and Code Enforcement. Requests for assistance have also been sent to the Historic District Landmarks Commission and City Council offices. And the Preservation Resource Center and the Louisiana Landmarks Society have been contacted to see if they can provide further assistance.

The neighborhood wonders if it’s possible to do anything other than watch the building crumble.

They concluded that if the city enforced existing rules, then more historic buildings would be saved and revenue for the city would be generated. In addition, law enforcement would give them and other associations much-needed help to fight the scourge.

Photo of the interior of the Sainte-Croix school. (Association of the Sainte-Croix district)

In August 2012, Perez purchased 13 acres of the historic 16-acre campus, seven years after the property flooded due to the levee failure during Hurricane Katrina. The company has launched plans to revitalize the site. But the property has remained vacant since the 2005 hurricane when the school’s former owners abandoned the site. Four years later, the Holy Cross school moved into its new premises in Gentilly, leaving behind a site with majestic oak trees and a historic building.

According to a February 2013 report article, Perez planned to move his offices into the building and open a cafe or sandwich shop on the first floor. The company also had an agreement with New Corp, a local community development finance institution, to open a business incubator in the building. Perez has also pledged to preserve an existing oak grove on the property for use as a farmer’s market and host of art fairs so that the property continues to be accessible to the community. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But that didn’t happen.

In 2016, Perez and his development partner, MACO, said construction would begin soon. To no one’s surprise, the new plans did not include a cafe, a sandwich shop, a farmer’s market, or a business incubator.

Initially, two new 13-storey towers were proposed. Residents and curators were up in arms. The proposal required rezoning and neighborhood involvement, so meetings were held.

Sarah DeBacher, who was then president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, told The Timetable-Picayune, “We’re patient because we want to get it right. And it’s not as frustrating as you imagine living next to an open space with a beautiful oak grove and a view of this historic building that would be overshadowed by this skyscraper. -sky they want. This is a ridiculous development.

Angela O’Byrne is quoted as saying: “It’s quite common when looking for a zoning change to get some opposition from people, but they’re going to love it when it’s done, I believe it.” According to DeBacher, “The argument is that the Lower Ninth Ward has to take what it can get. We believe that we deserve, as any community deserves, good development, not just any development. The neighborhood won. There was so much opposition to the original plan that the height of the towers was reduced to seven stories. But there were other concerns that were ignored.

  • Neighborhood concerns about the blatant disregard for architectural compatibility were ignored.
  • Concerns of having only rental units were ignored.
  • The history of the area, a neighborhood with one of the highest numbers of black homeowners in the country before the levees failed, was ignored.
  • Traffic issues for the area, which is bounded by the Mississippi River, the Industrial Canal and the Jackson Barracks, were ignored.

Residents were told that a three-phase plan to redevelop the site, bounded by the Mississippi River, Deslonde, Reynes and Burgundy streets, was in the works. There was interest and hope. But anxiety still reigned.

So Perez hired a marketing and advertising company, Velocity Agency, to create a campaign to change mindsets. A “Revive Lower 9” social media campaign was launched and signs were posted. Residents and groups opposed to the plan were told they were against the development. The agency surveyed the area asking people to sign a petition supporting the project; but some of these signatures are questionable.

The Sainte-Croix district, through its history, is on the National Register of Historic Places. According to Abandoned Southeast, Holy Cross School was founded in 1849, when the Archbishop of New Orleans invited five brothers from the Congregation of the Holy Cross to New Orleans to assume responsibility for the operation of St. Mary. In 1859, the Reynes plantation was purchased by the Congregation. And in 1879, the orphanage became St. Isidore’s College, a boarding school and day school, the predecessor of Holy Cross School.

Given its history, concerns continue to be expressed about the status of the building. Requests have been made, on several occasions, to tarp the roof. In response, residents were informed that the building is structurally sound and the roof is in good condition. Ironically, Perez refused the association’s request to walk through the building, citing security concerns. In March 2019, Angela O’Byrne told City Council that she was concerned about the deterioration of the Masonry School of 1896.

On June 12 this year, Ms O’Byrne emailed the neighborhood association. It said:

“Thank you to everyone at HCNA for continuing to care so much about this project and your neighborhood in general. Every neighborhood needs people like you looking out for its best interests. I know your care and concern will result in a better quality of life for the residents who will one day occupy the buildings we hope to build and the one we hope to renovate.

However, during a conference call, HCNA was informed by representatives of Perez and MACO that this project was a burden; and it costs a lot to tarp the roof and maintain the building. Meanwhile, the building is deteriorating. It seems the owners considered this the cost of doing business in New Orleans. It’s cheaper to drop it than to keep your word.

Calvin Alexander is president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association. Linda Marchand is vice-president. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association was established in 1981 with a mission to make our Lower 9th Ward community the best place in town to live and raise a family.

The Opinion section is a community forum. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To suggest a column idea, contact Editor-in-Chief Amy Stelly at astelly@thelensnola.org.