Original Tujague’s neon sign will be duplicated, most likely won’t move to new location

(Photo: Collin Poellot | CC Flickr)
The Vieux Carre Commission last month issued a preliminary approval to install a duplicate of Tujague’s original neon sign at its new Decatur Street location.

At its May 19 meeting, the VCC reviewed a staff recommendation to “conceptually” designate the sign as a classic sign under the zoning ordinances if the sign is an exact match of the original located at 823 Decatur St.

The building’s owner, Kara Farms, filed the application in March after the Tujague’s moved to its new location at 429 Decatur St. and reopened last December, although the restaurant wasn’t allowed to take the original sign with him.

It’s not clear why Motwani won’t allow the restaurant to transfer the original sign, other than to say it’s “historic,” although he has indicated that he will keep it but remove the “Tujague’s” and the “Est. 1856” and use the sign for a possible new eatery, according to nola.com. A city application filed in March shows he wants to replace the original neon sign with a similarly-shaped “Cajun Bistro” sign.

Tujague’s first opened at 811 Decatur Street and later relocated to 823 Decatur St. in 1914. Established in 1856, the business holds a distinction as the “second oldest” restaurant in New Orleans (Antoine’s, located at 713 St. Louis St., holds the title as “first”).

Brothers Steven and Stanford Latter purchased the business in 1982. Steven died in February 2013 and Stanford sold the building to Motwani later that year, with Latter leasing the space back from Motwani.

Mark Latter, Steven Latter’s son and current Tujague’s owner, announced in October 2019 that the restaurant would not renew its lease with Motwani, who also owns the Willie’s Chicken Shack chain of restaurants.

The new restaurant held its last meal at the old location in the summer of 2020 and reopened at its current location shortly before the new year.

Along with sign, Tujague’s famed wooden bar did not make the transition to the 429 Decatur St. location. The bar was imported from a Parisian bistro in 1856 and was already believed to be nearly 100 years by the time by the time it was installed in its Decatur Street location.

William Reeves, a VCC commissioner, lamented over the absence of the sign at the restaurant’s new location.

“I ate at the new location and enjoyed it very much, but I was definitely uncomfortable because the old sign wasn’t outside,” Reeves said. “I wish we could get it.”

“That’s a difficult situation,” Latter said. “We would love to remove the old sign but that’s just not an option. Glad you enjoyed your dinner, though.”

5G light pole exhibits planned in the French Quarter

Public exhibits of proposed 5g cell phone tower designs that look like light poles will be held in various parts of the French Quarter on Wednesday and Thursday.

The exhibits will be held Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. near 816 N. Rampart St. and Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. near the corner of Chartres and Ursuline streets.

The proposed designs are part of efforts by various city agencies and organizations, including the Vieux Carre Commission, New Orleans Department of Utilities, the French Quarter Management District and Business Association and the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates to mitigate the impacts a 5G network would have on the “tout ensemble,” or the unique design of the neighborhood.

5G, or fifth generation, is the newest technology standard for broadband cellular networks that are planned to succeed 4G networks and are expected to bring greater bandwidth and faster download speeds.

The towers achieve highers speeds by broadcasting higher-frequency waves at shorter ranges.

More than 800,000 towers are planned across the U.S. by 2026, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The middle tower is the current proposed design for 5G cell phone antennas in the French Quarter. Courtesy of the City of New Orleans.

Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996 forbids jurisdictions from banning the placement of cell phone towers in a particular area, effectively forcing local governments to adopt the technology.

However, in August 2019, a D.C. appeals court overturned a March 2018 order by the FCC that eliminated environmental and historic preservation review.

The ruling re-established the section 106 review process of the National Historic Preservation Act (passed in 1966), giving local governments the power to control the design and location of the towers.

On July 30, the Mayor’s Office of Utilities and the VCC held a public informational meeting on 5G technology, including proposed designs.

A city presentation on 5G and proposed designs released in July can be viewed here.

The towers are modeled on the existing 16-foot street lamps throughout the French Quarter, but four feet taller. At least one prototype is designed by Toro Blanco Group, a Dallas-based architectural and engineering firm.

Officials are currently accepting feedback from the public on the tower designs, which can be submitted here.

NEW WORLD QUARTER Part Too

Here’s an unpublished issue of New World Quarter I drew in 2015. I began to draw the second part as soon as I sent the first to print in China and never went to print because of the low sales of the first issue, which sold for $5 a piece with no ads.

I still have three unopened cases. It’s my last work and I will probably never do another.

