Preservation and adaptive reuse bring new life to a New Orleans’ landmark.
Walking along the bustling streets of New Orleans in the Roaring Twenties, local residents would marvel at the nine-story New Orleans Public Service Inc. (NOPSI) building. Located in the heart of the The Big Easy’s Central Business District, the building was just two blocks away from Canal Street and the French Quarter. As they walked past the main entrance and entered the lobby to pay their electric and gas bills, residents stepped onto glossy terrazzo floors and were surrounded by 21-ft.-high vaulted ceilings and towering columns. In its heyday, the NOPSI building was often referred to as a “Jazz-Age Splendor,” an iconic slice of the NOLA business community’s rich history.
Built in 1927, the building was home to the city’s utility company and streetcar operator. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, NOPSI converted most of the streetcar lines to bus services and eventually transferred that piece of the business to the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority in 1983. NOPSI later became Entergy New Orleans, a subsidiary of Entergy, and moved to a more modern building–leaving the NOPSI building to sit vacant for decades.
Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Middleburg, VA (salamanderhotels.com), known for its portfolio of luxury golf and beach resorts, stepped outside of their wheelhouse to embark on a $50-million restoration of the NOPSI building. According to the company’s website, the restoration is the first urban development in its portfolio. Prem Devadas, president of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, saw NOPSI as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. According to NOLA.com, Devadas said, “It’s not just a historic building. It’s a building with history.”
Recognizing the heritage of the NOPSI building and appreciating its significance to the local business and cultural community, the goal was to preserve as much of the original building as possible while providing modern luxuries that locals and visitors could enjoy. The project focused on creating a close replica of the 1927 building. The two-year project plan to restore the building was ambitious as the building façade, main entrance, terrazzo floors, and intricate interior woodwork needed extensive restoration after sitting in decay for so long.
Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the builder had to coordinate with the state historic preservation office, the agency responsible for historic preservation efforts, to ensure compliance with state and local preservation laws. Any renovation had to be carefully planned to preserve the original building and components.
Salamander administrators entrusted Woodward Design + Build, New Orleans (woodwarddesignbuild.com), with leading the project. The Woodward Design Group served as the general contractor and project architect and delegated to subgroups under their umbrella brand for this multi-faceted project, including Woodward Millwork Group, Woodward Engineering Group, and Woodward Steel Group. Woodward also collaborated with outside building-material companies, including Zinsel Glass, New Orleans, and YKK AP America Inc., Austell, GA (ykkap.com).
The project extended beyond the NOPSI building to include neighboring properties: a former savings and loan bank, a brick building behind the main property, and a former parking lot on the corner. The team needed to seamlessly incorporate the additional square footage and buildings into the new development while keeping the rich history and original design the main priority.
The development team extensively researched the original NOPSI building space, designed by well-known Louisiana architects Favrot and Livaudais. The team designed a plan that added an extra floor on the rooftop of the NOPSI building. The adjacent buildings would be turned into a restaurant and a ballroom for event space.
Construction began in August 2016. While the Woodward Millwork Group crafted new bars and banquettes, the Woodward Engineering Group helped add an extra floor to the building rooftop and the Woodward Steel Group focused on the structural and ornamental steel work, such as the countertops and exterior grand canopies.
Each step of the way, the original building elements were preserved or repurposed whenever possible. For example, existing columns in the building were leveraged and an extra floor was added. This enabled the addition of a rooftop pool and bar and an extra 14 guest rooms, as well as a presidential suite overlooking the city’s Superdome.
While working on the project, the team discovered that the original building features presented its own set of challenges. To meet the historic requirements necessary to properly restore the building, large glass daylight openings were needed–but space was limited and the interior building logistics were tight. Glazing contractor Zinsel Glass and aluminum-facades manufacturer YKK AP America collaborated to identify a curtain-wall system that could span floor to floor.
The YHC 300 OG impact-resistant and blast-mitigating outside-glazed curtainwall was chosen to provide more exposed glass and to strengthen the building façade through the main wind force resisting system (MWFRS), which is where the wall transfers wind loads to the main building structure at connection points in the floors of columns of the building.
For any post-Katrina structures or renovations in New Orleans, hurricane mitigation is top priority. With the Crescent City’s history of destruction from Hurricane Katrina still fresh in builders’ minds, it was critical to use high-quality building materials that could preserve NOPSI’s historical charm as well as strengthen the exterior façade to protect it against catastrophic events. YKK AP’s YHS 50 TU storefront system was the choice to insulate the large glass windows and protect the building against major hurricane wind speeds and resulting debris. The impact-resistant and blast-mitigating storefront system can withstand as much as 70 PSF and is approved for high-velocity hurricane zones. The YHS 50 TU can weather such strong conditions because the pour and debridge thermal break technology, that takes place during the manufacturing process, improves the polyurethane’s adhesion to the exterior aluminum and counters the effects of dry shrinkage.
“The NOPSI building was an exciting combination of an adaptive reuse project with stringent hurricane-mitigation requirements,” said Greg Galloway, ProTek brand manager at YKK AP America. “We knew we had to give this building the strongest protection possible to keep this historic landmark safe for generations to come. Put simply, this was our most impressive job to date using the YHS 50TU inside-glazed storefront.”
In July 2017, the NOPSI building re-opened its doors. Now, instead of walking inside to pay an electric bill, guests enter the luxurious hotel to enjoy the modern upgrades in one of the 217 guest rooms. They may head to the rooftop pool and bar or dine at the farm-to-table restaurant, aptly named “Public Service.” A walk to the hotel ballroom–formerly the adjacent Dryades building–will uncover a 24-ft.-tall construction crane, which was previously used to transport electric transformers into electric vaults. The juxtaposition of NOPSI’s charming heritage and contemporary indulgence is a recipe for success for locals and visitors. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently listed NOPSI as a “Historic Hotel of America.”