How repairing the Notre Dame Cathedral can help preserve St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 10:05 PM CST
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PARIS (WVUE) - A team of New Orleans architects was given a rare look inside the fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in hopes of using the lessons learned with the restoration work there that could help with the renovations of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

The meeting was arranged by New Orleans Saints and Pelican’s owner Gayle Benson, who is a supporter of efforts to repair and renovate the New Orleans landmark.

“I think when you collaborate with other people and work together, you can gain a lot of knowledge,” Benson said. “I’ve gained knowledge just working with the fundraising efforts of Notre Dame.

St. Louis Cathedral architects Kevin Morris and Andre Villere had to put on protective clothing to enter the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was contaminated with lead during the catastrophic fire four years ago.

FiILE - A worker stands on scaffolding during preliminary work inside the Notre Dame de Paris...
FiILE - A worker stands on scaffolding during preliminary work inside the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, Wednesday May 15, 2019 in Paris. (Philippe Lopez/Pool via AP, File)(Philippe Lopez | AP)

“In New Orleans, we have to go about the same methodical process of restoring the cathedral back to the way it was,” Morris said. “Our approach is not about designing or changing the design of the cathedral. It’s more so about creating a preservation of the cathedral and restoring the authenticity that was there before.”

From a distance, New Orleans’ St. Louis Cathedral looks magnificent. It has been an iconic landmark from almost the founding of the city 300 years ago.

But take a closer look, and you’ll see the decay on the outside. On the inside, moisture leaks from a wall built in 1850, causing the paint to peel.

“How do you fix something like that?” Dave McNamara asks.

“You chip away the loose plaster,” Villere said. “You check the bricks that are behind the plaster. If the bricks are failing, you have to tuck, point the mortar joints in the brickwork, and then you apply new plaster.”

In this July 25, 2019 photo, Roxanne Taylor, right, and Brigitte Blanchard, wave to a...
In this July 25, 2019 photo, Roxanne Taylor, right, and Brigitte Blanchard, wave to a paddlewheel boat from a levee revetment on Algiers Point in New Orleans, with the French Quarter and St. Louis Cathedral seen in the background. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)(Gerald Herbert | AP)

The weight of the St. Louis Cathedral’s towers is causing one end of the building to sink. Villere is plotting the sinking of the foundation and mapping the cracks in the walls.

“We do try to make sure that there’s nothing going on in the building that would give us pause, or have any concerns about structural failures,” Villere said.

High above the artwork on the ceiling, the plaster is slowly decaying.

“The plaster keys are deteriorated,” Villere said. “That’s what holds the plaster in place.”

In some cases, steel girders and new boards are used to secure the old wooden beams that have been chewed and weakened by termites. It’s an ongoing struggle to manage problems and preserve a structure that has been the centerpiece of New Orleans for nearly 175 years.

At Nore Dame, they have collected nearly $1 billion in pledges and donations to pay for the restoration of the cathedral. In New Orleans, fundraising is also underway to pay for future renovations and repairs at the history cathedral.

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