City Hall in Treme

When I came to New Orleans more than a decade ago and first drove by the present City Hall, I guffawed. The boring lackluster modern design of it should be expected for municipal buildings built in 1957. The pebble concrete exterior is darkened with decades of mold and dirt. A yearly pressure wash was never in the budget, apparently. Add to that the incredibly tacky and poorly installed neon signage that crowns it, which equals cringe-level architecture. The city is forced to lease additional space in nearby buildings to accommodate workers. Perhaps it is time for a new City Hall.

A few large vacant buildings could be renovated to house the city government. The phallic shaped eyesore Plaza Tower, located at 1001 Howard Ave., comes to mind.

Recently, shards of the neglected facade that have come crashing to the ground only highlighted the urgency to do something with the building. This month, proposals have been brought forth for high end condos and hotel space. Hopefully it will come to fruition, unlike previous proposals. It’s in the best location, not far from the existing municipal buildings.

Purchase use the old Charity Hospital and renovate that. The building is not only structurally sound, but a beautiful example of Art Deco design built in 1939. Sure it would be costly to renovate it to current standards, but it would be preserving a historically significant structure that is important to the appeal of New Orleans.

The mayor is proposing to move City Hall to the vacant Municipal Auditorium in Treme next to Congo Square. The square was sanctioned as a location for enslaved Africans to congregate in 1817 and was considered by many in the Afro-Caribbean community as a “sacred place.” If New Orleans is the birth place of jazz music, then Congo Square would be the birthing table. The significance of the site cannot be overstated.

There is a strong opposition from the Treme community with concerns of the municipal building changing the essence of Congo Square and Armstrong park area, as well as the neighborhood over all, should it be converted into City Hall’s new location. Nearly 1,000 parking spaces would be added, including a five-story, 700-space parking garage.

There have been comparisons made to the construction of the I-10 overpass that runs over Claiborne Avenue in 1966. The overpass destroyed a tree lined commercial district in the predominately black neighborhood. Opposition to the project had no political clout to prevent it. There is still bitterness in Treme over what was lost to progress and to deaf ears.

The proposal has gotten a lot of push back on social media from residents’ objection to the idea. Latoya Cantrell has tried to smokescreen the controversy by pointing to other infrastructure projects involving a few street repairs and the Sewerage and Water Board working with Entergy to update the power sources for the pumping stations.

The Municipal Auditorium was built in 1930 and had many uses over the decades, from concerts to basketball and hockey games. It was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has been vacant ever since. The 7,800 seat auditorium is just that, an auditorium. The amount of re-design and modification to turn the large open space into a multi floor efficient office space would be staggering. It could be done, but at the cost of destroying the interior beauty.

Certainly one appeal to the city is 40 million dollars that FEMA had earmarked for the building following Katrina. It wouldn’t cover the entire cost of renovation but would be a nice offset. Local governments love that federal money.

Cantrell’s proposal has brought a heated backlash from the Treme community over the impact on the area. Cantrell’s response was that Congo Square will not be touched. There is no dispute the overall area will be impacted by additional traffic and parking.

In this day and age we should also consider that moving City Hall there will change it from a cultural space to a political space. Expect to see protests and rallies to spill over into adjacent areas. Congo Square and Armstrong park could easily turn into “Occupy” camp ground if enough outside protesters were bused in. Sounds far-fetched? Look at such public spaces in many cities around the nation.

The mayor relied on her favorite political catch phrase: “Time to re-think the use.” The same jargon she applied to the idea of turning streets in the French Quarter into pedestrian malls.

If you are dating someone and they say “It’s time to re-think our relationship,” just leave. It’s never a positive term. Whoever may be running against her in the next election should use the campaign slogan: “It’s time to re-think our leadership.”

Eric T. Styles is a Quarter rat and loves to hear your feedback. Email him at styles@thequarterrat.com.

Restrictions lifted, back to abnormal

Starting this Memorial Day weekend, the restrictions on hours and occupancy have been lifted for bars, restaurants and live music venues in New Orleans. The past few weekends have been busy and we will probably see a great weekend. The weather is excellent and only about a 43% chance of showers on Saturday evening. With the shutdown becoming a thing of the past for now, those who were suffering from cabin fever will be coming out this weekend to see their shadows for the holiday.

