New Orleans looks to the past for inspiration as it rebuilds from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.


The facade on the new Williams Addition in the French Quarter recreates a historical 1850s hotel.

Perhaps no place in the United States better represents the importance of restoration better than New Orleans. Still reeling from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is attempting to recall its fabled past, while rebuilding for the future. Woodward Design+Build experienced first-hand the effects of Katrina. After the storm, both the corporate office and mill shop had four feet of water in them. A temporary office had to be set up, housing arranged for displaced staffers and arrangements made to use another company’s shop. Now back on its feet with a new shop in place, Woodward’s 180 employees are actively engaged in efforts to restore New Orleans to its previous glory.

One such project came about recently, when the Williams Research Center, home to a library of historically important documents and artwork, purchased a tin-roofed shed in the French Quarter with plans to house its growing Historic New Orleans Collection. In researching the property, it was discovered that the colorful Conti Verandah Hotel once stood on this site. Architect Davis Jahncke was hired to design the new addition, which contains modern multi-purpose exhibition and programming space, along with three stories of art archival storage. Despite the modern touches inside, the street front of the building features a rose-colored stucco façade, false carriageway, chimneys, a covered gallery and shuttered windows, in an accurate historical recreation of the Verandah Hotel that stood on the lot in the 1850s. Woodward was hired to complete Jahncke’s vision.

The Williams Addition offered several challenges to Woodward’s team. “The entire structure is new, but located in the French Quarter. The design had to be approved by the French Quarter Architectural Commission,” explains Woodward Project Manager Paul Nelson. “This is a City of New Orleans team, which has complete control over what can and cannot be done in the French Quarter. For instance, if you have a structure in the Quarter and want to just repair your front steps or paint them, you must first get permission for the repair and also get paint colors approved. A tough group, but very important, as we must maintain the historic nature of the Quarter.”

Upon removing the tin shed on the property, Woodward was then required to put the job on hold for several months, while archeological excavations were completed on the site. Remains of Native American encampments were discovered, along with numerous liquor bottles and rouge pots from the 1820s. (This discovery led to speculation that the Rising Sun Hotel, that occupied the site before the Veranda, was actually the notorious House of the Rising Sun brothel, immortalized in the oft-recorded folk song, made most famous by Eric Burden and the Animals in the ’60s).

Woodward used Spanish Cedar, known for its resistence to New Orlean’s wet climate, for the moulding.

Once work recommenced, multiple new challenges arose. Nelson lists a few: “The French Quarter has very narrow streets. Large trucks are not allowed in the Quarter. All deliveries had to be made with small trucks, making many trips. As the building took up the entire site, 65 feet by 65 feet, we had no lay-down or storage area. Everything had to be brought in and then installed within a very short time frame. When any delivery was made, which had the potential to stop traffic, we had to hire a New Orleans police detail to direct traffic away from our street: this was very expensive.

“We were putting up perfectly squared-up buildings against two buildings more than 150 years old, which as you can expect are not exactly square,” Nelson continues. “Lots of copper flashing was needed between the two buildings to prevent rain from collecting between them. Finally, on the front of the building, specialty items had to be found which replicated the circa-1800 hardware: ornamental gallery steel, downspouts and columns.”

Woodward was able to overcome these obstacles, and the end result is a stunningly beautiful structure that preserves the architectural heritage of the city. The first new construction completed in the French Quarter since Katrina, many hope the Williams Addition will lead the way to the revitalization of the entire area. Woodward plans to be involved.

“For many years, the core of Woodward Design+Build work was all new commercial construction,” Nelson says. “But recently, New Orleans construction development has turned to converting older historic buildings into residential units and/or hotels. In addition, since Katrina, many historic buildings were damaged by wind and flooding. Woodward is now involved in many of these conservations and restorations, which make up perhaps 25 percent of our work.”

The Williams facade featured 21 pairs of shutters, which were custom made in Woodward’s millshop. “Our millshop has found that Spanish Cedar is an excellent wood for our projects” Nelson explains. “It is easy to work, has good grains, doesn’t split and is very resistant to our wet climate.

“Behind the first floor shutters, you can see the six pairs of French doors we built. The one large set of shutters is to replicate a carriageway, which would have been in the original building. Additionally, the top three floors all have custom made, double-hung windows with 1/4-inch laminated, missile-proof glass held by wood stops.”

Other challenges can arise in these types of projects, according to Nelson. “Developers and builders have great vision on the potential of older buildings: the challenge of construction comes when the work starts.” These issues include: foundations, which can be marginal for the new loads; marginal walls on old brick buildings, where additional structural support must be passed on to the existing foundations; other neighborhood entities (beside the French Quarter Architectural Review Commission) which can impact use and design; and unanticipated major water and/or termite damage to brick or wood framed structures.

But can historic restoration work prove profitable? “Yes, profit is placed into our price,” responds Nelson. “In addition, when we discuss the pricing with the owner, we usually include a contingency for all unknown items. If used, ok: if not, it is returned to the owners. We have a very experienced estimating department. As we become more and more involved in these projects, we continue to learn and apply lessons to future projects.”

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