All hail, Rex. And beware of falling objects.
The ongoing threat of falling stone from the Gallier Hall façade may prevent Mayor Mitch Landrieu from raising his glass in toast to Carnival dignitaries at the historic building next year.
Gallier Hall is in need of a “major, major renovation,” Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant told the City Council on Thursday.
The building is in such bad shape, Grant said, that Landrieu and other city notables will probably have to greet the kings of Rex and Zulu somewhere else next Mardi Gras instead of from the official viewing stand that is usually built in front of Gallier Hall on St. Charles Avenue.
In August, a section of stone cornice on the building’s façade broke off and crashed onto the steps below. No one was injured, but the steps were damaged.
An architect subsequently conducted a structural analysis of the granite and limestone building’s exterior. Preliminary results show the 165-year-old building has “significant issues” with the stone cornice on its façade, Grant told the council during budget hearings for the Office of Property Management. He said water and vegetation have begun eating into the building.
“It suggests to me … that we have significant public safety issues,” he said. “The issues go further than the front.”
Grant said he intends to meet with Landrieu soon to discuss the findings and to propose a more comprehensive analysis of the damage in the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be our recommendation that we engage in a fairly significant restoration of the facility,” he said.
The Greek Revival building facing Lafayette Square was designed by prominent architect James Gallier Sr. It was built in the late 1840s and served as New Orleans’ City Hall from 1852 to 1956, when the government moved to the current City Hall at 1300 Perdido St.
The last known restoration of the façade was in 1984, when, records show, sandblasting was done to remove an asphalt coating. The building, which is designated a National Historic Landmark, also underwent improvements in 1949 and 1967, according to the city.
Grant said he doesn’t know yet how much repairs would cost or how long they would take. The renovation is not included in the 2015 budget proposed by the mayor, which is now pending before the City Council.
Renovations to the building historically have been paid for through the city’s capital projects budget.
The building seems to be structurally sound and not in danger of collapsing like the 200-year-old building in the 800 block of Royal Street that crumbled to the ground last week. In that case, the reasons for the collapse remain a mystery.
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near what happened in the Quarter,” Grant said.
Although the front entrance to Gallier Hall is blocked off, the city’s film office still operates out of the building, and it remains in use for special events, such as serving as the setting recently for the mayor’s announcement of a new approach to domestic violence cases.
Still, Grant said he doesn’t believe the building’s condition will allow for viewing stands during the coming year’s Carnival season.
“We are preparing alternatives, because I’m not optimistic,” he said.