A dilapidated pre-Civil War Creole home in Treme built by one of the city’s first brass band leaders in the 1850s has been torn down to the chagrin of preservationists who’ve warned that the city is losing a chunk of its architectural and musical heritage in the rush to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina.
On Friday, wrecking crews demolished a two-story Creole cottage built by Charles Jaeger, a German immigrant who became a major band leader in New Orleans during the antebellum years and after the Civil War. Brass band music, considered a progenitor of jazz, became popular in New Orleans after the Civil War. Brass bands still play pivotal roles in New Orleans culture.
“Another historic music landmark bites the dust in New Orleans,” said Jack Stewart, a New Orleans music historian and preservationist.
The broken down and abandoned building was standing in the way of expansion plans for St. Peter Claver, a growing Roman Catholic church and school.
The Creole plantation-house style house, which had a gallery running around it, was in bad shape with one side buckling and its wooden frame was eaten up by termites and decay, contractors said. Despite its derelict state, preservationists and city officials had hoped to save the building. Those efforts did not pan out because of a lack of money and time.
“We knew we were working with a tough timeline from the beginning,” said Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center, a group whose mission is to save old buildings. “We explored every alternative: moving the house, deconstructing it, salvaging. We would have loved to have seen the building saved.”
She said it was one of the oldest buildings in Treme, a historic neighborhood where a society of free blacks flourished in the 1800s after the arrival of thousands of refugees from the Haitian Revolution. The house of Jaeger was located on North Roman Street in the upper portion of Treme.
Charles Chamberlain, museum historian for the Louisiana State Museum, said the building was a rare example of Creole architecture in the United States.
“Creole architecture is unique within the United States. It is a French style of architecture that is really indigenous to the lower Mississippi valley — and that’s it,” he said. “Any Creole architecture that we have should be preserved. Most Creole cottages are single story, and this is a two-story Creole cottage, which makes it extra cool in my opinion.”
Jaeger, a cornet player, moved to New Orleans in the 1840s and became a band leader. Stewart said he led several bands, including white, black and integrated groups. Jaeger died at age 52 in the early 1870s.
“He was almost like the official city brass band leader,” Stewart said. “He was an all-around musician.”
Since Katrina, numerous homes and music halls that incubated New Orleans’ musical art forms have disappeared in large part because of the city’s zeal to eliminate eyesores and tackle the longstanding problem of blighted property. After taking office in 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he wanted to eliminate 10,000 blighted properties in three years.
But the effort has been criticized by preservationists for not taking enough care to preserve the city’s history. For example, the city unwittingly approved the demolition of the childhood home of jazz great Sidney Bechet in late 2010.
Since the 2005 storm, the city also has lost the Halfway House, a venue that had been turned into a pesticide business and later damaged by fire, the Gallo and Dixie theaters and the Naval Brigade Hall. The homes of several jazz musicians — including Louis Nelson, Willie Guitar, Ed Garland, Danny Barker and Buddy Bolden — have been torn down or fallen into disrepair since Katrina.
New Orleans has a long track record of tearing down historic buildings associated with jazz. The most glaring example was the demolition of Louis Armstrong’s childhood home on Jane Alley in the 1960s to make way for the city’s prison.