LSU asked to demolish McDonogh 11 building in New Orleans

Preservationists want it saved, but other say good riddance

In this photo taken June 18, 2020, the old McDonogh 11 building (which more recently was the home of New Orleans Center for Health Careers) rests on shoring on the campus of the University Medical Center in New Orleans. The building was moved from its original location at Palmyra and South Prieur streets to make way for the medical center. LSU Health Science Center has sent a memo to the LSU Board of Supervisors recommending demolition of the 1878 building. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

McDonogh No. 11, a New Orleans elementary school that was moved from its original location to make way for the University Medical Center, has for years rested on pilings at the edge of the New Orleans medical complex. But how much longer? The LSU Health Science Center, which bought the building to make room for the University Medical Center, sent a memo to the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors last month recommending that the 1878 building be demolished, citing the high costs of either moving it again or renovating it.

Edwin Murray, vice chancellor of the LSU Health Science Center, said McDonogh No. 11 was actually approved for demolition in 2010. Since then, the building has been moved three times by the state because preservationists wanted the building saved. Just last year, Murray said, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans sent developers to the McDonogh No. 11 building, and they came to the conclusion that the building was “unsalvageable.” Murray said LSUHSC has no desire to tear down the building and would not object to preservationists salvaging the site.

Danielle Del Sol, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center, said in a statement that the PRC is still in contact with several highly respected developers who are interested in seeing future redevelopment of the building as an alternative to demolition.

“Though moving the school again would be a difficult feat, it may be achievable, and we are hopeful that such a collaboration could free LSU’s site for future development and simultaneously save the 140-year-old school building to be revitalized into new life,” said Del Sol in the statement.

Like so many other schools in New Orleans, McDonogh 11 was named for John McDonogh, a slave owner who died in 1850 and left half his considerable fortune to build schools in New Orleans and his native Baltimore. A bust of McDonogh outside New Orleans City Hall was pulled down June 13 during a Take Back Pride rally organized by the New Orleans Workers Group. The statue, which was tossed into the Mississippi River, was retrieved the next day.  New Orleans police arrested a man and woman they say contributed to the vandalism and booked them on charges including theft, inciting a riot and inciting a felony.

Malcolm Suber, the co-founder of Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a group philosophically opposed to any commemorations of slave owners and white supremacists, said, “We, of course, are opposed to any public building named after John McDonogh. We don’t think he should be revered. Any slave holder. Any racist. Any white supremacist is not worthy of public adulation whatsoever.”

Murray said that the building’s historic legacy was never a factor in choosing to tear it down. The health science center just doesn’t have the money to maintain McDonogh No. 11, he said. “The decision has nothing to do with slave owners or the Confederacy, none of those kinds of things,” Murray said. “This decision was made some time ago.”

Del Sol believes that the public should not become fixated on the person for whom the building was originally named, especially because the building has had other names since then. From the 1980s until the time of Hurricane Katrina, it was the home of the New Orleans Center for Health Careers, and between 2007 and 2010 housed the Priestly School of Architecture and Construction she said. But even before those other names, Del Sol said McDonogh 11 was “a school that, throughout its history, served both African American and white students. The opportunity to recycle this building into new life instead of sending it to a landfill is worth achieving,” said Del Sol.

But Vera Landry, whose daughter Sheryl integrated the school in 1961, says it’s time for the building to go. The building is a constant reminder of the pain her daughter endured when she was subjected to racial taunts, isolated by her classmates and ignored by her teachers when she raised her hand to ask or answer a question. “It was horrible. I am so sorry I subjected my child to that kind of treatment.

“The little kids outside of class, she told me they’d play with her. But the bigger kids would come and make the little ones stop playing with her,”  Landry said. “That’s why — I’m 84 but I’ll believe this tilI I die — that racism is taught.”  And that belief that racism is taught and that it was taught at that building is why Landry believes the McDonogh No. 11 school building should be destroyed.

It’s a constant reminder, she said, of what her family had to endure because they’re Black.

“If we expect change, then we have to stop leaving those reminders,” she said. “Why leave all this stuff up as constant reminders?”

Murray said a developer is scheduled to look at the building again to confirm it is unsalvageable, but in the meantime, the LSU Health Science Center will continue the process. And if everything goes right, Murray said McDonogh No. 11 should be demolished around the second week of August.