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2008 New Orleans' Nine Update: Phillis Wheatley Elem.

Historic Phillis Wheatley Elementary School Torn Down in Treme

From nola.com

Historic Phillis Wheatley Elementary School torn down in Treme
Published: Friday, June 17, 2011, 10:00 PM
By Times-Picayune Staff NOLA.com

After years of debate over its architectural significance and an eleventh-hour movement to save it, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Treme was torn down Friday to make way for a new school building on the two-acre campus.

When it was designed in 1954 by Charles Colbert, it drew international praise as a shining example of modern architecture. A cantilevered steel truss structure with second-floor classrooms and a play space underneath, the school was mostly unharmed by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters.  But Wheatley had been closed since the storm, and it fell into increasing states of disrepair.  Supporters of the demolition saw the 57-year-old school, built as a segregated school for black children in Treme, as obsolete and a symbol of discrimination, built on the cheap with inadequate facilities. The Dumaine Street campus was only one-sixth the size recommended for its 800-student body.  "The Treme-Lafitte neighborhood needs a 21st century school facility immediately, and it is our assessment that the Phillis Wheatley building cannot serve that function," said John White, the head of the Recovery School District, said Thursday.  Impassioned opponents of the demolition countered that tearing down the school was a disservice to black history.

"Once Wheatley is gone, another part of our history, of African-American culture in New Orleans, is demolished," said Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc, who attended Wheatley in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "If we're going to worry about a history of racial struggle, let's remove the plantations. Let's remove the slave quarters."  LeBlanc, a cast member in the HBO series "Treme," helped stage the "Hands Around Wheatley" protest in April, aimed to block the planned demolition.  Ken Ducote, a consultant for the Recovery School District and a former facilities manager for the city's public schools, said that Wheatley was an unfortunate reflection of a time when racially discriminatory practices dominated school planning.  "The RSD's plans to demolish and replace the Wheatley School are not only reasonable and justified but will go a long way ... toward achieving the equity in education envisioned by the United States Supreme Court" in its 1954 landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, Ducote wrote in a report prepared for school officials in 2009.

In the 1950s, elected officials were reluctant to spend tax dollars on schools for black children. Desegregation lawsuits led these officials to "slap together cheap buildings for African-American students, parading them as 'separate but equal,' " Ducote said. "One of the attempts to address these [lawsuits] was the development by Charles Colbert."  Others saw real potential in Wheatley, however.  "People look at the building now and say it's unfit for a school," Montana-LeBlanc said. "But it looks that way because the RSD neglected it for so long."

A scene in the second season of "Treme" depicts this conceit: A FEMA contractor begins to remove desks and school supplies from Wheatley, while residents stare in confusion, since the school was not flooded.

Some preservationist groups fought to save the school as one of the few remaining examples of mid-century Modernist architecture in New Orleans. And John Klingman, a professor of architecture at Tulane University, agrees with Montana-LeBlanc that the school could have been saved and made functional.  "The elevated structure represents less than one-quarter of the proposed project square footage," he said. "There is simply no reason it cannot be successfully incorporated programmatically and architecturally if RSD any interest in doing so."  But Recovery District officials say the school simply doesn't meet today's standards.  For instance, fire codes requires that pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students be housed on the first floor of schools.

"The school was built like a 1950s motel," said Siona LaFrance, the RSD's director of communications. "Working to create a functional school out of a space like that is just not feasible."  The decision to demolish Wheatley grew out of an 18-month planning process for schools in the city, involving 200 public meetings and a two-month public comment period. The Recovery District and Orleans Parish School Board both approved the plan in 2008.

Demolition started two months earlier than planned. 
"During the community-meeting process, the neighborhood came out very strongly in support of the school being replaced," said Patrick Dobard, deputy director of governmental affairs for the Louisiana Department of Education. A petition supporting the demolition was presented at a meeting at nearby St. Peter Claver church and was signed by over 250 Treme residents.  The demolition is expected to be completed in two weeks. Construction of a $21.7 million school is scheduled to start around the end of the year and be completed in spring 2013.

