Hurricane Katrina devastated one of the most culturally rich, vibrant, and unique cities in the United States. a significant number of historical and natural icons, including the , which had been a hub of music during the heyday of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. The Naval Brigade Hall was not only home to dances and concerts but also to a school of music. Until Katrina, the Naval Brigade Hall had been part of the ‘s jazz tour and had been slated to be renovated to house new condominiums because it was no longer being used as a music conservatory (Foster, 2005). Therefore, even before the hurricane hit, there was considerable tension between those developers who wished to transform the historical icon into profitable housing and historic preservationists. The Naval Brigade Hall was the first historic building to be demolished after Hurricane Katrina and symbolizes the challenges cities face when crises and disasters threaten to undermine the preservation of communities.

As Thorp (2006) points out, historic preservation has been “rightly viewed as a secondary consideration to the much more important priority of ,” but there has lately been a “realization that the preservation and protection of cultural resources is important in the mental and emotional rebuilding of a place,” (p. 3). The destruction of the Naval Brigade Hall could have been avoided; the edifice might have been renovated instead in order to provide the community with hope in the midst of disaster. Instead, the case of the Naval Brigade Hall shows that “the unnecessary destruction of cultural resources after disasters causes unnecessary emotional distress and pain,” (Thorp, 2006, p. 3). Especially in a city that defines itself by history and particularly the history of American music, it would have been far healthier for New Orleans residents to rally in support of the preservation of its historic properties.

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Preserving historic properties promotes social solidarity in communities. The recovery process depends on residents participating in the rebuilding of their communities in order to preserve their integrity and quality of life. Barriers to recovery in New Orleans included the funneling of money into new development over the use of money to preserve the history and character of the place. As a result, historic properties like the Naval Brigade Hall were considered unimportant and led to impediments in rebuilding New Orleans. The “reduction of social vulnerability” depends on “the extension and consolidation of social networks, both locally and at national, regional, or international scales,” (Tompkins & Adger, 2004, p. 2). Therefore, it would have been helpful to have strategic partnerships at the local, state, or federal levels. When the Naval Brigade Hall was torn down, residents were “on the verge of tears” and had “begged firefighters to stop,” (Foster, 2005). Had historic preservation been more of a priority prior to the hurricane, the community as a whole might have been able to focus energy on a long-range vision that included a comprehensive real estate development plan that did not sacrifice the artistic and cultural heritage of the city.

The recovery process depends on partnerships with residents, local businesses, and multiple agencies. “Each small component of a historic district, landscape, or cultural landscape contributes to the sense of place as an ensemble,” which is why losing even one building can damage the integrity and wholeness of the entire city and its ethos (Thorp, 2006, p. 4). As part of the planning and prophylactic stages of disaster management, historic preservation needs to become a top priority. Partnering with organizations like the National Register of Historic Places or the National Park Service, it may be possible to minimize the damage caused to communities after major crises. The New Orleans case study shows that vision for community integrity must be clearly articulated before as well as after the disaster.


Foster, M. (2005). In sudden demolition, first historic building since Katrina. National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sept 15, 2005. Retrieved online:

Thorp, S.M. (2006). Integrating historic preservation and disaster management. University of Pennsylvania Thesis.

Tompkins, E.L. & Adger, W.N. (2004). Does adaptive management of natural resources enhance resilience to climate change? Ecology and Society 9(2).