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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: Peter Kulakosky
City: New Orleans LA
Specific
property
affected:
St Frances Cabrini
Comments: I can easily imagine that it is very sad to see a building torn down that a friend or colleague designed or built. I understand that the leadership behind the preservation of the ruined structure that served St. Frances Cabrini parish is fueled by the desire to preserve the building is lead by the colleague, and perhaps of friend, of the design leader. This kind of personal feelings have no place in a decision like this.

Given the disaster that struck New Orleans in general, and struck Gentilly particularly hard, I think that sentiment needs to be set aside. The owner has no plans to put the building back into use. The fate of several blocks containing blighted buildings hinges on the decision to sell the property and demolish the structures that sit on it. The fate of the neighborhood depends on this and other similar developments. Walking into the future, rather than looking back, is what Gentilly needs now, without further delay.

The neighborhood needs a school and the activity that it will generate. What it does not need is years of a large, blighted expanse of property with no plan for remediation or renewal.

I am not sure that I fully understand the criteria for protecting a building in the way proposed for the structure that served St. Frances Cabrini parish so I suspect that practical matters like recovery of a neighborhood do not count in any way though I wish that they did. What I see in the Section 106 Review by Valerie Gomez seems to support preservation of the edifice, however, on closer examination most of the support she lends she is ad hoc. I hope that the committee will take the time to distinguish this kind of support from genuine ones.

In addition to providing reasons for the preservation of the structure that served St. Frances Cabrini parish, Ms. Gomez confused the issue with irrelevant information and has given several reasons that it need not be preserved. I will reiterate both here:

1) The caliber of the architects is not in question nor is it the issue. Neither the awards received by Curtis and Davis for other works, nor their reputation for other works have relevance to the decision to preserve the church and confuse the issue. I am sure that they are or were competent architects, but it the church merits preservation, it must stand on its own whether designed by Curtis and Davis or by some no name architect.
2) Ms. Gomez suggests that the innovative works of Curtis and Davis' have been "extensively documented". This certainly decreases the to need to preserve the structure.
3) Curtis and Davis "designed numerous modern structures in the city of New Orleans" and Ms. Gomez named several. This also decreases the need to preserve the structure.
4) Ms. Gomez says that in 1962, "Curtis and Davis won an honorable Mention…." I assume that there are higher prizes including first, second and third places. Assuming that there is only one honorable mention per year, in the last 50 years there are 150 other churches in the country that out rank the structure that served St. Frances Cabrini parish. This is, of course, assuming that The award was for the structure because that is not specifically stated. The Louisiana Architects Association "Award of Merit" is not of the first order either.
5) Many churches have been built in New Orleans since the structure that served St Frances Cabrini parish yet, Ms Gomez points out that St. Frances is the only church in New Orleans to "utilize a lightweight structural concrete method…." This is probably because that type of design never became popular because of aesthetic reasons or because it was an impractical design.

In addition to flawed rationale for preservation of the building, in this day, there are very better ways to preserve the concepts used to design and construct the building. The building is new enough so that the complete history of the design and construction process are available. This probably even extends to the dialog between the architecture firm and the customer. The drawings, photographs and other documentation can be easily archived on a web site for anyone who cares to peruse it.

I would like to point out that there are a large number of churches renovated and designed since the Second Vatican Council. The fact that this building reflects the design advocated by this council is not a special reason to preserve it.

I used to worship in that building, in my neighborhood. I look forward to the day when I can return to the neighborhood and, living in a new home, worship in a new set of Quonset huts (or an equivalent temporary structure) that might provide comfort to a St. Frances Cabrini congregation, while a new permanent building is built to serve the Roman Catholic community in Gentilly.