Saturday, March 20, 2010

FOUND! Presentation drawings of the Wheatley School (1954)

On Thursday I took a day-trip to the Lakefront to search for documents related to the Phillis Wheatley  Elementary School in the Orleans Parish School Board archives at Special Collections, UNO Library. I had low expectations and never dreamed we'd actually find THE drawings.  I was told to look for Colbert's correspondence file, as sometimes architects tuck a sketch in with a letter. 

It was a long shot and also happened to be an absolutely gorgeous day. I took nearly two hours to get to the library, as I kept stopping to take photos of modernist houses along the way. The first one to stop me in my tracks had tile which reminded me of Albert Ledner's at Washington and Tchoupitoulas.* Later in the day I learned that this house at 4119 Vincennes was indeed designed by Ledner in 1954 for Irving Roth.  

Next I photographed a series of houses on Lakeshore Drive, including Ledner's (1978).   I was almost at UNO, but then forced to turn off Lakeshore Drive due to road closure. This detour took me back through Lake Terrace on Oriole. .

Finally turned on my blinders and made it over to the UNO Library and up to Special Collections on the 4th floor. Within minutes I was presented with binders of finding aids which led me rather quickly to absolute success.

We have been searching for drawings of the Wheatley School for years. Mr. Colbert lost his personal archive when his house flooded. Representatives of the Recovery School District told us the OPSB archives had flooded as well, so IF they had drawings, they were likely lost in the soup and tossed. Thank goodness they were wrong. About ten minutes after entering the UNO Library I was holding a set of nine presentation drawings of the Wheatley School from 1954. The drawings have been digitized and I will write more specifically about them as well Colbert's correspondence soon. 

Upon leaving UNO, I called Keli Rylance at SEAA to share the good news. She gave me another address to seek out as well which led me to photograph one of the oldest homes in Lake Vista.

All in all, an absolutely brilliant day.

* Sadly the NMU tile was recently stuccoed in a renovation.


Anonymous said...

I really think admirers of this building, which never worked as a school even before it fell into disrepair long before Katrina (ask the kids who had to go outside in the cold and rain to use the bathrooms), should raise money and have it taken apart and reassembled at another site so that they can gaze upon it approvingly forever. Treme residents want a school building that will serve children.

Francine Stock said...

Anonymous: Thanks for writing.

"fell into disrepair long before Katrina"?

Yes, on this we do agree. The Wheatley School is a victim of decades of neglect by the OPSB.

However, significant damage has also occurred in the past 4 1/2 years from vandalism. We both know the Wheatley School has not been adequately secured since the storm. This has been brought to the attention of the RSD who dismiss this complaint, saying that securing the building would take money away from other school programs. So they are well aware of their responsibility but chose to neglect their duty. By not securing the building the RSD endangers the Treme residents by leaving the building and campus open. The building should be boarded, but at least put a lock on the gate! Finally, the school has a covered open corridor (which could be modified) and bathrooms on the classroom and ground level. This school did serve children and can do so with future renovation. But really, it needs to be secured.

I have much more to add regarding the recent discovery of these drawings. They really show Colbert's intent and the holistic approach of his design. I will be so very happy to bring them to light. Proper post coming soon.