Preserving History to Create A Better Future: One Shotgun House's Journey Across New Orleans
When Past Meets Present
In 2017, Leidenheimer Baking Company recognized their need to expand current operations in order to better serve their clients across the city. The leadership decided that the handsome brick building that has housed operations since 1904 was in need of an addition.
They had the land and the plans...and a problem.
In the back of the building where the proposed expansion was to go, stood the original bakery workers’ house. Originally built in 1895, after Leidenheimer’s move to Simon Bolivar and MLK in 1904, the historic shotgun home had conveniently housed workers right behind the bakery. And despite its need for some TLC after years of going unused, the house still boasted the charm and character of New Orleans historic architecture.
Furthermore, it stood as a piece of Leidenheimer history itself. Making demolition one of the last things Leidenheimer’s current leadership wanted.
“As a New Orleans native, I have a deep-rooted appreciation for our city’s neighborhoods and unique architectural style,” said Sandy Whann, President of Leidenheimer Baking Company. “To me, they are at the core of what makes our city so livable.”
Turning a Problem into a Golden Opportunity
While considering how to move forward, Leidenheimer was able to reach out to the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), which promotes the preservation, restoration, and revitalization of New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods. The PRC had a plan, but it was predicated upon finding the right partners to make it happen.
“At PRC, we pride ourselves on helping owners find solutions to complicated situations,” said PRC Executive Director Danielle Del Sol. “We work hard to save as much of the historic fabric of this city as possible to serve future generations.”
And so, in turn, the PRC reached out to Thrive New Orleans.
Thrive NOLA has been helping restore homes and create opportunities for residents in the St Roch neighborhood to find affordable housing since 2009. At the time when the PRC reached out, Thrive also owned several undeveloped lots in the St Roch area...perfect for relocating a historic home to be used as affordable housing.
“The PRC made my decision to donate the house rather than demolish it an easy one, as they did most of the heavy lifting,” Whann said. “They found the right partners and contractors to safely move the structure to the new site, and it is a good feeling knowing that together we preserved a part of our city’s past. This is an outstanding example of business and preservation working hand in hand to accomplish a common goal and to keep our city moving forward.”
At this point, Leidenheimer was on board to donate and preserve the home, the PRC was on board to help coordinate the process to keep the home intact, and Thrive was ready and willing to provide the house with a new address. The problem at this point, as you may have guessed, was finding a way to move a historic building from Central City to St Roch.
Moving a house, and especially a fragile, historic house requires unique expertise and equipment that only a select few companies have. Davie Shoring happens to be one of those select few, and after hearing the request and the impact it would have on the community, agreed to donate a team and equipment to move the house across town.
The team of partners was ready...but the process had only really just begun.
To move a house as old as the one on MLK required a fair share of preparation to make sure it could endure the stress and logistics of the relocation. Among the work to be done:
Removing the roof because it was too high to go under electrical wires
Framing inside walls to make the building stable enough to move
Replacing all sills that the house rests on for stability
Removing a non-original addition on the back of the house
Disconnecting all pipes and wires
Completely clearing all debris underneath the house
“By the time all permitting, licensing, and preparation was complete, the process took well over a year since the time all of the partners had first come together on the project” explained Darren Morris, who headed up Thrive New Orleans’ efforts coordinating the move.
Yet on July 23rd, after rescheduling once due to inclement weather, the long process was complete, and the day had finally come to move the house.
Making Big Moves
Starting around 10am, the crew from Davies began their work to move the old house on a surprisingly cool Wednesday in July. Before long, the house was elevated on the crew’s specialty hydraulic trailer, and a crowd of neighbors had joined reporters from WWL and the Times Picayune to watch them move the behemoth of a house.
Yet even the best laid plans are prone to surprise...in this case, the low lying ground underneath the house hadn’t dried out after the previous day’s rain, causing the hydraulic trailer’s tires to sink into the mud. The house was stuck.
But the team from Davie Shoring was quick to troubleshoot, and a few hours later, the house on MLK was finally ready for departure.
In case you missed the procession on the 23rd, you can see a visual chronicle of the house’s four mile journey through the heart of the city in the Times Picayune’s coverage of the move on NOLA.com and WWL's video coverage.
After rolling down MLK to Earhart, then through the city to Rampart and finally onto Franklin Ave and Almonaster Ave, the house arrived at it’s new home nearly two and a half hours later, where neighbors watched as Davie Shoring lowered it into place at 2200 Almonaster Ave.
A New Chapter in History
Although the physical journey across town is complete, the work for Thrive New Orleans has just begun.
The house will now begin a new chapter in its long history, as Thrive starts renovating the historic home to sell to a moderate-income family earning up to 120 percent of the metro area median income. In an effort to help stabilize the neighborhood, Thrive New Orleans’ efforts will focus on teachers, nurses and first responders as potential buyers.
“Homeownership that transforms a community goes beyond just owning a home,” said Chuck Morse, Executive Director of Thrive New Orleans. “Transformative homeownership entails pride of belonging for families living there. The collaborative efforts of the PRC, the Leidenheimer Baking Company, Davie Shoring and Thrive New Orleans are creating an opportunity for transformative homeownership by preserving the character of the St. Roch neighborhood and creating an affordable and beautiful home that a family will be truly proud of.”
To restore a historic home such as this requires more work than the average renovation. If you or your organization are interested in participating in or supporting the restoration of this historic home; helping create transformative homeownership for a family in St Roch, please contact Darren Morris at Darren@Thrivenola.org.