Preservation Magazine, Fall 2023

How a High School in New Orleans Revived its Art Deco History After Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged Frederick A. Douglass High School in New Orleans. The auditorium of the 1940 Art Deco building remained closed until 2023, when restoration and upgrades were completed. In addition to serving students, the auditorium hosts public events for the Bywater community. “It’s an anchor for the neighborhood,” says architect Kristine Kobila of NANO, the architecture firm that led the renovation.

Here's a glance at the project, by the numbers.

photo by: Photo courtesy NANO, graphic by Mary Butler

Deco Revival

1,493: Number of custom bent-plywood and cast-steel seats individually restored and returned to their original locations. Other seats were removed to allow for 20 ADA-compliant seating areas.

1: New, mechanized lift that allows users of wheelchairs and other mobility aids to reach the stage. The renovation also made the auditorium's stage and sound controls, restrooms, aisles, and entrances accessible.

3.67: Millions of dollars spent on the restoration, with funding coming from New Orleans Public Schools, FEMA, and state historic tax credits.

18: Approximate thickness in inches of the auditorium's masonry walls. Before the renovation, there was no air conditioning, leading to condensation dripping down the interior walls on hot days.

1,640: Approximate number of original ceiling tiles cleaned, repaired, and hand-painted by decorative artist Diane Killeen and her team. They also hand-painted each seat number and restored the vestibule ceiling.

Sharon Holbrook is a freelance writer who has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and other national publications. She lives near Cleveland, Ohio, and is an enthusiastic amateur preservationist.

The Mother Road turns 100 years old in 2026—share your Route 66 story to celebrate the Centennial. Together, we’ll tell the full American story of Route 66!

Share Your Story