French Quarter Collapse Spurs Concerns


The collapse of a 214-year-old building in New Orleans’ French Quarter has led to concerns over the safety of the aging building stock in the historic neighborhood.

Reports question the city’s inspection protocols, while an investigation into what caused the cave-in remains underway nearly a month after it collapsed.

The Collapse

The three-story building on the 800 block of Royal Street came crumbling down Oct. 22, a day after portions of its facade had tumbled to the street below.

Firefighters were attempting to stabilize the brick and wood structure for a planned demolition the next morning when the majority of the facade and roof crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust about 1:00 p.m.

No one was injured, but the dust forced firefighters, onlookers and others to run for safety, according to local reports.

Adjacent buildings were not affected by the collapse, reports say, though neighbors were told to seek alternative housing for a few days.

Inspections, Appearance

Built circa 1801, the structure—which housed three apartments—was in a state of disrepair, according to numerous reports.

The building had been cited for minor “demolition by neglect” in 2011 by the Vieux Carre Commission, the city’s zoning arm. The violations on the exterior of the building were subsequently repaired, a city official told the New Orleans News Advocate.

The commission is charged with regulating all repairs, alterations and construction that affect the exterior (whether visible from the street or not) of any building situated on private property in the French Quarter, according to its website.

However, the inspectors are not allowed inside the buildings.

Neighbors note that the collapsed building’s exterior appeared “decrepit” leading up to the incident. Its back portion had missing clapboards, cracks and open windows, reports say.

French Quarter

The building was constructed circa 1801 by M. Languille and was one of the earliest examples of three-story buildings, Curbed NOLA reports.

The building’s only tenants were Edward and Suzanne Robicheaux, of Baton Rouge, LA. They rented the second-floor apartment and used it for a weekend getaway for the past 21 years. They were not there when the building collapsed.

Edward told The New Orleans Advocate that the building had been “adequately kept up.”

The building’s owner has been identified as Elaine Petrie.

A Wake-Up Call

In the wake of the collapse, city officials say they are discussing the safety of buildings in the French Quarter.

Many residents and preservationists hope the collapse serves as a wake-up call for one of America’s most fragile and aging neighborhoods. They hope property owners will initiate and invite building inspections.

The French Quarter has roughly 3,000 buildings.

The Associated Press reports that a plethora of problems plague the historic area, including structural decay; absentee landlords; Louisiana’s humid climate; termite infestation; hurricanes; and balconied buildings side-by-side.

The stress of heavy trucks that rattle streets and buildings built for horse-drawn carriages was also cited as an issue affecting the neighborhood.

However, the AP says the lack of regular interior and structural inspections is perhaps the worst problem the area faces.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Architecture; Building facades; Design; Maintenance + Renovation; Maintenance coating work; North America

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