When I moved to the Holy Cross neighborhood 17 years ago, there was familiarity in my new home. I chose Holy Cross because it was a designated national historic district. The architecture and beautiful levee make it a unique, charming slice of the Crescent City. I graduated from St. Edward, a Holy Cross high school in Cleveland, Ohio, and the University of Notre Dame, founded by the Holy Cross congregation in 1842.
While the French priests and brothers carved out a college in the Indiana wilderness, their fellow educators founded Holy Cross School in 1859.
After Hurricane Katrina, Holy Cross High School decided to relocate to Gentilly. Their neighborhood chose to rebuild. Thousands of volunteers assisted in this resurrection. Everyone from Brad Pitt to Jimmy Carter stood up for Holy Cross.
In the past year, the Perez Corp. proposed two, 13-story high-rises amidst the quaint shotguns and craftsmen houses. Brother Bennett was my high school teacher, fond of the maxim, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perez offers a current affairs lesson in public relations.
The height limit for historic Holy Cross is 40 feet. Perez came down on its original plans from 135 to 75 feet. Most recently, it took its generous intentions to the airways, touting “revive the lower nine.” It enlisted mostly outside businesses and preachers to bless its work. A glossy mailing by its CEO, Angela O’Byrne, claims boldy, “I am putting everything I have into the Lower 9th.”
The brochure further instructs, “The old zoning is no longer relevant, and the sooner we update it, the better. The current demographic trends in the U.S. have made it irrelevant. The planet cannot wait any longer. Our health cannot wait any longer.” My Catholic education never mentioned “chutzpa,” but the condescension of O’Byrne and Perez defines it anew. Their efforts became felonious last week when their unhistoric proponents presented a petition fraught with phony names, addresses and forgeries.
The Holy Cross Congregation came to New Orleans to help and educate the community, not to dictate its architecture. The spirit of the Holy Cross neighborhood lies with its people who have struggled to rebuild despite crime and indifference. History matters, neighborhoods matter, people matter. Any new plans should consider the people who actually live here. Our national registered, historic district should have the same safeguards as the Garden District for the French Quarter.
As a student, I worked in the mail room at Notre Dame. One of the Holy Cross brothers once asked me what “CSC” stood for in their congregation’s name. He said with a smile, “cash strictly cash.” Holy Cross’ future should not be about big dollars, but about good sense.