NEW WORLD QUARTER Part 1

NEW WORLD QUARTER Part 1

I present to you New World Quarter, a graphic novel published in 2015, two years after the initial Quarter Rat publication folded. While the publication in name ceased to exist, its spirit lives on in various representations, including this one.

The content was written in 2014 and reflected the French Quarter at the time. Much of what you’ll find inside will be familiar, although the settings and circumstances may seem like a far off memory. No longer can we walk inside of a local bar and socialize with our friends, neighbors or random tourists; buy shots at 3 a.m.; or see live music at our favorite venue. Five years ago seems like a decade ago compared to how quickly the world is changing at the moment. Hell, five months ago seems like five years ago.

The French Quarter scenery, however, has remained relatively the same. It was, and still is, the inspiration for the illustrations and dialogue, although some things are missing. Many of our favorite local dives are either gone or on their way out. Johnny White’s, a French Quarter institution for 50 years, is gone. We don’t dwell on such losses, although its absence adds to the melancholy we refer to as “the blues.”

But the French Quarter is more than 300 years old. What started as a small riverfront settlement of about 100 log huts is now a thriving riverfront neighborhood of exquisite buildings containing a deep culture with origins that precede America. The neighborhood doesn’t even look the same as it did; two fires in the late 18th century destroyed the vast majority of its original buildings.

Businesses and buildings come and go, although efforts are made to preserve them. But inanimate objects don’t make the French Quarter, the people do.

The government-induced, COVID-19 pandemic-influenced severe economic downturn is closing small businesses and forcing some of its longtime workers, the characters whose presences are vital to the character of the French Quarter, to relocate elsewhere and maybe never to return. The pandemic didn’t cause this; it just accelerated it.

What’s still consistent in New World Quarter is the Vieux Carre Commission, which still exerts its authority over property owners in order to preserve the historic look of the Quarter, except now their public meetings are held remotely and its building inspectors are wearing masks.

The themes expressed in New World Quarter fall within the fringe realm of conspiracy theories. They’re zany and, in many ways, meant to poke fun at themselves. Yet the authoritarianism we come to associate with these ideas smells eerily familiar to us, given our current situation. Hopefully they stay confined only to the pages of a graphic novel. –Editor

Vieux Carre Commisison somehow overlooks decade-old unpermitted demolition of ‘significant’ Gov. Nicholls Street building

(Photo: 729 Gov. Nicholls St. | Kevin Minsky)
A building located on a Governor Nicholls Street property that received approval for a partial demolition was instead completely leveled a decade ago, although the Vieux Carre Commission didn’t notice it was gone until March, according to documents.

The missing structure was revealed in a Jan. 22 VCC hearing for a proposed renovation at 729 Governor Nicholls St. and later confirmed in March after the commission regained access to digital records, which showed the building in the rear of the property received emergency approval to remove its upper right-hand portion in 2009 due to “imminent danger of collapse,” according to a property report released at the June 10 Architecture Committee meeting.

But the entire building, which sat in the rear side of the L-shaped property, was likely demolished without approval in late 2009 or early 2010, the report said. An October 2019 cyber attack on New Orleans’s computer systems initially prevented the VCC from making the discovery, however the violation went overlooked for 10 years.

The VCC is a regulatory body tasked to preserve the visual character of the French Quarter, which is also a designated national landmark, and uses a color-ranking system to assign historical or architectural importance.

The Governor Nicholls Street building was yellow-rated, which “contributes to the character of the district,” and requires a level 2 or “significant” work permit.

A description of the building wasn’t provided, although demolition is rarely considered appropriate, according to the VCC.

Online records from the Historic New Orleans Collection indicate the property was first surveyed in 1722 and eventually contained a 4-room house, servant’s quarters and other structures.

“Although the unpermitted demolition of a contributing building is never acceptable, staff notes that the current owners only purchased the property in 2019 and were not involved at the time of the demolition,” VCC staff wrote in the property report.

Staff inquired if the current property owners were interested in reconstructing the building, but they wanted to keep the space open, the report said.

Commissioner Stephen Bergeron inquired whether the VCC could fine the previous owner for the unauthorized demolition, but that wasn’t clear.

Additionally, the current owner could also take legal action against the former owner, according to the report.

However, staff director Bryan Block said the VCC could require the current owner to rebuild the structure, but added the only reasons why staff approved of keeping the building demolished is because the current owner was unaware of the violation and staff wasn’t alerted because the structure wasn’t visible from the street.