Hannah Miet wrote this report. She can be reached at hmiet@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3318.

General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers in Gambit's "Blake Ponchartrain"

What do you know about this gorgeous building off Orleans Ave.?
from the Gambit website: gambitweekly.com
POSTED ON JULY 17, 2011:

Hey Blake,
Are you able to tell me about this gorgeous building one block off Orleans Avenue and maybe three blocks off Claiborne Avenue? I hope you understand where I mean, and I hope they aren't getting ready to tear it down.

Lora Davenport

Dear Lora,

In its heyday, the General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers Building was a lovely example of art deco architecture and was included in an American Art Deco Architecture exhibit in New York in 1974. Today the building is in disrepair and has been placed on the Louisiana Landmarks Society's list of New Orleans' most endangered sites.

The General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers Building to which you refer is a mess today, but you can tell it once was something special.

The building at 2512 St. Peter St. was completed in 1930 at a cost of $250,000 and replaced a facility that was destroyed in 1929. A fine example of high-style art deco architecture, the General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers Building has the typical art deco floral motifs and Aztec architecture and decorative arts with bright red, blue, green and yellow colors.

Robert Chapoit, president of General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers, planned a special evening to celebrate the grand opening. More than 5,000 people came out to view the new facility. There was entertainment, refreshments and an orchestra that provided dance music. State and city officials were there to hear Chapoit discuss the relationship between the modern laundry and the home. His company was praised as "one of the most modern plants in the South."

Baby Services Inc. of New York City bought General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers in 1945. By the 1960s, the building on St. Peter Street no longer was a laundry but was owned by the American Beverage Company. Then it was empty.

The first threat to the building came in the 1970s when the U.S. Postal Service announced the building would be demolished to create space for a parking lot for a new Mid-City post office branch on Lafitte Street. Bernard Lemann of the Tulane School of Architecture, Charles Colbert of the American Institute of Architects and the Louisiana Landmarks Society were among individuals and groups who spoke out in favor of preserving the old structure.

In 1974, another attempt to demolish the laundry was halted when the building's facade was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. That same year, an exhibit titled American Art Deco Architecture was held at New York's Finch College and featured the General Laundry building along with famous structures like the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center in New York City. General Laundry and the National American Bank Building were the only examples of art deco architecture in New Orleans in the exhibit.

The fight over whether to preserve or demolish the laundry continued, with preservationists arguing that the 30-foot-deep facade should be saved and used by the post office, but the rear warehouse might be demolished. The postal service backed out of its original plan and the building remained intact.

Today the building is owned by Southern Recycling Company. The facade has continued to deteriorate, and last year the structure was placed on the Louisiana Landmarks Society's 2010 list of New Orleans' most endangered sites.

Olaf Fink Center sold by School Board

Orleans Parish School Board sells four properties for $1.67 million
Published: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 10:07 AM Updated: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 11:25 AM
Martha Carr, The Times-Picayune

The Orleans Parish School Board announced today it has sold the Moss/Bauer clinic, a surplus property located on the corner of Carondelet and Girod Streets.  The sale is one of four scheduled for closing within the next 30 days and is the result of public auctions held in July and September to dispose of idle properties. An additional public auction will be held in March.  In total, the sales will generate $1.67 million, which the district plans to use to provide additional resources to classrooms.

The auctioned surplus properties include:

•Moss-Bauer Property -- 703 Carondelet St & 820 Girod St
SOLD - Price $1,190,000

•Fink Center -- 1300 Richland Road
SALE PENDING - Price $202,500

•Lawton Site -- Flanders St & Newton St
SALE PENDING - Price $46,500

•Wiltz Gym -- 3041 N. Rampart St
SALE PENDING - Price $230,000

The school board also purchased a building at 3520 General DeGaulle which has served as the district's offices since September 2006.

