Published: Wednesday, August 10, 1994
I urge the preservation and reuse of the existing Rivergate building for the proposed casino in New Orleans.
As a landmark of structural innovation and expressionism, the Rivergate is not only one of New Orleans' but one of the nation's most significant modern buildings.
Furthermore, as an architect and architectural historian, I am extremely concerned about the "theme park" architecture of the proposed replacement casino. To lose a building of the Rivergate's distinction, destroying real architecture distinguished by its dynamic expression of its structure and materials, would be tragic.
To replace the Rivergate with a building that represents a pastiche of historical styles, a fictitious representation of the actual use, time and place of its construction, would be an irreversible step towards turning New Orleans from a real city into a tourists' theme park.
Look at Atlantic City as an example of what not to do. There, too, in an effort to create more construction jobs, the city made it all but impossible for developers to convert the existing hotels to casinos.
The consequent demolition of most of the historic buildings along the Boardwalk has left Atlantic City a city without character or distinction, mourning the destruction of its past for short-term gains.
As a sign outside the Mt. Carmel School in New Iberia says, "Demolition is forever. Please save this building."
New Orleans has one of the strongest preservation records of any American city and has demonstrated to many other communities the value of preserving their heritage.
The city must be careful not just to preserve the 19th century examples of its past, but also to recognize and continue to use its 20th century structures. Significant mid-20th century buildings such as the Rivergate represent an important phase in the city's development and make a valuable contribution to the continuing rich tradition of New Orleans architecture.
The city's tourism industry depends on the preservation of its distinguished buildings.
With its national reputation for adapting and reusing its historic buildings, New Orleans should continue to be at the forefront of preservation, providing a model for other cities for the continuing use of its existing resources to accommodate contemporary uses. The reuse of such a significant 20th century building as the Rivergate for its first land-based casino would demonstrate the city's commitment to its heritage.
Destruction of the Rivergate would send the wrong message to the world - that a city that has taken such pride in preserving its architectural heritage now advocates the waste of one of its most significant buildings.
Let us consider saving the Rivergate and, in doing so, preserve one of the nation's most important modern buildings.
Natalie W. Shivers
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