“Yellow Wall 2 as viewed by a preservationist,” Preservation in Print

By Mary Fitzpatrick, via Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans

Just as the recently renovated Renaissance Arts Hotel makes a strong statement about the relevance of preservation in New Orleans so too does Luis Cruz Azaceta’s mesmerizing Yellow Wall 2 that hangs in the lobby. Composed of 565 photos taken on and around Tchoupitoulas Street, the montage reveals the fortitude that is demanded in order to preserve New Orleans’ heritage.


The majority of Azaceta’s images are of the Amelia Cotton Press, the only intact cotton press remaining from the 26 presses that lined Tchoupitoulas St. in the 1870s. It was one of the focal points of the ongoing Wal-Mart controversy in the Lower Garden District as the developers originally requested permission to demolish a portion of the building for more parking. When opposition mounted against this plan, the developers withdrew their request. Kevin Kelly then bought the former press to restore as a warehouse for copper.

The building is important not only to the city’s commercial past, but it is also highly significant to African-American and trade union history. On September 1, 1880, 500 white and 300 black workers in the cotton pressing industry struck for higher wages and more job security. The successful conclusion of the labor strikes prompted the property owners to convert the site from residential into a cotton yard.

There is also a royal connection. Owner Michael Heine named the 1882 brick structure for his wife Amelie Miltenberger. Their daughter, Marie Alice Heine, married Albert Honore Charles Grimaldi, the Prince of Monaco, thus predating Grace Kelly by 65 years as Princess of Monaco.

“I had admired the building for many years, and as I passed it each day on my way to the office I wondered if it could be saved,” says the new owner of the Amelia Cotton Press, Kevin Kelly. “I tried to purchase it for over three years, but the owner wouldn’t sell. Finally the problems with Wal-Mart and HRI presented an opportunity to buy it because many groups wanted the last surviving cotton warehouse to be salvaged.”

Preparing the building, which had been allowed to deteriorate for many years, to use again has been a controversial undertaking. The leaning wall on St. Mary St. could not be saved, so Kelly is rebuilding it to mimic the originals. About 60 feet of wall had to be removed in order to allow truck access. (The original doors were only eight feet wide, enough for a horse and buggy.) According to Kelly, a small garden wall on Religious St., which was added in 1910, and a piece of the Tchoupitoulas St. wall, added in 1940, also came down. The Historic District Landmarks Commission required that Kelly treat what were once seven separate warehouses individually, so what appeared to be original walls were removed and are being replaced the way they probably were originally. Most likely, the courtyard was enclosed and the street facade bricked in about 1910. When completed, the exterior walls will be the way they were in 1884, says Kelly. A new roof, floor, and actual steel structure are being installed so that the new/old building will be a modem warehouse with a 2,000-pound floor load and 35foot ceilings. Kelly is planning a December completion on the project at which time he will begin storing copper, a commodity that has replaced cotton in the New Orleans’ storage business. Kelly is also restoring Houmas House Plantation in Ascension Parish.


In the lower right portion of Azaceta’s montage the National Rice Mill on Tchoupitoulas St. appears in the background of two photos before it was totally demolished. The building was in bad shape, and the owners allowed it to partially collapse. Apparently, much of the interior had been removed, which made the building structurally unstable. On August 1, 2001, PRC’s Operation Comeback staff noticed a pile of bricks on the ground and a bulldozer on the site. A worker told them that a wall “had collapsed in a storm” and he was just moving bricks. Because there had been no permits issued, the demolition was deemed illegal and the Historic District Landmarks Commission issued a stop work order. Eventually, it was determined that too much was gone and the whole building was unstable. What is going to become of the site now is unknown.

Incidentally, the oldest rice mill in America still in operation is in New Iberia. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the Konriko Rice Mill is a top Louisiana tourist attraction.


Unlike many of the structures depicted in multiple shots on Yellow Wall 2, Azaceta’s portrait of the Bishop Hudson Baptiste on the porch of his home at 625 General Taylor St. is only seen in a single image. For the Preservation Resource Center, the Whitney Bank, and Uptown’s Faubourg Marengo neighborhood, however, it is a very powerful single image.

“What we need over there is people, people laughing and talking,” said Bishop Baptiste, looking across General Taylor Street at an entire block of vine covered, boarded-up, graffiti-clad, stripped-down, vermin-infested identical double shotgun houses. “What we don’t need is another vacant lot,” he added.

That was 1997. At the time, the Bishop was the only homeowner in the 600 block of General Taylor St. where he had lived for forty years. He had taken to passing most of the day on his front porch, keeping a watchful eye on the block and chatting with passersby. Baptiste had faith. He had faith in God, and blessedly he had faith in PRC’s Operation Comeback. “I’m praying for you,” he told Operation Comeback director Stephanie Bruno as she stopped by to update him on the PRC’s efforts to expropriate, renovate, and sell the eight eyesores facing his front porch.

It was a sad day when Bishop Baptiste died, but his prayers were answered, and his block and many blocks around his house are now filled with colorful restored homes and gardens.

The PRC helped Baptiste’s heirs resolve estate problems so that his beloved house could be sold to the Whitney. The PRC ultimately acquired the house from the Whitney and renovated it. Architect Wayne Troyer, who had designed the renovations of the eight houses across the street, added a side porch and entrance to the single shotgun, making it more spacious, and before work was even finished the Bishop’s home had a new owner.


There’s one final piece of Azaceta’s montage that the PRC hopes to see restored. The corner building on General Taylor and Tchoupitoulas has been a sorry statement for many years. In spite of a hand-painted sign on the boarded-up door announcing that the property was “For Sale $50,000;” the previous owners refused countless offers from interested buyers. At long last the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, who had sold the building to the current owners, has regained title to the property and plans to recruit proposals from prospective buyers/renovators this fall.