Threatened places: As Buddy Bolden’s house continues to deteriorate, PJ Morton “has a plan for it”

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Upscale messenger Katherine Hart

The Buddy Bolden House at 2309-11 First St.

Graffiti is scrawled on the side of Central City’s shotgun that was once the home of jazz legend Buddy Bolden, and the coating that received a new coat of paint a few years ago has started to fall off. In front of the house at 2309-11 First Street, near Av Simon Bolivar, garbage is piling up around the abandoned remains of past roadworks.

Like many projects, those at the House of the Music Innovator have been frozen in time over the past two years as Covid-19 disrupted all aspects of life here and abroad. But now that the coronavirus count is dropping and people are starting to wake up from their forced sleep, questions have arisen about what exactly is happening in the 2300 block of First Street and when work could continue with the rehabilitation of Bolden’s former residence at 2309 First Street

No apparent progress has been made since the house second appeared on the Louisiana Landmarks Society’s Nine Most Endangered Sites list in New Orleans in November 2020.

The company said that despite famous restoration plans, the building belonging to the Great St. Stephens Full Gospel Missionary Baptist Church remains at risk. “The building remains vacant and an adjacent building also belonging to the church burned down in April. Bolden’s old house continues to languish.

Courtesy of the Preservation Resource Center

Former home of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden in 2019.

Cornettist Born in 1877, Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was not just a simple jazz musician: many scholars say he was the originator of what we call jazz today.

“He synthesized the syncope of ragtime with the improvisation of the blues and turned it into dance music. He did something so unique that he was recognized as the king of the genre, ”said John McCusker, jazz historian and tour guide. “If New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz, then the Bolden House is its birthplace. “

Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden

McCusker said he and local curators Annie Avery and Jack Stewart discovered that 2309 First was Bolden’s residence almost 20 years ago when they researched the former homes of the jazz greats for the Jazz Houses plaque program of the Preservation Resource Center.

Many early jazz musicians, like Bolden, never owned a home and moved even more frequently, so establishing credible addresses for them was not easy. But Bolden was shown alive at 2309 First Street (half a double shotgun) in the 1900 city directory and in the 1900 census, where he is shown to be a plasterer. In 1902, the repertoire mentioned his profession as a “musician”.

He lived in the First Street home with his mother in 1906, when he was sent to Jackson’s Public Mental Hospital at the age of 29. Stories vary about what ultimately ended Bolden’s astonishing musical career and led to his institutionalization. A report says he hit his mother on the head because he thought she was trying to poison him as she tried to give him medicine.

Such delusions and other factors led to his diagnosis of schizophrenia, which was considered incurable at the time. Bolden died in the mental institution in 1931.

The Double Double Shotgun in 2019. Jazz pilgrims from all over the world come to Central City to stand outside the Double where Buddy Bolden once lived.

In 2008, the Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Missionary Baptist Church purchased both the Bolden House and the identical shotgun next door at 2305-07 First Street. Both structures were occupied by tenants at the time, but after they moved, the houses sat vacant for a decade.

Without a specific plan for their use, the properties deteriorated to the point that the city began fining the church, led by Bishop Paul Morton and Reverend Debra Morton. As momentum gathered to save the property and rehabilitate it, PJ Morton – the son of the church’s pastors and a New Orleans-born Grammy winner – got involved.

“PJ wants to preserve the building and has a plan for it and the house next door,” said Brandin Campbell, spokesperson for PJ Morton. “It’s a passionate project for him.

The very first step of the Buddy’s House Foundation, the non-profit association founded by PJ Morton, was to secure a small grant to board, secure and paint the buildings. The lean-to laundry rooms at the rear of each building have been removed due to structural and safety concerns.

In the May 2019 issue of Preservation in Print, the headline was “PJ Morton to Restore Former Home of Buddy Bolden, Father of Jazz”. Susan Langenhennig, Marketing Director and Editor-in-Chief of PRC Magazine, wrote of Morton’s plan to restore “the humble shotgun house into a small museum dedicated to Bolden’s life and the influence of his music”. The house next door, she wrote, should become “a recording studio and workshop space where young musicians can learn the business side of the industry”.

The announcement for the 2019 celebration of the planned restoration.

At the same time, the PRC participated in a block party organized by PJ Morton and his team outside the houses, during which the plans were revealed to the public. There was a lot of fanfare and momentum over the prospect of saving House Bolden. Then …. silence.

According to PRC Executive Director Danielle del Sol, the PRC has not had a recent discussion with PJ Morton on progress or plans for the future.

But that doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made, Campbell said. “We were ready to move forward in late 2019, but then Covid hit,” he said. “We thought it was unwise to try to organize fundraisers that would put people at risk and ask for money when so many people are suffering financially.”

Planning took place behind the scenes, Campbell said, as the team waited for the pandemic. The Buddy’s House non-profit foundation was established and now has a website, buddyshousefoundation.org. The group got a small grant from Black and Brown Get Down! Community Defense Fund which allowed him to award $ 500 in grants to 20 musicians to help them get through the Covid era. The association is currently in talks with several banks to secure financing for the project, and the architects are about to be vetted.

“The 2309 half of the house will be a ‘reincarnation’ of the house when Bolden lived there with his mother; the other side of the double will be dedicated to Bolden’s musical legacy, ”said Campbell. “We plan to involve historians to make sure we get it right.”

Although Campbell said there was no specific timeframe to get started, he said the public can expect to know more about the project in early 2022. “We want to get started on this point as soon as possible,” he added.

Upscale messenger Katherine Hart

The street in front of Buddy Bolden’s house, seen on November 21, has been torn up. More garbage has accumulated around the pipes and debris left behind.

But those who have spent years defending House Bolden are more than a little skeptical that significant action will be taken.

Ryne Hancock is one of them. A resident of Central City and a member of a multiracial group dedicated to saving House Bolden, he said he was “pissed off” that it hasn’t happened more to this day.

“We complain all the time about gentrification, and here we have this incredibly important home of a great bearer of black culture and it’s left to rot. It’s inexcusable – Covid or not Covid, ”Hancock said. “I’m frustrated because if this had been a Sidney Torres project it would have already been done. “

Likewise, when McCusker learned that PJ Morton’s group had promised to start renovating the house in early 2022, he got a scathing response: “Well, if you think you’re probably also thinking that a big man in a red suit comes down from your fireplace. Christmas Eve. It’s not going to happen. “

Journalist R. Stéphanie Bruno can be reached at [email protected].

This is the fifth in a series of tracking Uptown sites named on the Louisiana Landmarks Society’s 2020 list of New Orleans’ Nine Most Endangered Sites.

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