LOUISIANA—The National Register for Historic Places designates the month of May as “Preservation Month.” Preservation history hits very close to home in Louisiana, where a major part of our charm and tourism dollars are attributed to how well the state and its buildings have aged.
However, the timelessness that gives Louisiana its charm is also what makes it vulnerable. Our historic buildings are often endanger of being lost due to neglect, a lack of funds needed for restoration or the daily threat of weather.
Brian Davis is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Trust Historic Preservation. The Louisiana Trust Historic Preservation is a non-profit organization that has helped to save historic buildings across the state since 1979.
Davis knows all about the fight of keeping history alive. Most of the fight is against water as Davis says, “from rain, to hurricanes, to winds, to constant moisture from humidity or the wicking up of moisture from the ground; the most important part of saving a building is keeping the water out.”
The way the Louisiana Trust Historic Preservation works is simple. Anyone can help nominate a historic site in danger by filling out a form on their website. The organization visits the site in person, and helps to find grants, tax credits or other tools to restore and revitalize the building. They also can help to find potential developers of places that are without an owner.
There are over 150 sites on the list and every year they add more. In 2021, 11 new sites were added. These new sites include a historic house in Gretna and the old Holy Cross School in the 9th Ward of New Orleans.
“I think, one of our biggest tools in saving historic buildings is our revolving fund program. We started that in 2015. It’s actually a way for us to acquire buildings, either through purchase or donation. We have some funds that we put into the building to stabilize it. We then sell it with preservation easement, where it has a legal protection into the future,” says Davis.
There is a common misconception that just because a building is registered as being historic, it is safe from demolition or change and Davis says that is not the case, saying, “it has no legal protection. If someone wants to come in and change it or demolish it, they can.”
Some sites have been on the list for a while, like St. Alphonsus Church in New Orleans that was completed in 1857. Other places like the Lakefront Airport Terminal (completed in 1933) were once on the preservation list and were restored and moved off of the list and continue to be a part of Louisiana’s contemporary story.
Brian Davis has a heart for history and an appreciation of the diverse architecture that helps to color the setting of the “Bayou State” saying, “we have some amazing buildings and culture here in Louisiana. It’s really important for us to try and save these buildings.”