FOX 8 Investigates: Historic homes left roofless

The city spent millions of dollars to save them from demolition.  Now there's concern over whether historic homes that were moved off the footprint of the future VA hospital to be preserved, may have been jeopardized.

New Orleans neighborhoods are rich with old homes and many are considered architectural treasures.  It's part of city's charm and unique identity.

"You will not find it anywhere else, and some of the materials used are also interesting like cypress wood that was cut in the first go through of the Manchac Swamp North of the city. It's stuff that you won't get back," said Brad Vogel with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In an effort to not risk losing some of that history, preservationists were loud enough to stop the bulldozers last summer in an area that in a couple of years will be home to a new hospital for veterans.

After the city ordered a temporary moratorium of the state's demolition in the VA footprint, Mayor Mitch Landrieu made this announcement last June: "We were able to agree in principal to reallocate some of the same $79 million to take up to 100 houses that are historic in nature and move them and preserve them."

It was a $3.2 million project, using federal dollars (CDBG money) to move historic homes out of the footprint and onto empty lots in other parts of the city owned by non profits.  The plan is to rehab them and put them back into commerce.

"The total budget to clear the site for the VA hospital was $79 million so it (moving the homes) was $3.2 million of the $79 million," said Scott Hutcheson, advisor to the Mayor for Cultural Economy.

In September, Builders of Hope, the company hired to oversee the project, moved the first home.  Now a house in the heart of central city at Second and Danneel Streets appears to be well on its way.

Eighty-year-old Wallace Thurman called the former South Tonti St. address home since the day he was born, until late last year when he settled on an offer with the state.

In June, Thurman told FOX 8, "I'm very happy they're saving the home, but I don't think this should have ever started."

Thurman's old house is one of more than 70 that have been relocated. 

Today many don't look like Thurman's.  Weather resistant barriers meant to protect the houses are falling apart.  Some, have no protection at all.  A home moved to St. Ann for example, like so many, doesn't have a roof, exposing everything inside the house.

Vogel explained, "unfortunately, because of the constraints put on Builders of Hope by the timeline for the hospital development, we had a less than ideal house moving program."

The city said for houses to be relocated, the roofs, camelbacks and second stories had to be removed to clear power and street car lines.  Hutcheson said, "the roofs were going to be replaced anyway so this was a process that we could do in advance."

"I know they had to take the top off.  I guess they took the second and third stories so that they could move it, but to have it uncovered with the rain going through the house.. to move it and leave it open just seems backwards," said Matteo Neivert.

Neivert, who says he still hasn't settled on an offer with state, didn't recognize his old house now located on Gravier.  His home that was on Palmyra St. a few blocks away looked much different before it was uprooted.

Neivert showed FOX 8 pre Katrina photos after the interior was fully restored.  This week, rain poured inside of it.

He said, "the house is about 110, 120-years-old so it's been through.. to be exposed to the elements it's just.. I don't know why they're doing that.. at least put a tarp on it." <