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FEMA Section 106 Notices for Louisiana
Comment on "Public Notice Regarding Historic Review of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, 5500 Paris Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana with linked PDF attachments "
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Name: Bret Carreras
City: New Orleans
Specific
property
affected:
5500 Paris Ave
Comments: With all due respect to Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Frederick, and the families of all of the other members of the design team that worked on the SFC church building's design in the early 60s...just how much more do the wishes of those who now actually deal with the physical presence of the structure, meaning those who reside in the neighborhood along with those who have expressed a preference to move to the neighborhood, have to be suborned in order to "honor the legacy" of those men?

I think it's been pretty much accepted by all that the building has no intrinsic historic value based on it's actually being "historic' in the sense of having been around for a lot of our city's history; historic review regulations don't even call for a building under fifty years old to face review based on age. Those who call for the building's inclusion on the National Historic Register based on it's "architectural significance" generally point to the thin shell vaulted concrete roof, as Ms. Gomez does in FEMA's own review. Now, the practical disadvantages of this type of construction have been widely referred to here by former SFC parishioners. Information from Penn State's school of architecture indicates that most historic thin shell concrete structures have had to have their roofs replaced at least once, and "many have undergone not only reroofing but a number of complete roofing system type changes in an attempt to keep the buildings dry and operational." One of the most famous of US thin shell concrete structures, the Kresge Auditorium at MIT, required three different major roof system replacements before the problems were considered to be "controlled", and that roofing system relies on a metal roof OVER the concrete shell, rather than on the concrete shell itself as does SFC. The Penn State piece also warns that shell structures that terminate at a lower roof or flat roof (as does SFC) are particularly susceptible to "ponding". It is also interesting that the Penn State article is almost entirely focused on thin shell concrete roofs that are covered over with some other type of roofing system, be it a metal roof, a "built-up" roof, sprayed-on polyurethane foam, an adhered membrane system, or some other system. Liquid-applied sealants directly applied to the concrete shell roof itself, as in SFC's case, are considered "rare in buildings because it supplies only minimal resistance to the transmission of water through the concrete shell." (Evidently the authors didn't consult "Architect" from New Orleans who could have directed them to Home Depot) This type of sealant application is considered acceptable for statues, grandstand covers, and other "open" applications such as the Miami Marine Stadium roof....interestingly, also built in 1963, and which has remained closed and crumbling since 1992 and Hurricane Andrew as Miami works through it's own demolish/renovate argument. At any rate, if the "historical significance" of SFC is based on the "innovative" roof system, but we have academic evidence (from Penn State) and testimonial evidence (from many of the SFC parishioners) that the roof system never met the most basic of it's duties--to weatherproof the building.

In fact, it seems that the main reason behind the push from the architectural community to save the SFC building is that it is an example of a Curtis & Davis designed building, and Curtis & Davis was long the most prominent and most influential design firm in New Orleans. Two Curtis & Davis designed concrete roofed buildings play into this current discussion...only one of which is still standing. By far the larger and more well known of the two was the Rivergate. When first constructed it served as the city's main convention center, but before too many years the convention industry had passed it by, rendering it obsolete for it's original function. While architect's undoubtedly thrilled to the "clear span" aspects of the roof, those using the building most commented about the interior being dark, damp, and cavernous. When the Rivergate was demolished the architectural community rose up much as it is doing now, and many of the same arguments were made. Ultimately the decision went against their arguments.

To an observer, it appears that the architectural community is attempting to win now with SFC the battle that they lost earlier with the Rivergate; that many of their pleas have more to do with further loss of the Curtis & Davis legacy than they do with the actual SFC building itself. I ask that you not base the decision on the merits of the designers' careers, and instead base it on the relative merits of the existing building versus the merits of the new Holy Cross development and what it means to the neighborhood and the Gentilly area in general. Consider the needs and desires of those who live in the shadow of 5500 Paris Ave. to be at least equivalent to the furtherance of the reputation of the late designers of the building.