Almost 11 years after one of the worst disasters in U.S. history, it is increasingly uncommon to come upon a blighted house in New Orleans that has been virtually untouched since Hurricane Katrina. Most damaged homes have been renovated or were demolished.
But Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal said Monday she has found -- and purchased -- a brick ranch house near the site of the London Avenue Canal breech in Gentilly that flooded to its rafters, and she plans to convert it into a permanent reminder of just how things looked after the floodwaters receded.
"We are standing at the site of a linchpin moment in history," Rosenthal said at a news conference outside the one-story home on Warrington Drive. "We cannot squander this opportunity."
Rosenthal, who has focused on highlighting the problems in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-designed levee system that led to the flooding, said preserving the property would ensure that a building at a key site in the disaster remains as a testament.
"I couldn't sleep until I knew this property was preserved," she said.
Rosenthal bought the property on her own, for $60,000, several months ago. She expects it will take another $50,000 to transform it. From the outside, the house would not look much different from its neighbors.
The project will eventually be turned over to a new version of Rosenthal's group, Levees.org II, which will be established with 501(c)3 status, something the current group does not have.
The plan involves repairing the exterior of the house and altering the living room to show what it would have looked like immediately after the floodwaters were pumped out. The group is seeking artists to help with that re-creation, which will include artificial mold and mud.
The plan is to complete that work by the end of this year's hurricane season on Nov. 30.
At least at first, visitors would be able to view that display only through the home's front window, though future exhibits inside the building are possible.
That ties in with other efforts by Levees.org in the area.
The group has focused attention on the London Avenue Canal site in recent years, erecting a historic marker on the neutral ground nearby and setting up an outdoor exhibit on a neighboring piece of property near the breach site.
The City Planning Commission is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to approve the plan for the small museum. The City Council will have to give final approval at a later date.
Councilman Jared Brossett, who represents the district, spoke in support of the proposal at Monday's news conference, tying it to the importance of other flood-control and stormwater-management measures being taken by the city.
The outdoor exhibit and the marker already draw a trickle of visitors to the neighborhood, largely tourists looking to learn more about the flood.
While such sightseeing provoked some backlash in the months after Katrina, particularly when buses flocked to areas like the Lower 9th Ward, some neighbors of the Warrington Drive property said they have no problem with the attention.
"The tour buses come through, and they don't disrespect the neighborhood," said Carmen Owens, a neighbor. "They just want to know what happened."
Editor's note: This story was updated on August 9, 2016, to correct the spelling of Carmen Owens' name and clarify Levees.org's non-profit status.