Tulane archive takes the guesswork out of historic renovations

David Armentor

Sep 30, 2013
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Tulane archive takes the guesswork out of historic renovations

September 26, 2013 8:45 AM

Alicia Duplessis Jasmin


The planning stage for renovating the historic Saenger Theater in New Orleans, after it was damaged in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, began at the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University.

Keli Rylance, head of the archive, says several architectural historians tasked with returning the theater to its original 1927 condition turned to the archive to review blueprints from Emile Weil, the theater’s original architect.

While Tulane already had several of Weil’s documents, Rylance says the collection has now grown to include drawings discovered onsite during the theater’s yearlong rehabilitation.

“When construction began, the original drawings of the theater’s internal stonework were discovered in a closet,” says Rylance. “The drawings were since donated to the archive where they will be preserved along with the rest of Weil’s work.”

The drawings are stamped by Weil’s office but are by sub-contractors for the project, Albert Weiblen Marble and Granite Works.

On Friday (Sept. 27) the theater, located on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans, reopens with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

‘Not the only one’
The Saenger renovation, says Rylance, isn’t the first time the archive has been useful to architects working to restore a landmark.

The New Orleans Lakefront Airport, which also was heavily damaged during Katrina, recently was restored in a $100 million project using drawings held by the archive of the original structure built in 1934.

In addition to design sketches, Rylance says there are mechanical, electrical and structural documents that may be helpful.

“People often take for granted the need to restore historic buildings, but we sometimes take for granted the importance to preserve construction documents,” says Rylance.

On exhibit at the archive now through Nov. 1 is a display that focuses on the history of the Superdome. The exhibit is open to the public from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m.



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