Evaluation/Color ratings

Each building or structure evaluated was to be rated for its historical quality, or lack of it, as seen in its exterior fabric, and these ratings were to take the form of colors which would be applied to the maps of the surveyed areas. Potential historic districts would obviously be defined by the frequency of highly rated work. The color ratings are discussed specifically below. In any similar survey there are inherently various value judgments in determining historic districts.

First, in a city like New Orleans which possesses a large inventory of historic work, standards for districts are apt to be higher than in cities of less age or with less of indigenous design, or in cities where a scattering of a few buildings is the only evidence of older work. A specific aspect of this inventory is that because of the abundance of 19th century work in New Orleans, certain early 19th century work will be held less important than in cities where primarily twentieth century buildings.Indeed, areas of Community Development Areas purely of mostly of twentieth century construction were eliminated from this survey. The emphasis was on nineteenth century districts.

Second, New Orleans’ large inventory of historic buildings occurs, first, in areas made up almost exclusively of nineteenth century structures (the French Quarter, Marigny and in parts of the Irish Channel stand out), and, second in areas where the number of later and/or undistinguished work is more pronounced but where a historic character is still dominant. Put another way, there are both exceptional and good districts.

A third factor in value judgements on districts is the response of the surveyors to the character or quality of the neighborhood and is often affected by a consistency of scale, by the effect of commercial mixed with residential, by a neighborhood whose historic buildings are still used as they were originally, by judgments based upon the everyday experience of Orleans Parish residents in using the city and its buildings.

One kind of value judgement used in the survey was that for rating outstanding work; standards for landmarks varied in that they were higher in areas noted for fine buildings. For example, a good nineteenth century that was rated green on Esplanade would, if well sited, be Blue or possibly a landmark in a neighborhood dating mostly from the late nineteenth century and later, or in one which had a lesser percentage of historic buildings.

Certain high ratings were given on a more objective or formalized grounds. A high value was placed on repetitive designs, notably groups of shotgun cottages of identical design. In such some such groups quantity over-weighs quality.

The surveyors also put a high value on outstanding examples of New Orleans building types, including both those frequently seen, such as shotgun houses or raised cottages, as well as types typical of early periods but now infrequently seen, such as cottages with front yards. We also gave high ratings to fine corner stores and side galleried cottages which enrich the urban scene. Important ratings tended to be given to the earliest building types in any area, those which survive from its earliest day. In line with recognizing the earliest surviving buildings, a separate inventory is being furnished to the HDLC identifying some buildings apparently in the French Colonial style or type. Many of these clearly showed this character under later remodeling, others could not be inspected thoroughly but suggested by mass and roof form a possible Colonial quality. Although almost all have been remodeled (openings, siding etc.), they deserve to be protected as precious artifacts of an indigenous culture unique in the United States.

A final aspect of the value judgment lies in certain areas of the completeness of the original fabric of a building. A building complete in its original conditions always stood out, and in many cases this historic integrity was the cause of a high rating. We felt it of basic importance to record the intent of original nineteenth century work; intact examples are recorded as very valuable for few buildings have survived intact except in public and institutional work, or some office buildings.

The HDLC and the surveyors established the following guidelines for handling the most commonly found alterations or additions to the original fabric:

1. Whether a building was well painted or not painted, conventionally or oddly painted, was of no concern and was not to be taken into consideration in its rating except that the painting of Greek Revival hard brick with thin joints was considered detrimental in most landmark ratings. One must note also that painted wood shingles are a major detriment to the original intent of a Queen Anne or California Bungalow house.

2. Later siding on frame buildings was to be noted but not considered detrimental unless it was wood siding of an non-historic type.

3. Easily removable work such as metal awnings, sheds and other work applied to a structure was not to be taken into account.

4. Roof materials were not generally considered for historic appropriateness.

5. Insect screens of various kinds set onto an original fabric were not taken into account.

6. Certain changes to original fabric were almost universal and as such disregarded, these included;

a. the presence of Italianate or Eastlake front doors, which have a large pane of glass in the top panel, replacing earlier doors generally of solid panel design.

b. Wooden porches have suffered a great rate of change due to their exposure to the weather. Their replacement in concrete is frequent and was not considered detrimental. A severe and almost universal loss are the wood railings once on the porches of Italianate Bracketed houses set back from the property line; when porches were repaired or replaced with concrete, most of these railings were digarded, a few remaining intact examples being highly rated in the survey. Such changes did not lower the rating of a building, but porches with posts altered or removed or upper porch railings altered or removed were, on the other hand considered to have had detrimental changes.

c. Modern strap work iron railings for railings or even pilasters added on bracketed buildings was not considered. The replacement posts by such work was considered detrimental.

d. Blinds with slats removed for screen wire application was so widely found that no notice as taken of them.