Graph from NOLA READY

The state dropped the 1 AM closing rules along with the number of occupants. Posted on line are bunch of graphs and statistics that if any you claimed that you understood them, I would call you a liar. Whatever, can we just go back to earning a living now?

I spoke to the owner of Molly’s on Toulouse, they will be returning back to their original hours prior to the pandemic: 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. until 7 a.m. on the weekends. The outside tables that were added for cafe seating during the initial limited Phase 3 guidelines will probably be kept.

Molly’s on Tourlouse, open Mon-Thu 2 PM-6 AM, Fri-Sat 11 AM-7 AM and Sun 11 AM-6 AM.

There was even speculation for 24 hour operatios on the weekends if business and manpower allowed. Finding workers is a concern for many French Quarter businesses. Trying to entice workers to come back to work at the beginning of the slow season is the challenge. Fat and convenient unemployment benefits is causing a foot drag with the returning workforce.
(Shaddup, you know it’s true.)

Even our supply guy told me that they are busy as hell, and short handed. Nationally there are still many supply line interruptions and suppliers are short stocked as well. Add to this rising fuel costs that will contribute to higher costs for all involved.

Everyone is hoping for the best but don’t really expect it to be exactly like it was before the shutdown. Business owners are holding their breaths waiting for all of the cards to be dealt before they plan how to play them. Customers want to come back to make up for a lost year. Customers are also concerned about the economy and pending inflation as well.

This is the new normal, or new abnormal by a French Quarter metric.

Graph by Quarter Rat

That one time when I pissed off the mafia in New Jersey

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, April 1991
The offices of The Leader Newspaper was located in a large office on the second floor above a volunteer fire department. Some fire departments have banquet halls and the like to help pay for expenses. Banquets and weddings aren’t a full time source of a reliable income, an office is.

One draw back: the large air-raid style “emergency whistle” that was used to summon the volunteers from around town was directly outside of the editor’s office window. Sometimes, three or four times each day, the entire office screeched to a halt, phones were put on hold and staff plugged their ears. After the siren wound down and three profanities uttered by my editor Al Applegate, we would just continue with our conversation.

Al was a great guy. He was retired high school teacher and everyone knew him. He even taught my two older brothers. He gave me great freedom to express my views. I would repay him by with siding on topics important to him. I took sides in a local school board issue that I had no real interest in. The cartoon was turned into a t-shirt by faction and they all showed up to an important meeting wearing bright orange t-shirts that read “SCHOOLBOARD DICK.”

I would do a weekly hand drawn editorial cartoon for the newspaper on their op-ed page. Payment was $30 per cartoon, I remember, which was a week’s worth of gas in 1991. Each week I would do either local, state, national or international commentaries. We tried to keep it local but there are only so many cartoons that you can draw of local zoning regulations. We met on Monday, I submitted my work on Tuesday and the paper came out on Thursday.

One Monday after the siren silenced, Al and I talked about upcoming cartoons. Here’s how the exchange went:

“So what do you want to cover this week?”
“I have an idea about the trial and Storino testifying…”
“Absolutely not. Next idea?”
“Aw come on Al. It’s the biggest story in the news. TV and papers from New York to Philly are leading with it. Storino being called to testify drops it right in our own backyard. Aren’t we writing about it?”
“Nope. It’s been covered to death. People are tired of hearing about it.”
“Yea right. Let me do a cartoon about it, at least we can say we covered it somehow. It’s a cartoon who ever takes them seriously? I won’t even mention his name.”
“I guess you’re right, we should at least make a mention of it. Don’t use his name or likeness, OK?”

A little background from Wikipedia:
In 1984, the Jersey leadership murdered James “Jimmy Sinatra” Craporatta, a contractor and Lucchese associate. When Craporatta refused to share the proceeds of a video gaming operation he controlled, the Jersey mobsters beat him to death with metal head golf clubs.

The Lucchese family wanted to take over SMS Inc., a company that made video poker machines. SMS Inc. was owned by Craporatta’s nephews, Vincent and Pasquale “Pat” Storino, reputed associates of the Bruno/Scarfo crime family.

This turned into one of the longest organized crime trials in U.S. history. Everyone whose name ended in a vowel got called in to testify at some point. It was on the local New York City news every night. One person that was brought in to testify was Pat Storino, a leader in our local business community. He and his family owned four out of five businesses on our local boardwalk and had a role in the entire Jersey Shore network of like-minded individuals.

