FEMA – ST. FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI CHURCH COLLECTION
Earl K. Long Library
University of New Orleans
Size: 2 linear feet
locations: New Orleans, Louisiana
Inclusive dates: 1961-2007
Bulk dates: 1961
Summary: Recordation materials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) documenting St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church (New Orleans, La.), which was demolished as a result of a FEMA-funded project.
collections: FEMA – Duncan Plaza Collection, (Mss 351), FEMA – Jackson Barracks Collection (Mss 360), FEMA – Andrew H. Wilson School Collection (Mss 361), FEMA – Charles J. Colton Middle School Collection (Mss 362), George Washington Carver High School Collection (Mss 363)
Source: Gift, 2007
Access: No restrictions
Copyright: Physical rights are retained by the Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.
Citation: FEMA – St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans
Designed by the renowned architectural firm of Curtis & Davis, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church opened in 1963 in the Gentilly section of New Orleans, an area developed mainly after World War II. The parish was founded in 1953 by a group of war veterans who, before the church was built, used a Quonset hut as their chapel. It was named in honor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), also called “Mother Cabrini,” a teacher and missionary who co-founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1880) and was the first American citizen canonized by the Catholic Church (1946).
Nathaniel Curtis wrote in his personal diary in 1964 that “there were several considerations that influenced the design . . . the strongest, of course, was the effect of the decisions taken as a result of Vatican II and its effect upon the plan. The priest would no longer have his back to the congregation . . . there would be a sense of more participation . . . with the pews being placed in a semi-circle as close to the altar as possible. The spire, or steeple, utilized through the ages to draw attention to it as a place of supreme importance, was placed directly over the altar as the most important element. In fact, the altar was placed beneath the spire that grew up out of the roof as if pointing toward God . . . the thin concrete shells . . . are reminiscent of the shape of the Quonset hut, in accordance with the wishes of [the pastor] Fr. Frye since he had a fond relationship with his first building.
“All of the major components of the plan: altar, sanctuary, three-part nave and the baptistery, are enclosed within a fifteen-foot-high decorative brick wall, rectangular in plan. The only openings are at the entrances. The result is an honest expression of the activities that occur within, utilizing a forthright statement of the structural system and the materials employed. It was a church unlike any that had ever been built before.” Construction cost $929,000. (Stephen Verderber, Delirious New Orleans: Manifesto for an Extraordinary American City [Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009], p. 209).
Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005) and the subsequent flooding filled the church with six feet of floodwater. After the water receded, the church stood empty until its demolition, which began on June 5, 2007, despite the protests of architects, parishioners, and other supporters of Cabrini Church. Demolishing the church cost $780,000. Holy Cross School purchased the property (Verderber, Delirious New Orleans, p. 213-229 passim.).
The Historic American Buildings Survey deemed Cabrini Church “exceptionally important as an example of Modern Architecture in New Orleans, with a plan, structural systems, and allusions to the local historical context that are unmatched in both their originality and sophistication. It is also an exceptionally important example of its building type for being among the most, probably the most, singular design for a house of worship in New Orleans erected during the post-World War II period.” The church also “is an exceptional example of the work of its architects, Curtis & Davis, who, in their own time and in retrospect were widely acknowledged as the preeminent architectural firm in New Orleans during the post-World War II era and a firm that enjoyed national and international distinction for much of that period” (Historic American Buildings Survey, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church . . . [New Orleans: Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2007], p. 1).
Series I. Textual and photographic documentation
352-1 Historic American Buildings Survey. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, 5500 Paris Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photographs, written historical and descriptive data. New Orleans: Federal Emergency Management Agency, June 2007. Prepared by NISTAC, a joint venture of URS Group, Inc. and Dewberry & Davis, Gaithersburg, Md. Includes historical photographs and post-Katrina photographs by Robert H. Tucher.
Series II. Architectural documentation
352-2 Curtis & Davis Architects. [Interior plans]. 1961. 43 plans.
352-3 Curtis & Davis Architects. [Interior plans]. 1961-1967. 15 plans.
Curtis & Davis Architects. [Exterior plans]. 1961. 6 plans.
352-4 Southern Industrial Sales. Final approved copy. 1961. 33 plans.
Curtis & Davis Architects
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Historic American Buildings Survey
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
St. Frances Cabrini Church (New Orleans, La.)
Tucher, Robert H.
Urban renewal—Louisiana—New Orleans