This Jail House Rocks

Story courtesy of Danielle Del Sol at Preservation in Print.

Preservation in Print first reported on Liz and Raul Canache’s purchase of a former Tremé police station at 2552 Saint Philip St. from a 2014 City auction in its November 2015 issue, and PRC was fortunate enough to host a happy hour there that same month so readers could explore the circa 1903 structure. The station’s pink exterior was still beautiful, but the bed and breakfast envisioned by the Canache’s took effort to imagine in the raw interior space. Less than two years later, the building’s transformation into The Inn at the Old Jail is jaw dropping.

The renovation has been completed almost entirely by Raul himself. Nearly every square inch of the building required attention — from the flooring to walls to staircases, to an outdoor roof space that has been transformed into a large deck. But on top of those expansive updates, Raul crafted ornate details from wood and iron to enliven every space, like treasures for the careful observer to uncover and delight in.Glossy wood wainscoting and chair rails were milled from wood salvaged from dumpsters. Slate baseboards and bathroom features were created from former roof tile. And wide, worn planks of wood salvaged from other parts of the building now serve as floorboards in parts of the structure. Raul’s creativity extends beyond that, though. He welded fanciful iron grates to cover vents so as to avoid using standard hardware store grates. He stalked historic furniture pieces at local auctions, acquiring incredible armoires, mirrors and other items for bargain prices. He hand-milled heavy, elegant doors from salvaged wood. Ivory columns purchased from the Green Project cleverly cover pipes and wires in several rooms. And he hand-mixed paint for the walls to recreate colors he remembers and loves from his native Venezuela that he simply couldn’t find in stores here.

Liz’s creativity has led to programming in the building that will extend beyond their small business. She has dubbed a room at the front of the building the “Bechet Library” after Yvonne Bechet, the first African-American woman commander of the New Orleans Police Department. Books about New Orleans history are stacked around the room, as are children’s books, which Liz is collecting to use as part of an after-school and summer reading program she will host for neighborhood kids. “When we found this building, our thought was, ‘How can we bless the neighborhood?’” Liz said. Hosting neighborhood kids will be one way; promoting local artists by adorning the inn’s walls with art that’s for sale will be another. The NOPD also approached the Canache’s with the idea of creating a small police museum in the building, which they excitedly agreed to. Off of the reception area is a commercial kitchen that is designated for use by the inn’s guests. The Canache’s themselves spent two decades traveling around South America, raising several children on the road, and they hope that the same kinds of travelers will utilize their B&B. They have also been in talks with the nearby V.A. Hospital about hosting families of long-term care patients for extended stays. Some rooms have one bed, others have several beds and are big enough to accommodate whole families.

A communal living room at the back of the first floor has comfy couches, games and a television for guests. The building pays homage to its former occupants; all of the guest rooms are named in honor of policemen who worked in the station or who perished in the line of duty.  The renovation of the building will garner the couple state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, a much-needed offset for the over $1 million renovation price tag. Though the Canache’s were thrifty throughout the process, fire safety codes and other requirements necessitated costly building alterations. The couple was determined not to cut corners, however, leading one inspector to joke that theirs is “the safest building in the city.”Guests can stay in one of nine rooms, in beds that Raul milled himself from — you guessed it — salvaged wood. Find out more by calling 504.301.5743. –Danielle Del Sol, photos by Liz Jurey