Monday, January 15, 2007

"Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!"

The National WWII Museum (formally National D-Day Museum) is moving forward with its plans for a $300 million expansion.

After Hurricane Katrina, many people expected the National World War II Museum to abandon the ambitious expansion program it announced three years ago, its president said last week.

The museum's board of trustees felt differently, museum President Gordon "Nick" Mueller told the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

"This museum is about the American spirit, and we thought we had to display a little bit of that spirit," Mueller said.

"Things were tough during World War II, too," he added.

As a result, even before fundraising is complete, the museum is ready to begin demolishing several buildings in the 1000 block of Magazine Street and constructing the first phase of an expansion that, once complete, will quadruple its size and help attract as many as 750,000 to 1 million visitors a year, three to four times as many as it was drawing before Katrina.

Officials hope to put the work out to bid by March or April.

From the WWII Museum website:
Voorsanger Architects, PC of New York City was chosen as the architectural design firm and Gallagher & Associates of Bethesda, Maryland, as the exhibition design firm in a design competition for the Museum’s capital expansion. Bart Voorsanger has gained wide recognition for projects in Europe, Japan and the United States on museums, universities and airport architecture. Recent projects include the Asia Society Museum, the master plan for the University of Virginia and the renovation of Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport. Gallagher is a full-service design firm with expertise in museum planning and exhibition design. The firm has worked with the Smithsonian Institution, the International Spy Museum and the Newark Museum. The firm is currently designing the Visitors Center for the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Mathes Brierre of New Orleans has been selected by Voorsanger as the local architect of record for the project. The firm has been involved with many New Orleans projects such as the Aquarium of the Americas, the Place St. Charles office building and New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

Images courtesy Voorsanger Architects
The location of the WWII Museum is ripe for development as it stands between the heart of the Arts District and the CBD which is a popular viewing location for Mardi Gras parades. As is typical for so many of the neighborhoods of New Orleans, there lies seams between neighborhoods that often get neglected by commerce and development.

The D-Day Museum brought a little life to an area that was dominated by empty buildings and machine shops. While much of that area still remains so, the expansion will hopefully be the kick-in-the-can that will spur further revitalization in a long dormant part of the city.

With that said, there are some preservation issues that must be addressed.

The museum's expansion plans have come before city agencies recently in two phases. First was a request for permission to demolish most of the buildings in the 1000 block of Magazine, plus two buildings on Andrew Higgins and two on Poeyfarre Street.

Although the expansion site is just outside the officially designated Warehouse Local Historic District, the staff of the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission evaluated all the buildings in question, rating three of "major architectural importance" and others of "architectural or historical significance," though in some cases compromised by later alterations.

Museum officials plan to retain or reconstruct all or parts of four buildings, at 1031, 1037, 1041 and 1043 Magazine, but to demolish a large building at 1005-11 Magazine that the Landmarks Commission rated of major importance. The Department of Safety and Permits said that building is "in a dangerous and hazardous condition," and the Landmarks Commission staff agreed that it is in such bad shape that demolition is warranted.

Neither the commission nor local preservation groups objected to any of the other proposed demolitions, and the requests sailed through the City Planning Commission and the City Council with no debate.
While I'm not intimately familiar with the building slated for demolition, my impression of those buildings as a whole, is that there is not much character inherent in them to warrant their preservation in lieu of the overall need for revitalization of the city.

Preservation in New Orleans is necessary for us to maintain the old world atmosphere as it exists, but sometimes that atmosphere needs to be sacrificed in order to move forward.


Anonymous said...

This really is good news. There is a laundry list of proposed development projects out there, (I put together a partial list on my blog) a lot will fall by the wayside, but just a few could have a huge and positive impact. Let's hope the courage of the WWII museum board will spur some it forward.

Puddinhead said...

"Preservation in New Orleans is necessary for us to maintain the old world atmosphere as it exists, but sometimes that atmosphere needs to be sacrificed in order to move forward."

Amen to that, brother.