Helps in Big Easy
November 14, 2005
Richmond Councilman Tom Butt has just returned from a six-day trip to New Orleans where he contributed his skills as an architect to help preserve one of the city's most valuable resources, its historic neighborhoods.
Butt was part of a volunteer team of architects and historic preservation experts who toured New Orleans' neighborhoods that were devastated by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The city's oldest neighborhoods, which were built around the time of the city's founding in 1817, avoided damage because they were built on high ground along the river, Butt said. However, in the lowlands between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, many homes, some more than 100 years old suffered moderate water damage.
"These are historic districts with collections of predominately modest, but exquisitely detailed, historic homes that most cities would kill for," Butt said.
Butt was asked to join the team because of his distinguished resume as an architect. He is an inducted fellow in the prestigious American Institute of Architects and has won numerous awards including the Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award for his work in restoring the East Brother Lighthouse.
The six-member team worked in coordination with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the New Orleans-based Preservation Resource Center.
There is concern among New Orleans officials that people who own homes in historic neighborhoods will tear down their vintage buildings and replace them with modern structures that compromise the neighborhood's continuity, Butt said. He and the other preservation volunteers assisted homeowners by giving them restoration information.
"Architecture is a big part of the economy. People come down here because they like the history, the ambiance," Butt said. "If you take that away, you take away a big part of the economy."
Butt said that the majority of damage to homes was on the first floor and that many of them were in pretty good shape. He said the first floors of many of the homes needed to be gutted, treated for mold and then walled with new sheet rock.
"I talked to one guy who had just come back and he hadn't taken anything out of his home yet," Butt said. "He was wondering what to do and we put him in touch with free resources, people who have the expertise to give him realistic estimates of costs."
There is also a concern that many New Orleans residents will not return to the city, the councilman said. Prior to the hurricane, the city's population was about 500,000. Some officials are estimating the population will be reduced by half.
"Some people are going to want to tear their homes down, collect the insurance money and leave," Butt said. "We're trying to encourage them to restore their homes and come live in them again."