Published: Friday, March 4, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B6


New Orleans

The Feb. 27 letter of Charles Stich on the significance of the Rivergate was the latest of a series of informed opinions in these columns.

Stich pointed out, like Tulane's Dean Donna Robertson in an earlier letter, the recognition this building has had among worldwide experts for its innovative thin-shell concrete roof.

Like Robertson and Stich, conservationist architect E. Eean McNaughton (Times-Picayune, Nov. 22) has mentioned the economic prudence of creative design to capitalize on the historically modernizing features of the Rivergate. There was also a letter from Nathanial C. Curtis of the architectural firm that built the Rivergate and from the late Samuel Wilson Jr., "dean of architectural history and restoration," who signaled how destruction of the Rivergate would seriously damage Place de France, a product of his office and in part a gift of the French government, so therefore a serious diplomatic blunder.

From conservationist attorney Thomas Tucker (Letters, March 1), I learn that the Christopher Hemmeter-City Hall interests have continually rejected even the idea of adapting this ample structure to a casino theme. One wonders what motives are behind such a stubbornly non-negotiable stance.

Early last year, having participated in a hearing, I wrote to Mayor Barthelemy because of concern for planning and design, but even more for the air pollution, noise, vibrations and traffic snarls to be caused by the demolition blasts, by annihilation and questionable replacement of an economically viable structure.

The mayor replied with a long, respectful letter Feb. 2, 1992, which seemed primarily to argue that the demolition was expressly for the purpose of more jobs, to alleviate poverty, crime and departure of talented young people.

The wisdom of tearing down usable structures to create jobs and recoveries in the municipal ills seemed too utterly misdirected to call for a reply.

I also have a letter of Oct. 9, 1992 from Steward Farnet, principal architect in the joint venture for the Harrah's group. It said, "We are convinced that for many reasons the building is worthy of preservation." I think Farnet still believes this but the joint venture is helpless to bypass the Hemmeter-City Hall project. So why can't we have one or more adaptive reuse designs from those architects and give the public a chance to respond?

As with the Vieux Carre riverfront expressway, we still have some fighting optimists.

Bernard Lemann
Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Tulane University

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