I don't know if Cora Foster's house has been torn down yet, but I know that Karen saw Mrs. Cora's daughter getting the demo permit approved a few weeks back, and Karen said it was obviously a painful moment for them.
The feelings I got from seeing the house and neighborhood in the state they were in got me thinking about all of the other houses I've gutted in the past 18 months, and whether any of them had shown any progress at all. I think I've had a hand in doing around 17 houses. Surely one of them would be a success story. Surely at least one of those backbreaking days would not have been in vain.
So the past few weeks I've been driving around looking for these houses to see what's going on with them.
At first I really wished I hadn't. At first I found nothing but stagnation. This post is about those houses.
There was the first house I ever gutted, in the Lower 9 on Andry Street near Urquhart. We did this one as part of a Common Ground block party. All the CG volunteers worked in the same area, we had the neighborhood residents and activists out, people pitched in food and the ladies from the neighborhood cooked that good New Orleans food for us, beans and rice and sausages and chicken and yaka mein. And the goal was to do an entire block of houses in one day. We didn't hit the goal, but it was still an uplifting experience.
Well, the house on Andry is now fully gutted. The family china I had set carefully to the side on the front porch is broken and the pieces scattered around the overgrown yard. No sign of progress.
A house around the corner on Urquhart which I pulled nails out of for Common Ground last December is finished, gutted, open, and untouched.
In fact, when I first drove by that block where the block party was, it looked like nothing was happening. Just a row of empty, gutted, silent shells of homes.
Another house I helped de-nail for Common Ground in November, on N. Villere, I can't find anywhere. I think there is an empty lot there. Same for the house I gutted with the Rice MOB with the Mardi Gras Service Corps that same day. I can't find it anywhere. Did we gut these houses just so they could be bulldozed?
And this one, on N. Villere at the end of the road by the canal levee, that we gutted with Common Ground the day I met Darrell. The weeds are higher than the house. The house hasn't been touched since the day we left it. It's wide open to the elements. Looks perfect inside, but nobody is doing anything with it but let it rot.
Even our wheelbarrow ramp is still there on the front steps, being swallowed up by nature like everything else on the property.
The house on Sere Street in Gentilly that we gutted last spring with ACORN and First Draft Krewe is not much different. The flooded car has been towed from the driveway, and the valuables we salvaged (including the old blue wheelchair) have been moved inside, but other than that, this is a house being consumed by flora and fauna.
I think this doesn't come as a surprise, really, knowing the story of the owner and seeing how termites had eaten away at the core of the house. But still...what did we really accomplish that day?
A house I gutted on Charbonnet with ACORN a couple of weeks after that seems in limbo. It has good bones, and we met the owners while gutting, they were a sweet young married couple who were working their way through the Road Home process back in March, so I had hopes for this one. But from the looks of things, they are still working their way through the process.
They had come all the way down from Atlanta that weekend to meet the volunteers who were doing their house, and they seemed like they really want to come home.
This house we did in Gentilly with Arabi Wrecking Krewe and Iraq Veterans Against the War has no remodeling work being done on it. The gutting is done, they're storing furniture and belongings in it, but there's no progress on moving back in. This house belonged to a Vietnam Vet who grew up in the house and then raised his own family in it. At least it doesn't feel abandoned.
And one final shred of something that might be called progress, so that it won't seem like this post is all bad news. This house on Gordon St. in the Lower 9, which I helped gut with the Mardi Gras Service Corps, now has a mowed lawn and a storage unit in front of it, and the "For Sale By Owner" sign is gone and could that possibly be construction debris at the curb? Is something about to happen here? Some neighbors are back, so one can only hope. Really, that's only what one can do.
Next post will tell a few stories of halting progress.