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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: Gentilly, LA
Specific
property
affected:
5500 Paris Avenue, New Orleans
Comments: While the building in question may have been important conceptually as far as use of materials and all of those other things that architecture students get all caught up in are concerned, the actual carrying out of the concepts was a practical failure. As many SFC parishioners have said, the building was a money pit. The roof vaults may thrill those with architectural backgrounds, I guess...but the flat roof over the rest of the building wasn't exactly the best idea for a location that gets 40+ inches of rain per year. But then again, the Internationalist Style is by nature not supposed to reflect it's locale or setting in any way, and this building holds true to that precept in that it has absolutely no linkage whatsoever to New Orleans--it could just as easily be sitting in Denver or Cincinnati or Montevideo, for that matter. The building had been hemmoraging cash for years, both to cover constant roof repairs and to cover the exhorbitant amount it cost to heat and cool a building not designed with any thoughts to energy efficiency.

Now we are told that suddenly this building is "historically significant", despite it's being barely 40 years old. this "significance" is bolstered by all of the same kind of "pat each other on the back" amorphous claims that the architectural set always make about each others' projects--"wonderfully imaginative and creative use of materials" and so on. In truth, it seems, the claims for historical significance are mostly pegged to the building having been designed by a firm that is perhaps the most highly respected local firm of the last few decades, one whose branches stretch out and reach into just about every aspect of the architectural scene of New Orleans. It cannot be claimed that this building is the most significant work of that firm; personally, I've never found it to be particularly attractive at all. But there have been more high-profile examples of this firm's work that have been lost prior to this date, and this building is perhaps seen by some to be a chance to salvage some of that firm's legacy....even if it isn't particulary as worthy of the efforts as the already-gone project might have been.

Of course the building means a lot to the former SFC parishioners because of all of the memories that were formed there and because it was the site of much of their spiritual life. But it's only a building...they, themselves, were actually the Church all along. When the building was designed in the heady days when SFC parish was a growing, relatively prosperous congregation, the size of the building was probably seen as being appropriate. Truth is, with the more recent aging of the congregation as more and more of the children who grew up on the neighborhood moved out to the suburbs the building was way to big for the remaining members of the parish to afford to keep up, and was typically half-filled at best.

Most buildings have a lifespan. Some are so significant for various reasons such that everyone recognizes that their lifespan should be extended for as long as possible by whatever means are necessary. Locally we have many examples to choose from, such as the Mint or the Pontalba Apartments. Others reach a point where they no longer serve the original purpose as intended, or where the original purpose has through time changed such that now different needs must be filled. This building, for all of the reasons stated, has reached the end of it's lifespan. Allow the site to be used for another purpose that serves the entire community, and which is welcomed by the surrounding neighborhood. Erect a monument to the building, a bronze plaque or the like, to memorialize all those who worshiped there when it was still a church, and to acknowledge that it had been designed by one of the city's important firms. Remember the building for the ideas of it's design and the moments the parishioners had inside, but don't force someone else to bear the costs of keeping a dysfunctional facility.