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Preserving Holy Cross

The historic Holy Cross neighborhood has seen its fair share of disaster, ensuing blight and grinding poverty. But this gritty part of town bounded by St. Claude Avenue to the north, the Mississippi River to the south, St. Bernard Avenue to the east and the Industrial Canal to the west, is fighting its way back. And it has some powerful friends; among them are the Preservation Resource Center and the internationally renowned Miami architect Andres Duany, co-creator of the New Urbanism school of architecture responsible, among numerous projects, for the creation of Seaside in Florida.

Duany’s post-hurricane contribution to New Orleans was his design for an alternative to FEMA trailers. These small temporary structures came to be known as “Katrina cottages.” Patty Gay, PRC executive director, says the concept was so successful they have decided to adapt that design into permanent structures.

“So now they are being built as part of the continuing recovery effort,” she says.

Building on its years of experience helping to renovate areas in the Lower Garden District, the PRC has turned its Operation Comeback focus to Holy Cross. Already one permanent version of Duany’s Katrina cottage is there, just feet from the Mississippi River levee. Living in and loving that one is Omaira Falcon, a young information technology specialist at the downtown VA Hospital. A self-published poet, student of guitar and amateur painter, Omaira, a New York native of Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, moved to New Orleans after a three-year stint abroad in the U.S Army.

“I first came to visit with a friend,” she says. And, like so many other intense advocates for our city, she “fell in love with it.”

As an army veteran with excellent credit, she was eligible for a VA loan, which certainly helped with her decision to purchase property.

“I’d been renting in Mid-City and Uptown, but I wanted to live by the river,” she says. “I read about the Holy Cross neighborhood in the paper, and that story is what drove me here.”

But not right away. This part of town, below Faubourg Marigny, below Bywater, almost in St. Bernard Parish, was worlds away from more familiar neighborhoods.

“At first I just came down here and sat on the levee,” she recalls. “I watched as the PRC was building this house. I kept coming back and sitting on the levee, to see if this was the right place for me. And, after a while, I thought, I want that house.”

Checking out what was involved in a veteran’s loan, Omaira discovered that, in her case, not only were the mortgage payments going to be less than the rent she was paying, but she also did not have to put any money down. Little did she know that she would be buying a house designed by one of the world’s most prominent architects.

Reflective of the shotgun style that is so much a part of the New Orleans landscape, Duany packed all the necessary conveniences of a home into his design for this tiny house. It’s entered through a charming front porch, which Omaira gated to keep in her dogs. There’s a small but functional living room with an open kitchen, and a bedroom that is seriously petite. But it has an adequate closet and there’s a well appointed, if miniature, bathroom near by.

It may be small, but it’s close to perfect for a single person.

For those looking for something a tad larger, Patty Gay says the PRC is about to construct five more houses in Holy Cross, each with three bedrooms and two baths, on five lots they already own.

“We’re in the process of getting permits now that this project has been approved by HDLC (Historic District Landmark Commission),” she says. Like other properties renovated by PRC, these are designed to fit in with the neighborhood architecture, and, says Gay, when they are built, they will be put on the market at fair market value.

This is another vignette in the infrequent series focusing on New Orleans’ numerous extraordinary neighborhoods. For more information about Holy Cross and the many projects of the Preservation Resource Center, click here.


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