Trying to Resurrect the Body of a City Buried in Sludge and History

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New Orleans: Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, toured several historic neighborhoods here on Monday, accompanied by a host of local housing preservationists, in an effort to remind officials that in the rush to clean up New Orleans, all should be mindful of its architectural legacy. Standing in front of the Preservation Resource Center in a warehouse district near downtown, Mr. Moe said he saw hope for the city's history despite the destruction, although he cautioned that the reconstruction had to be a considered one.

The Villa Meilleur in the Tremé neighborhood, a stop of his tour, was far more traumatized than Jackson Square where President Bush spoke the other night, but its history all but requires that it be restored. Retrofitted as a museum of African-American history, its grounds sit quiet now, beneath broken trees arrayed like pickup sticks with a particularly large one crashed through the brick fence, its top stopping just short of the exquisite entrance to a Creole Cottage-style home built in 1829. Nanja Bynum, a board member of the Preservation Resource Center, the local affiliate of the National Trust, lives near the museum, and she is nervous that both baby and bath water may be discarded in the frenzy to put the city back on its feet.

She pointed out that the Tremé neighborhood, in 1729, was the only place in the United States where slaves were allowed to congregate freely. (Tremé had a more tangy historical turn as "Storyville" at the end of the 19th century, providing the only legalized red-light district in the country, with the greatest jazzmen of the era offering a musical accompaniment to the thousands of prostitutes who worked the neighborhood.)

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