e. The first floors of commercial buildings, those used by syores and wholesalers, are always very vulnerable to remodeling, and indeed, almost every such building inventoried had been reworked in these areas.ALmost always detrimental and involving either a simple a new sash or a complete rebuilding, such work was noted

on the form. The upper floors of these buildings were used as the basis for the color rating, which we decided was a more accurate way to describe areas such as the CBD where three, four or more upper stories were felt to be more visually dominant than the first.

f. An additional value judgment was that the surveyors were not to be particular if certain repairs to the buildings, such as simple porches and posts, followed original designs fairly well but not perfectly. For example, most renovation work today uses stock moldings not known in the nineteenth century. Buildings of such character were not rated over Green and were judged in terms of their neighborhoods. Certain isolated inaccurate changes, such as fanlight transoms in Greek Revival buildings or later front doors, were also generally disregarded.

The qualifications listed above were based upon a presumption that accurate restorations could be made if desired, and that such restoration would usually result in a higher value ratings. Additionally, certain intact buildings of types most often altered are rated highly-Blue for landmarks. For example shotgun cottages with original porches and railings, as well as mid-nineteenth century commercial buildings with original sash at street level, are singled out.

A final point must be made, this one relative to twentieth century work. It is a general rule that a society can pretty well judge the quality of its contemporary artistic output but that each succeeding generation moves toward a new or different goals from its predecessor and is apt to react against or overlook its immediate inheritance, this only being taken up and re-evaluated several generations later. The surveyors fully anticipate that their judgments of some late nineteenth and early twentieth century work will be refined and readjusted as time goes by.

Color Ratings used are listed below:

Purple: indicates a building of national importance architecturally or historically. This architectural group includes work typical of major national currents as well as indigenous local work of national value.

Blue, Starred (Landmarks): Indicates a select group of the most important buildings or construction in a proposed district or in a census tract area not deemed eligible for district status. Outstanding designs are so recognized, and are good and fine buildings that dominate a district whose demolition would be a serious loss to a neighborhood. Buildings of known association with important events in history of the city can also be so rated. A further use of this category is for surviving examples of typical New Orleans building types where the building fabric is almost completely intact, and covers a range from ambitious architect-designed work through moderate construction on down to simple vernacular work, and includes public buildings, institutional and church work, residences of all sizes, commercial buildings from banks to corner stores, and groups of buildings. Certain landmarks have flaws, which are noted in the written description.

Blue: Indicates especially fine and important buildings, structures or groups in a district. This rating is given primarily on the basis of the quality of architectural design but is also used in other cases, such as outstanding examples of important buildings, or for important streetscape. For example, French Colonial construction traditions, unless extensively remodeled, can be important enough to rate Blue, as are few remaining small cottages with large front yards so frequent before the Civil War, and as are “corner stores”. Likewise, groups of buildings not individually of Blue quality can create a cluster or street scene that so well exemplifies historic New Orleans that a Blue rating occurs for the group.

Green: Indicates good historically buildings or structures but not an exceptional one. It also indicates a building which probably needs some repair. An historic district is essentially made up of Green buildings and is set up to protect them; their frequency and quality establish the quality of the district.

Red: Indicates a building where restoration, not repair, needs to be done before a green or Blue rating can be deduced and put back, based on period precedents. Where alterations have been so severe that the original design or character are not ascernable, various lower ratings are used. Red-to Green or Red-to-Blue is sometimes written in as a guide to the buildings potential value.

Gold: Indicates buildings of little or no architectural value in themselves, but ones which contribute to the Tout Ensemble of the neighborhood by scale, materials, siting and use. Before demolition, replacement or any remodeling of a Gold building, serious consideration must be given to ensure that what is proposed will be more beneficial to the district than the existing structure.

Unrated: Shown hatched on the maps, this designation is used in cases where passage of time, or cas-by-case consideration will be required to assess properly the desirability or inappropriateness of a building or structure in an historic district. For example, post-World War II construction is generally unrated, not only large new office buildings and hotels, but individual residences, smaller commercial buildings and apartment complexes- unless they are deemed clearly Gold or Detrimental. There is also a use of this category applied to certain post-World War II renovations which have little to do with the old structure’s historic character and constitute a remodeling rather than a restoration.

Detrimental: Shown black on the maps, this rating indicates a structure or construction deemed to detract from the historic neighborhoods quality. Such work is usually out of scale with its neighborhood and is often built out of inappropriate materials. Its removal would improve the appearance or quality of the historic neighborhood. Often it would seem possible to reduce its adverse impact by a little remodeling, or sometimes landscaping. Included in this group are many acceptable well-built and kept-up commercial or industrial buildings which, from the point of view of historic districts, are simply inappropriate.

Vacant: This refers to empty lots. Buildings shown on the zoning maps but now demolished, are shown with an x. In many cases the vacant condition of a lot is actually detrimental to the neighborhood.

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