"We are excited about the opportunity to purchase this facility and to be a contributor to the continued commercial development of the West Bank," said O(PSB Superintendent Darryl Kilbert. "This building will allow OPSB to offer shared services to the Recovery School District and charters. That will create new efficiencies which will ultimately save money for the taxpayers who fund public education."

© 2011 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.

Orpheum Theater still in turmoil

vestors in Orpheum Theater file suit to recover their losses
Published: Monday, January 31, 2011, 11:50 PM Updated: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 7:39 AM
Rebecca Mowbray, The Times-Picayune

Debtholders in the Orpheum Theater have filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court seeking to seize the shuttered 1921 beaux arts theater and sell to cover their losses on the deal.

Orpheum Recovery Group LLC, which represents senior secured debenture holders, filed suit Jan. 14 against former theater owners Richard Weyand and Peter Thiessen and current theater owner Andrew Reid, as well as various corporate entities affiliated with them.  Weyand Properties Inc. bought the theater after Hurricane Katrina, and transferred it to other corporate entities, which took out mortgages on the property. In May 2010, the theater was sold to 129 University Place LLC, an entity controlled by Reid.  Reid's company subsequently merged with Pacific Land and Coffee Corp., a defunct Hawaiian coffee company. Pacific Land changed its name to Orpheum Property Inc. in December to reflect its only asset, and because Pacific Land was a publicly held if inactive company, Orpheum Property is now a public company on the over-the-counter quote board exchange, creating the opportunity for Reid to sell stock.

After Weyand and Thiessen bought the theater, investors from around the country loaned the them money for renovations by purchasing a minimum of ten senior secured debentures for $10,000 each, according to the lawsuit, and had a priority security interest on the property. Notes were to pay interest monthly at a rate of 13 percent, and noteholders were supposed to be paid back in full by January 7, 2009, according to the suit, but the theater owners stopped paying interest and never returned the principal. W Properties Group LLC unconditionally guaranteed payment of all sums owed, the suit says.

Debt holders have tried unsuccessfully for the past two years to collect their money. In a July news story, Reid told the Times-Picayune that investors would be made whole and paid $2.7 million in principal and interest by the end of the year. It didn't happen.  Through the lawsuit, noteholders seek to formally place Reid in default, foreclose on the theater and sell it so they can be paid back. They also seek attorney's fees and expenses to cover the cost of their efforts.

They also seek all books and records affiliated with the companies that owned the properties since the storm, and any funds and assets associated with them.  Phone numbers for Weyand didn't work. Weyand's attorney in Texas said he couldn't comment because he hadn't seen the suit, and an e-mail attempting to send him a copy of the suit was returned as undeliverable. A message left for Thiessen at his home in Texas wasn't returned by deadline. Reid said he hadn't heard about the suit and was unable to comment.  The case has been assigned to Judge Sidney H. Cates IV. No hearing dates have been scheduled.  Before the storm, the Orpheum Theater had been the home of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. It is located at 129 University Place across from the Roosevelt Hotel.

Rebecca Mowbray can be reached at rmowbray@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3417.

© 2011 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.

More New Orleans' Nine properties in the news - Olaf Fink center, former NOCCA site, and Myrtle Banks School

Orleans Parish School Board holds property auction over mayor's objections
Published: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 9:15 PM Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 9:18 PM
Cindy Chang, The Times-Picayune

Over the objections of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the Orleans Parish School Board went forward with a surplus property auction Thursday, netting almost $2.8 million.

In a telling signpost of the board's diminished role in a newly decentralized educational landscape dominated by charter schools, the board's former headquarters was the biggest sale of the day. Businessman Brian Albrecht paid $2.3 million for the complex on Gen. de Gaulle Drive in Algiers.  Only four of the eight properties on the auction block attracted bidders. In addition to the Algiers complex, the School Board sold a 3.6-acre property at 1300 Richland Road in Algiers, a vacant lot at Flanders and Newton Streets in Algiers and a former gymnasium at 3041 N. Rampart St. in the Bywater.  The proceeds will go to classroom instruction, transportation and other areas that directly benefit students, school officials said. The district will also save thousands of dollars a year in maintenance.

