The Resurrection of a Historic New Orleans Church
Collums Construction recently completed a renovation of historic Saint Anna’s Church at 1313 Esplanade in New Orleans. We were asked by architect Jim Farr of Farr Plus Huson Architects to work with St. Anna’s Church to restore the building.
Built in 1846 by the famous architect, Henry Howard, the incredibly elegant structure had fallen on hard times. Victimized by lack of maintenance and past renovations that did not respect the historic character of the building, it needed a lot of work to be salvaged and secured for future generations.
Initially we had to shore the building and level it before it could be repaired. The structure had settled unevenly over the years and was over 12 inches out of level from front to back. To get the building to its original leveled condition, we had to repair damaged masonry piers, replace rotten and damaged structural members, and then strategically jack up sections of the building. Once the building was level we were able to rework and refit the original exterior features.
The front façade had a lot of damage to the historic millwork, and both balconies had to be completely rebuilt since they were almost falling off. They had been constructed as closed cornice balconies and showed signs of chronic moisture intrusion. This is a common occurrence due to the fact a closed cornice balcony detail requires careful maintenance of the deck surface to prevent moisture intrusion that quickly rots the decorative closed soffit below.
We had to carefully deconstruct both balconies and salvage all the intact millwork to reuse or to match for replacement. We had Central City Millworks re-mill Spanish cedar to match the damaged original millwork. Both balconies had to have new structural members installed, then all the sleepers, deck, fascia, decorative soffit, newel posts, railings and balustrades were restored or replaced by CCM. The replacement railings were installed by our carpenters.
With the building leveled, we then could address the doors and windows. Any damaged wood was matched and re-milled by CCM to restore the doors and windows to their original condition. We removed one door that had been added in a previous re-muddling and replaced it with new window sashes, sill, and jamb to match the window that had originally been installed in that location.
Our stone setters came in and carefully deconstructed the front entry alcove. The original checkerboard black and white marble landing and Italian marble threads and risers were puzzle-pieced back together using epoxy and matching grout to help make the repairs look like natural fissures. The stone setters then reassembled the repaired pieces of threads and the landing and replaced some of the missing black landing marble with new black stone.
After the entire exterior was restored, we repainted all exterior doors, windows, the façade, balconies, fascia and siding to protect the building as the final step in resurrecting St. Anna’s for another century of service.