Saving the Big Easy Ain’t That Easy
Make no mistake, New Orleans is a magical place in a hauntingly beautiful setting. That’s thanks in large part to its artistic ambitions, its confluence of cultures, and most of all — the people who preserve the city’s soul. One such person is Danielle Del Sol, Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the city’s cultural identity through architecture, events, and print. She was generous enough to speak with us and give us a bit of a masterclass on preservation in the Big Easy, its different styles of architecture, and what you can expect when renovating a historic property.
Why is preservation important?
“Preservation is important for many reasons. For a city like New Orleans, our number one economic driver is tourism… a huge reason people come to New Orleans is because we look and feel like a city unlike any other... And the reason we look and feel like that is because we have miles and miles of historic buildings.”
What are some of the more prolific styles of architecture in New Orleans?
“The French Quarter was the original city of New Orleans, and everything was built out from there... So surrounding neighborhoods like Treme and the Faubourg Marigny are some of our oldest neighborhoods, and [there] you’ll find some of the earliest forms of the ‘Creole’ cottage — easily identified by its four openings on the front. Spanish Revival is also prolific.. As well as the shotgun-style house..”
What is your favorite historical property in New Orleans and why?
“I have lots of favorite historic properties... One that’s easy to choose is the building that I’m sitting in right now. Our headquarters [The Leeds-Davis Building] is a landmark building in the city’s warehouse district and it was the headquarters of, originally, an iron foundry because iron was prolific... If you think of the French Quarter... And all of the lacey iron balconies everywhere...”
What is your advice to somebody looking to preserve or renovate a historic property?
“My advice is to find help. We’ve created a DIY society in our culture with the popularity of HGTV... and being able to DIY is great to a certain point, but a house is like an ecosystem. When you have historic materials... They respond well to certain products and don’t respond well to other products… Historic brick is a great example... The brick we have here is soft, so many people don’t know how to properly repoint it... And that can cause problems down the line… People who want to preserve historic properties should come to organizations like ours... And hire contractors who have experience with historic properties...”
Of course, these bite-sized pieces of wisdom from Danielle are just the tip of the iceberg. In the meantime, check out our YouTube channel to hear more from local experts. To learn more about the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, visit them online, engage with them on social media, and keep an eye on their calendar for upcoming events.