Landrieu, who has shown a strong hand in redevelopment issues, sent a letter to the School Board the day before the auction, urging a 90-day postponement so the properties could be integrated into the new citywide master plan. He cited a study by the Urban Land Institute that called for the OPSB to partner with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to ensure each site is used in a way that most benefits the community, instead of immediately being sold to private developers.  Earlier this month, the mayor helped persuade the board to take Fleur de Lis Park in Lakeview off the auction list. This time, school officials refused to budge. They said they are willing to work with Landrieu on specific projects, but they argued it was too late to stop the auction, and said the money was needed for student programs.

Board defends auction

"We want to be good partners with the city and the mayor, but just as they made hard decisions about furloughs and budget cuts, we have to make decisions about increasing funding to the classroom," said OPSB Superintendent Darryl Kilbert.  Deputy Mayor and CAO Andy Kopplin called the OPSB's response to the city's concerns "piecemeal" and "not well-thought-out."  "When public entities continue the old, short-sighted pattern of operating in isolation like OPSB did today, we threaten our own ability to plan effectively and comprehensively revitalize neighborhoods," Kopplin said in a written statement.  Following Hurricane Katrina, the OPSB, which once ran all of the city's public schools, was reduced to only 16 schools, 12 of them independently run charters. More than 100 schools were deemed low-performing and turned over to the state-run Recovery School District. A majority of RSD schools eventually became charters. Though many RSD direct-run and charter schools operate out of former OPSB campuses, the properties are still owned by the OPSB.

NOCCA's old site

In the days leading up to the auction, eight properties originally slated to be sold were removed from the list, including Fleur de Lis Park, the former NOCCA campus on Perrier Street near Audubon Park and the former Myrtle Banks School on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.  OPSB officials took the NOCCA site off the block because Lusher Charter School may be interested in purchasing it. Lusher Principal and CEO Kathy Riedlinger said the school's board is looking into whether the building, appraised at $1.8 million and located on a prime piece of Uptown real estate, would be suitable for an elementary school expansion.  The two additional kindergarten classes that Lusher is starting this year at the Jewish Community Center Uptown will need classroom space beyond the school's Willow Street campus as they advance to higher grades, Riedlinger said.  Plans to turn Myrtle Banks into a civil rights museum have been in the works for years, and the OPSB decided to give organizers more time before selling the property. Most of the other sales were delayed to resolve FEMA issues.

Office buildings planned

Albrecht, who developed the Magnolia Trace subdivision in Harvey, said he plans to turn the Gen. de Gaulle site into office space again. The original buildings, heavily damaged during Katrina, are slated for demolition, but Albrecht also has the option of renovating them.  Since Katrina, the OPSB has been renting office space behind its original complex. Though the sale of its headquarters reflects its reduced role, the board's sphere could be enlarged when the question of who will govern New Orleans' schools comes before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education later this year.

John Hazard, who purchased the Wiltz Gym property in Bywater for $230,000 at Thursday's auction, said he is not sure what he will do with the site. Jonah Dowling, president of First NBC Community Development, LLC, which made the other two purchases, said he hopes to preserve the five aging two-story wood buildings on a 3.6-acre lot on Richland Road, possibly for use as senior housing. The Lawton site at Flanders and Newton Streets can be subdivided into four lots, and the corporation will likely build single-family houses for first-time home buyers, in keeping with its mission as an affordable housing provider, Dowling said.  The Richland property sold for $202,500 and the Lawton site for $46,500.  Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes all the purchased properties, said she, too, lobbied for the auction to be delayed so community input could be taken into consideration, but she was rebuffed by School Board members. Residents want to see a park on the Lawton site, she said.  "I appreciate that the OPSB has to focus on what's good for the children, but you know, children live in these neighborhoods. They have to walk by blight and vacant lots to get to school, so why can't we involve the communities where these children live in the conversation?" Palmer said.

