Katrina Revisited: Richard Moe and the National Trust

By Special Contributor posted 08-25-2015 16:23

By Elizabeth Byrd Wood

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating storm that affected the entire Gulf Coast. In this three-part series we'll hear from three individuals—Richard Moe, Walter Gallas, and Patty Gay—who worked on recovery and preservation efforts in the wake of the storm.

 Richard Moe presents a check to David MacGraw, who works as a cook at Gallatoire’s, a famous restaurant in the French Quarter. Mr. MacGraw’s specialty is crawfish etouffé. | Credit: Preservation Resource Center
Richard Moe presents a check to David MacGraw, who works as a cook at Gallatoire’s, a famous restaurant in the French Quarter. Grants and aid were part of the National Trust's recovery efforts | Credit: Preservation Resource Center
Ten years ago Richard Moe was vacationing in the remote Colorado mountains when he started getting disturbing snippets of news about Hurricane Katrina and the unfolding destruction that was taking place on the Gulf Coast. He recalls that he rushed into the nearby town to buy a newspaper and to watch the news on television. From across the country, Moe, the president of the National Trust at that time, watched a beloved and historic city, along with other communities along the Gulf Coast, devastated by wind and flooding.

In a recent interview, Moe, now retired and living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said that he hurried back to DC determined to bring the full resources of the National Trust, and, indeed, the preservation world, to aid what he calls the “one of the most historic sites in America.” He says, “We had never faced anything like this before and we had to get involved and mobilized quickly.”

Early on, National Trust executive staff decided that the best way to help would be to open a field office in New Orleans, Moe explains. A grant from the Getty Foundation got the ball rolling and helped to leverage other grants. But one of the biggest challenges was raising funds, he says. “The National Trust board supported our decision to open the office, even though at times we weren’t sure where the money was coming from.” Even finding office space was a challenge until the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) of New Orleans stepped in to offer a place in its building.

One of preservationists’ first concerns was convincing local officials that not every damaged house needed to be demolished. While the main priority following the storm was public safety, Moe says, preservation advocates were able to make the case that these buildings were not in danger of collapsing—they could be saved.

Although Moe was the driving force behind the Trust’s involvement, he is quick to praise the efforts of the preservation community in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast to help the region recover and rebuild. He recalls the dedication and hard work of Trust staff, especially the staff in the newly created field office. He also cites the work of preservationists from around the country who traveled to New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf Coast to help them rebuild, including teams of volunteers recruited through the National Trust’s website.

 A view of the damaged interiors in this historic home in the Holy Cross neighborhood. The National Trust worked with partners in recovery efforst in this neighborhood. | Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A view of the damaged interior of a historic home in the Holy Cross neighborhood. The National Trust worked with partners in recovery efforts in this neighborhood. | Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation.
When asked if there is a particular project of which he is most proud, Moe immediately talks about work to save and revive the Holy Cross neighborhood in the lower Ninth Ward. “Houses were four and five feet under water,” he says. “It is a modest neighborhood, but very historic.” Many of the older neighborhoods in New Orleans, such as the French Quarter and Holy Cross, were built on higher ground. As a result, the French Quarter survived the worst of the flooding. Holy Cross, however, is lower than the industrial canal, which collapsed following the storm, causing extensive damage. The National Trust partnered with the PRC on HOME AGAIN! New Orleans, a program to help residents in Holy Cross and other neighborhoods rebuild and restore their storm-damaged houses.

Moe has long understood the dangers that climate change poses to heritage resources. He notes that New Orleans faces further challenges and, like many cities, it is threatened by rising sea levels. “Preservationists will need to be nimble and flexible when faced with future storms and floods and must be quick to mobilize and go where the need is,” he says. “You can’t take a rigid approach.”

Moe has been back to New Orleans several times since Katrina, most recently early in 2014. He says that the city looks very different than it did before, and that there are still signs of storm damage. But he is optimistic about the city’s future. “More and more young people are moving to New Orleans,” he says. He believes these new residents are attracted to the history and the culture of the city and, inspired by these special qualities, are fixing up houses and building a life. “It was right to rebuild,” he says.

Elizabeth Byrd Wood is senior content manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#Advocacy #HurricaneKatrina #Sustainability

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