NEW ORLEANS – As they near their 200th birthdays, two town homes located on the 1600 block of Prytania Street are now housing a mix of residential and commercial units.
Known as the Lizardi Townhomes, these two stucco-clad Greek Revival sister structures located in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District most recently housed Halpern’s furniture and upholstery store. Developer Montgomery Berman and Company used state and federal historic tax credits to rehabilitate the townhouses, which have a long and varied history dating back to 1838. The New Orleans architecture firm Studio BKA was selected to envision the former townhomes’ next chapter, and NFT Group was the general contractor chosen to perform the renovation work.
When the two buildings – totaling 10,000 square feet – were the headquarters of Halpern’s, they had been converted into one structure. A wood-framed glass curtain wall between the two rear service wings had enclosed an old courtyard to create an atrium-type space in an effort to increase the building’s usable area. Extensive interior wall removals, including large openings in the load-bearing brick party walls, and replacement of old windows with glass storefronts further altered the former homes to create a large, open showroom space.
“This project was unique in that it was inherited with a lot of the historic structure laid bare,” says architect Ben Allen. “Masonry walls, wood lintels, and wood trusses joined by mortise-and-tenon were left exposed by previous owners over the years, allowing us to display these elements and give you a real sense of the building’s age and layers of use. Having been altered so much, anything that remained of historic value was all that much more important to retain.”
Samuel Berman, president of Montgomery Berman & Co. and a Tulane University graduate, developed a plan for the complex as a mixed-use development with commercial tenant spaces on the first floor and four residential apartments on the second and third floors. An original carriage home also sits on the property, which is currently being transformed into a studio space for a local fabricator. Studio BKA considered the original floor plan when designing the new unit layouts, incorporating modern elements for new interventions, and highlighting the intact historic features.
The property dates back to the early days of the Uptown expansion of New Orleans and were owned for a time by Manuel Julian de Lizardi – co-owner of an influential trading house. In the 1970s, the Halpern family purchased the building to serve as the showroom for their eponymous furniture store. At some point, one of the townhomes was demolished to create space for a parking lot, leaving two of the original structures (plus the carriage house) still standing as they are today.
The architects of Studio BKA proposed removing the 20th century additions to expose the once-open courtyard spanning the buildings. The exterior of the buildings is stucco-clad load bearing brick, with interior plaster having been destructively removed at some point in the building’s history. The exterior stucco was repaired and painted, and where brick masonry was now exposed to the exterior environment in the courtyard, stucco was re-installed as it would have been originally. The original courtyard wood door frames and headers remain, with new wood door panels matching the few historic doors that remained. A new steel stair and balcony structure serving the apartments in the rear are a modern interpretation of what was likely present historically.
Each apartment has a unique layout with custom kitchens and individual color palettes. Original heart pine flooring throughout the building was repaired where damaged, lightly re-sanded, and stained.
“We chose to use brass and oil rubbed bronze metals and hardware to compliment the warmth the interiors spaces,” said architect Kim Payne Allen. “We wanted to create a textural rich interior as a tribute the buildings’ layered history. It didn’t feel right to design plain white kitchens and baths.”
The restoration scope for the ground floor commercial spaces included restoring wood floors and wood window sashes, doors and trim, extending the brick stoops to add new entrances to the smaller tenant spaces, and the addition of a stormwater retention system in the rear driveway. The courtyard serves as a new accessible point of access for all the commercial tenants, allowing the historic street elevations to remain unaltered. The restoration project meets the standards of the National Parks Services Rehabilitation for Tax Credits, as well as being under full jurisdiction of the Historic Landmark’s District Commission.
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