Cindy Chang can be reached at cchang@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3386.

The Orpheum Theater gets a new owner - 2009 New Orleans' Nine cited in Times-Picayune

Orpheum Theater has a new owner
Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 8:00 AM
Frank Donze, The Times-Picayune

The shuttered, debt-ridden Orpheum Theater has a new owner who says he is in the early stages of transforming the 1921 beaux-arts vaudeville house into a music venue to showcase local talent and host big-name, touring performers.

Businessman Andrew Reid said Monday that he acquired the historic theater from a pair of Texas financiers for $675,000 -- the same fire-sale price they paid in 2006 for the building at 129 University Place that has been vacant since it was flooded in Hurricane Katrina.  In addition, Reid said he assumed a $2.7 million mortgage on the property and agreed to pay delinquent taxes, interest and penalties that totaled about $44,000 through April.  Reid said his vision for the theater, which was placed on the Louisiana Landmarks Society's list of New Orleans' most endangered sites in 2009, hinges on landing a $5 million Community Development Block Grant from City Hall and tax credits from the state.  A former investment banker who owns an oil and gas company, Reid said he has never tackled a similar renovation project.  "We're working on a budget to bring the Orpheum back to its original grandeur while ushering in a new era in comfort,'' he said. If he can obtain the required permits, Reid said he also wants to add a private rooftop club along the lines of the Foundation Room at the House of Blues.  Reid said he has spent about $100,000 cleaning up the site and pumping 46,000 gallons of standing water from the basement.

A spokeswoman for the Downtown Development District said Monday that the agency has reached out to Reid and is prepared to assist him in his venture. Reid said his representatives will try to meet soon with officials in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to begin applying for the CDBG grant.  If he is able to assemble the necessary financing, Reid said he can complete the renovation in about a year.  While the project remains a work in progress, Reid said early estimates place the construction budget for a 1,500-seat theater at about $10 million.  The new proposal to revive the Orpheum comes four years after Texas businessmen Richard Weyand and Peter Thiessen bought the theater for $675,000, about a third of what the state spent to renovate the building in 1982.  Weyand said at the time that he planned to restore the theater, but nothing was done until the Historic District Landmarks Commission prepared to cite the two investors in the spring of 2009 for neglect. The move by the HDLC prompted them to put on a new roof and seal openings that provided access for vandals.  Meanwhile, they ran up debt on the property.

In 2008, Weyand sold the theater for $879,000 to another entity that he and his business partners control called the W Properties Group LLC. At the same time, Weyand canceled the first mortgage and took out a new one equal to the sales price.  Last year, the company amended the mortgage to reflect that it had borrowed $2.18 million against the value of the property while unpaid property taxes continued to mount.  As the theater has moldered, Weyand has been embroiled in lawsuits in federal and state courts across the country.  Back in New Orleans, the Orpheum debt grew larger as the partners solicited money from about four dozen investors -- ranging from a grocery store worker to elderly retirees who sank all their savings into the venture -- across the country, promising handsome short-term returns they never delivered.  Initially, distributions were paid quarterly, not monthly as promised; W Properties stopped paying dividends in January 2009. Investors apparently have no legal recourse because their names were not put on the property titles.

As part of his purchase agreement, Reid said he intends to repay the investors the $2.7 million, which includes interest, before the end of the year. "They will be made whole -- 100 percent,'' he said.  In addition, he said he will pay all past-due property taxes on the property.  While Reid wants the main focus of his venture to be live music, he said he's also interested in developing a weekly, televised production similar to the Austin City Limits, the award-winning music series that is now in its 35th season on PBS.  Reid said he has no plans to stage live theater performances and does not intend to bring back the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra as a tenant. The orchestra, which performed at the Orpheum for more than two decades, has a new home at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, which received a major facelift after the storm.

Frank Donze can be reached at fdonze@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3328.

© 2010 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.