It's a typical one-story brick ranch house in Gentilly's Filmore Gardens, filled with music, books and family mementos.
But it's not a home. The nonprofit Levees.org bought the 2,000-square-foot ranch house in Gentilly with the intention of cleaning it up and then making it look wrecked, the way devastating floods wrecked New Orleans 13 years ago.
The house at 4918 Warrington Drive is the Flooded House Museum, planned as a permanent reminder of the devastation wrought by the failure of floodwalls along the London Avenue Canal during Hurricane Katrina.
The group gathered at the house this week to mark Phase I of the exhibit.
“We are so pleased to be able to introduce the public to the museum,” said Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org. “And we are so grateful to the Filmore Gardens Neighborhood Association for everything they have done for the project.”
The home, gutted to the studs, had stood vacant since Hurricane Katrina. Recently completed, Phase I involved cleaning up and framing the home’s interior, then furnishing the living room to reproduce a representative Gentilly home the day before the storm.
“There’s a family room and an adjacent room for listening to and playing music. Vinyl records, lots of books, souvenirs from family trips, family photos — everything you would have found in a typical home,” Rosenthal said.
On Sept. 5, when Phase II begins, artists will begin distressing the interior. When the exhibit is complete, visitors will be able to look inside through windows to view the staged but realistic destruction: a flooded home, post-Katrina.
Led by Gloria Decuir-Robert, the Filmore Gardens Neighborhood Association has played an integral role from the beginning, approving the concept and participating every step of the way.
Members vetted the furniture donations for staging the house and nixed a few items. They also advocated for additions.
At Decuir-Robert's urging, the house includes a few Zulu coconuts. A Times-Picayune is visible in the room as well, banner headlines announcing the impending hurricane.
"The idea was to show what would have been here on August 28, 2005, so people can get a sense of the families who lived here and what they lost,” said Rosenthal.
Seen from the outside through a window, the space features a sofa and television, bookcases, and a violin and piano, among other items.
Professional mixed-media artist Aaron Angelo is one of the volunteer artists who staged the house for this week’s event. Angelo lived in Algiers in 2005, evacuating with his family to St. Francisville for six weeks. While his home was not flooded, he saw the destruction firsthand.
After Labor Day, Angelo will start working to “distress” the home’s interior to imitate what it may have looked like after the flood. The house itself has offered clues.
"The windows of the house are original to the time," he said. "The windows have the lines where the water marks receded. One of the things we are going to do as we work around the rest of the house is look to those as guidelines."
Levees.org was founded by Rosenthal and her teenage son, Stanford, while they were evacuated to Lafayette after Hurricane Katrina.
The mission of the nonprofit is to stem misinformation about the cause of the 2005 flood. It was often blamed on Katrina alone, or on the city's low-lying profile. Levees.org worked tirelessly to expose shoddy levees and neglect by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the true cause of the devastation.
Warrington Drive has been a focal point of the nonprofit’s efforts since 2011, when the group erected a marker at the site of the 2005 floodwall breach that inundated the area with water and destroyed the homes of hundreds of residents.
Yards away from the Warrington Drive Flooded House Museum is an outdoor Levees.org exhibit. Large-scale graphics illustrate in detail how and where levees and floodwalls gave way when pressured by storm surge that flowed into the canals from Lake Pontchartrain.
The group’s first historical marker was installed a year earlier at the site where the floodwall failed on the 17th Street canal.