When Liz Canache first laid eyes on the “Police Jail and Patrol Station” built in the turn of the 20th century in Esplanade Ridge, she knew she had to buy it.
The 6,291-square foot Queen Anne and French Renaissance Revival-style building, located at 2552 St. Philip Street, was falling apart. The structure had crumbled around the 111-year-old facade, leaving it exposed to drug dealers and criminals who frequented the area, Canache said. And she had a plan to save it.
Now, Canache and her husband have started a new hospitality company, aptly named “Down By Law.” If her plan goes accordingly, the pair will next year be opening “Inn at the Police Jail and Patrol Station,” a bed-and-breakfast designed to hold nine guest rooms.
“The point is to bring back the neighborhood’s heritage and save something from falling down, which is where the building was headed,” Canache told Mid-City Messenger.
However, her plan may have hit an obstacle. She and her husband need to get zoning changes approved by the city in order to construct the commercial building. According to her application with the City Planning Commission, however, “the site cannot be used as a bed and breakfast” because it doesn’t fit the definition, which requires that structures only be single-family or two-family residences.
Moreover, bed-and-breakfasts require owner occupancy, as proved by a homestead exemption, according to the application.
“The proposed bed and breakfast does not meet these requirements because the structure was originally used as an institutional facility, not a single or two-family residence, and because the structure is owned by a limited liability company, which cannot obtain a homestead exemption,” city planners wrote.
In her plans, however, Canache said she wants to use the building as a community space, too. Common rooms would be designated for after-school homework help for students, and Spanish classes for all ages. A former schoolteacher, she said she plans to instruct some of these classes herself, and may hire teachers to do the rest.
According to her application, city planners do recommend something called a “modified approval” of the zoning requests, which would grant a conditional use to permit a community center.
Her application is slated to go before the City Planning Commission on Tuesday.
Canache and her husband also plan to live in the building, but the building has to undergo extensive renovations before it can become inhabitable, she said. According to a September 2012 appraisal done by Stegall, Benson and Associates, LLC for the city of New Orleans, the old jail is “in very poor condition,” with “substantial flooding and roof damage.”
The building was given a market value of $175,000 nearly two years ago, but Canache estimates that renovation costs could run her anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000. The building is part of both the Esplanade Ridge Historic District and the Bayou Road African American Heritage Cultural District, however, making it eligible for tax credits.
“It’s a large undertaking,” Canache said. “It’s not inhabitable right now.”
Canache is currently living in the area, and says she’s been in communication with neighbors about the proposed project. According to the application submitted to the City Planning Commission, at least some residents seemed excited about the prospect.
At a neighborhood meeting, some residents expressed concern about parking, safety of the neighborhood and how this zoning change, if approved, would affect other zoning requests, according to the application. However, while there were several letters in support of the project, no neighbors wrote letters of concern against it.
“I have always loved this building and we wish you success with your B&B,” wrote resident Neal Morris. “We support your zoning change.”
Neighbors Theresa Galli and Gavin Cady agreed.
“As we are close neighbors to this project, we are excited to see the old jail and police station developed rather than continue to lay vacant,” they wrote.
In 2010, the building was placed on the Louisiana Landmark Society’s annual list of the nine most endangered historical sites in New Orleans.
The jail and substation was built by Captian William Joseph Hardee, a City Engineer who took office in 1899, according to an article written for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.
Hardee described the patrol station as “one of the handsomest, artistically and structurally, of any of the city’s public buildings.”
The small patrol station was built at the same time as the House of Detention at the corner of Tulane and Broad, and was meant to serve as a satellite location for the larger site, according to the blog. It was built during a time when city officials were updating New Orleans infrastructure, and modernizing its jail facilities, sewerage systems and roads.
The station occupied the first floor, and jail cells were located on the second floor and back wing. By 1951 the brick and terra cota building was converted into a library and community center, according to the the Preservation Resource Center.
The building had been owned since by the city, and had stood vacant since Hurricane Katrina.