THE QUEST TO SAVE AN ARCHITECTURAL GEM

Published: Sunday, March 6, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B6
Type: LETTERS

Text:

New Orleans

I am a preservationist and I am proud of it. But Thomas W. Tucker in his March 1 letter, "The mayor's haste to tear down the Rivergate," is correct. Many use the term preservationist to denote addle-headed people who would save any old thing.

The Rivergate isn't "old" by preservationist standards. It is, however, a mid-20th century architectural gem, highly polished and prized.

Its vaults and curves belie its steel and concrete strength to reflect a harmony of design and location. Its undulating roof (pleasant to see from above or below) is one of the longest clear-span concrete roofs in the world - a timely engineering feat, a design treat.

Unlike Tucker, I oppose the demolition of the Rivergate not only because of the alleged questionable deals cut by our political leaders but because everything about its demolition is wrong.

The building is a classic of the 1960s, a prize in architecture and engineering. It offers more than adequate space for the largest casino in the world and provides immediate opportunity for the city to gain revenues generated by this flash interest in gambling.

Since Mayor Barthelemy devoted his administrative energies not to our youth in education or against crime but to promoting this location for his singular project of bringing gambling to New Orleans, the issues have been clouded.

I oppose the Rivergate's demolition because it's my building as a member of the public, since my tax dollars paid for it (as well as Mayor Victor Schiro's hole in the ground under it; the hole, dug for the Riverfront Expressway, is a perfect place, when ventilated, to park buses).

As a descendant of Toussaint Mossy, one of the 19th-century owners of the land on which the Rivergate sits and one who gave the land to the city for public use, I strongly oppose the demolition of a building that has been dedicated for public use. But if the city is going to lease away our public rights, citizens in public hearings should be negotiating the finest, most remunerative deal for the public good that has ever been known.

The Rivergate's demolition and site preparation will cost almost as much as the building originally cost. Why destroy a great adaptable building for an expensive inappropriate one?

Everyone on the street claims the contracts have been signed, that the political momentum is unstoppable. That may be true or a reflection of citizen frustration in the face of total political arrogance.

Word on the street also claims that Harrah's would prefer not to tear down the Rivergate, but that powerful individuals in city and state government want the building down for their own purposes.

Harrah's architects plan a Canal Street terminus plaza to connect their regurgitated 19th century French-Empire domed casino to the modern Aquarium of the Americas. Does this make sense when you have one of the finest modern structures already in place that can more favorably be linked to another modern building?

Charles Stich in his letter Feb. 27, "Significance of the Rivergate," clearly enumerated the building's architectural value and sent up the plea, "Wake up, city government!" I say, let the city government that has brought us to this, go to sleep; let the citizens awake. Ask and demand! New Orleans deserves better!

Mary Louise Christovich


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