After a NOLA.com inquiry, a city representative said that the bench disappearance is only temporary. The eight iron seats were cut from their moorings in order to make room for a little-publicized welcoming ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday (April 21) that relates to New Orleans’ ongoing tricentennial celebration. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is expected to speak at the site in front of the Cabildo (which was once the city’s seat of government).
The benches, which are sometimes used by musicians as impromptu stages and sometimes by music lovers as they watch street performers, will be returned on Saturday, after the ceremony, according to the city spokesman.
And this monstrosity was necessary I suppose:
With the best of intentions, workers applied elastomeric coatings to the Cabildo around 1998 and the Presbytère in 2004. Around the same time, the Old Ursuline Convent in New Orleans and the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge received similar applications. But what was first seen as a state-of-the-art technique soon turned out to be a preservationist’s nightmare. As it turns out, exterior masonry and stucco require a certain amount of moisture to maintain their structural integrity; without it, the exterior cracks and crumble.
“Elastomeric coats are designed to exclude water from buildings, and in theory they don’t cause problems as long as all water is excluded from entering a building. But that is impossible to do,” said Cangelosi. “Water can come from rising damp, hairline cracks, movement, interior sources including condensations, failure of adhesion of the stucco and other sources. And once in the moisture is in, it cannot escape, as the coating is designed to prevent the transmission of moisture.”
Trapped behind the paint, this moisture has no place to go except through the building’s interior plaster walls. But before this was realized, damage had been done. The Old Louisiana State Capitol building was one of the earliest buildings in Louisiana to report damage after it was discovered that the elastomeric coatings had been the culprit behind decay caused by trapped moisture within the building walls.
“Historic buildings and their fabric must be able to breathe,” Cangelosi said. “History has shown that any product which prevents that will have an adverse effect.”
Elastomeric coatings did not go from panacea to poison overnight, of course. But by 2005, the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) rejected the Ursuline Convent’s request to repaint an elastomeric fence. Staff analysts concluded that such paints “are disastrously inappropriate for historic masonry walls and structures in all high humidity/high temperature climates and especially in sub-tropical and tropical climes like New Orleans.”
These words proved prophetic, and work to remove the elastomeric coatings on the Cabildo and the Presbytère began in 2014. By that point, the damage done to those buildings by the coatings was severe. “”I received a video early one morning from someone passing the Cabildo as parts of it literally were exploding off the building as the trapped moisture was trying to escape,” Cangelosi said. “Not only did it cause extensive damage to the building, but someone could have been seriously hurt.” Koch and Wilson Architects was selected to oversee the work of associated waterproofing at the Cabildo, and Jahncke & Burns Architects was chosen as the architect of record for the work of advanced waterproofing at the Presbytère. Associated Waterproofing is the contractor of work on the Cabildo, and Advance Waterproofing LLC served as general contractor for the Presbytère‘s first phase of work.
At first, the plan was to remove the coating from only the front façade of each building. As the work proceeded, however, it quickly became clear that not only would the other sides of the buildings need to be stripped, but that stucco and masonry underneath the elastomeric coatings had suffered extensive structural damage and would need repair.
One of the trueisms about living in the Quarter ( and different from even the experiences of our “almost-residents” aka storekeepers or other business owners) is the scads of information that one gets from popping out on the sidewalk dozens or more times in one day, observing the activities or even while still back in your space, hearing them happen and perhaps noting the time in the back of your mind while you put laundry in the washer before any commerce is even beginning. Those activities include workers arriving at dawn and standing in front of your door soberly assessing current tip levels; delivery trucks huffing and puffing outside from 5:30 am on, pulling cases of items out (which ramps up especially in mid-week); knowing the tour guides who do their work with respect and gusto and those who do not; separating the good hustlers from the dangerous ones and much more. One other is learning the names and company of the sanitation crews and the identification of who actually works versus those who just walk and swipe at the ground once in a while. One of the good ones is Royal Carriages. In case you didn’t know, all of the carriage companies are supposed to take their turn in the Quarter, cleaning up after their mules; however most do not bother. The one company that is consistent and conscientious is Royal Carriages.
Recently, they had an open house at their stables in the Marigny where they invited the locals via social media to see what was up and offered some free food and drink and music. I went by and was impressed by the cleanliness and attention they paid to their space. So when I saw the cleaner out on the cart today and that he was stopped right in front of my door, I thanked him for his work and we had a short chat. His name is Roger and he is proud of his company and told me that the mules there get 4 months off per year and the place is kept “spotlessly”clean. He was as cheery of a worker as the modern world has and I am glad to have him around and to have a name to assign to his face.
The workers and residents of the Quarter acknowledge each other’s dependency on the other. We share a pride in our place and a willingness to play the hosts to the city’s millions of visitors. Royal Mule Carriages illustrates that truth.
Listen to The Anthology of Louisiana Literature‘s 2-part interview with Dr. Nancy Dixon, editor of one of the necessary books for any New Orleans scholar or armchair historian: N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature. Even if this brilliant woman wasn’t my pal, I’d still be urging you to get a copy. I open it up again and again to read her selections from different authors.
The 560 pages includes a well-curated set of short fiction and plays that reflect the city’s literary history, from Paul Louis LeBlanc de Villeneuve’s 18th-century play The Festival of the Young Corn, or The Heroism of Poucha-Houmma to Fatima Shaik’s 1987 short story “Climbing Monkey Hill.”
Dixon provides informative introductions to each author’s section, placing the works and their creators within the context of the city’s history and the history of its literature, making the anthology both an enjoyable artful artifact and an important academic resource.