Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mapping Historic Preservation: Proto-HABS in New Orleans

N.C. Curtis. Map of the Garden District. Graphite, pen and ink on paper. 1932. Nathaniel C. Curtis, Sr. Collection. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

I've mentioned Louisiana's admirable contributions to the HABS program in earlier posts, and recently came across an early twentieth-century attempt to map and record the city's noteworthy structures.

Tulane University architecture professor Nathaniel C. Curtis wrote for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in 1916:

"The Chapter is at work on a map of the city of sufficient extent to include all the old noteworthy buildings and those with interesting ornamental detail. It is understood that such a map would serve a basis of foundation on which might be built a later series of measured architectural drawings of all the buildings of the city which are worthy of record. In addition to such accurate measured drawings, including plans, elevations, sections, and large-scale details of moldings, iron work and modeled ornament, it is also proposed to acquire a large number of photographs from which half-tones might be made to accompany the line drawings and to prepare a descriptive monograph which would serve to further explain the origin and architectural character of each example. This is a serious undertaking, but one not quite so colossal as would seem to be indicated on its face. As a matter of fact, a number of local architects, several artists and a few historians have, with as much zeal as was at their command, occupied themselves with doing in an occasional sort of way just what the Chapter proposes to do with system and cooperation. All that has been accomplished heretofore in the way of record may be placed at the disposal of the committee for incorporation in the proposed work, and so a considerable saving of time and effort will be effected."

Excerpt from Nathaniel C. Curtis, "The Work of the Louisiana Chapter in Urging the Preservation of the Historic Architecture of New Orleans, and in Seeking to Restore Its Influence in Modern Building," p. 219. Biographical Files, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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