When Sharon Nunez and other members of the Covington Heritage Foundation were thinking of ways to make the town’s collection of historic houses more visible, they came up with an idea that honors the area’s rich architectural heritage and showcases the work of a native son.
“We have over 300 houses here that are circa 1900, and decided to start a plaquing program so that residents whose homes qualify can purchase ceramic plaques indicating the date of their home construction,” said Nunez, the president of the foundation’s board. “There was so much excitement over the bicentennial in 2013 that we wanted to keep the spirit going.”
To make the plaques, Nunez recruited Nicholas Hasslock, whose parents, Tika Vales and Steve Hasslock, owned Hasslock Studios for many years on North Vermont Street in Covington.
According to Nunez, the younger Hasslock worked in the shop and got to know many Covington residents that way. In about 2006, he started the New Orleans Tile Company and began making old-style ceramic street tiles for New Orleans street corners to replace or complement the originals from Alhambra, Spain, which were no longer available.
He also worked on the Katrina Memorial Wall at the renovated Saratoga Building and tiles for the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s new Roy E. Glapion building.
“I worked with Covington artist Suzanne King to design the plaques, which feature an image of an ox and cart in the center. The image refers to the ox-lots in old Covington and the fact that every square had one in the middle, accessible from two sides, where carts could unload. It’s a distinctive feature and is mentioned in the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places,” Nunez said.
The plaques measure about 12 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Each is hand-carved porcelain with white glazed lettering and a black glazed background.
A pine cone and needles appear at the very top in homage to the pine forests that are the pride of St. Tammany Parish.
“To qualify to purchase a plaque, your home must be on the 1927 Sanborn Map and still possess the architectural authenticity of that era,” said Nunez. “Some areas of Covington aren’t shown on the fire insurance map, so Jack Terry is individually researching the history of those houses.”
Since initiating the program in May during National Preservation Month, the Heritage Foundation has received applications for about 30 plaques and has been determining eligibility of the homes.
Fees for the plaques amount to $250, which includes membership dues in the Covington Heritage Foundation.
“The plaques are important, but they are just one aspect of the ‘Preserving Covington’s History’ initiative,” said Nunez. “Another is our December home tour. We also plan an educational component in schools once a year and lectures, including an upcoming talk on the history of various ‘divisions’ (neighborhoods) of the city.”
Although Nunez admits she would love to see all eligible homes in Covington bedecked with plaques, she has a more reachable goal in mind for the near future:
“I am determined to have a plaque on every one of the 11 homes we are featuring on our ‘Holly & History’ home tour on Dec. 6. That will make a good start.”