I think the most he was ever nailed on was having slot machines in an apartment above one of his arcades on the boardwalk. I thought I would do a parody of the mob films that were hot at the time. Who could get pissed over a cartoon?

The following Monday I went in to meet with Al and he asked me to close the door and sit down. He never said that before.

“We lost three quarters of our ads this week,” Al said. “Everyone that’s even remotely associated to Pat Storino pulled their ads.”

A local paper depends on local advertisers and the bars and restaurants depend on the paper to pull in locals during the slow season.

Al had just gotten off of the phone with the newspaper’s owner, Mark Goodson. Yea, the TV game show producer owned our paper. I had the same boss as the Price is Right models. Goodson was none too happy, but was going to wait it out to see if they came back.

I asked if I still had the gig, Al’s response was: “We’ll see.” I submitted a safe cartoon for the next week about parking meter rates going up that summer and hoped for the best.

The next Monday my editor was in better spirits. Most of the advertisers had returned and he had a visitor. During the previous week a guy came in sharply dressed in a suit and asked to speak with him personally. I got the impression it had been a nerve-racking week for everyone at the tiny newspaper and this guy made everyone jump.

The visitor lived in the next town over and was the chief prosecutor of organized crime in New Jersey. A busy man for sure. He had seen the cartoon and laughed so hard he wanted to know if he could have the original art to frame and hang on his office wall in Trenton.

Al was more than happy to hand it over and may have thought that it offered some protection from both Storino and Goodson, which it evidently did. Me and Al continued to work there for a few more years.

Advertisers are the Achilles heel of media. Control the advertisers, you control the media. In the late 1980s, conservative Christian groups would boycott the sponsors of TV sitcoms that showed too much cleavage. Today, Marxists do it to anyone who dares to contradict their narratives. State-funded outlets like PBS and NPR? Same thing, the state controls the purse strings, they control the message.

This was my first red pill moment when I got to peer behind the curtain of free press.

A special thanks to Janet Sittler for sharing my old work that I don’t even have anymore.

Let’s ruin Mother’s Day

Those of us who work in the service industries are use to working holidays. It’s expected of us and we do not (or should not) whine about it. It’s no different than those who work in emergency services, health care or workers in countless other industries. We work so others can enjoy a special day. Perhaps Mr. NOLA History Guy is fortunate enough to be able to decide what days he will and will not work. More power to him and good for him. I imagine being a historian has pretty flexible schedules, if any.

Mother’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for every restaurant in America. Any mother who works in the service industries is very accustomed to working today. Businesses can not spare any staff. All hands on deck. There will be a day off soon that she can spend with her family. She has that job to support her family and parents make sacrifices for their children. Not everybody goes to work with a sense of entitlement. We work all holidays and yes, EVEN Mardi Gras. We do it out of obligation to our employers and customers so those who don’t have to work can celebrate. What have you sacrificed for others to have fun?

“Serve you for tipped minimum wage” Sounds like something a typical virtue signaling leftist would say. A Bernie Sanders type of tweet, “How can I take today’s topic and twist it to make political sausage out of it?” “How can I demonize the BILLIONAIRES?” (Admit it, you read that in Bernie’s voice.)

You can bet damn well that any mother serving tables, working in a kitchen or slinging drinks today worked her ass off and made some good cash. She has probably worked every Mother’s Day for decades without complaining about it. She doesn’t need some self-righteous Twitter activist to stand up for her. Maybe you were lucky as a kid and your mom could take the day off from dancing.

My mother died just about 10 years ago. For the first 86 years of her life she was very active and tough as nails. She raised three sons, practically on her own. She did yard work well into her 70s that most historians wouldn’t be able to keep up with. My mother spent the last six years of her life in a nursing home looking forward to the next visit from her sons four times a week. She would have been happy to work into her 90s if she still could have.

I would give my right arm to have my mother alive and working hard in a restaurant today. Waiting on those people who are fortunate enough to have this day off. To have just one more Mother’s Day with her, even if it was at the end of her 12-hour shift when she was dog tired.

So please, spare us your virtuous finger-wagging to gratify one’s self. Those who are mothers or are children who would prefer to be with our mothers today but HAVE TO WORK don’t need to be exploited for your attempt at getting likes from other pompous socialists. Who generally don’t like working any job on any day.

If you got to spend time with your mother today, or tomorrow because she’s working, be fucking grateful.

Contact Eric T. Styles at styles@thequarterrat.com.