Filed Under:  Local, News

Iconic Central City landmark to be resurrected

17th November 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Many locals have heard the countless stories of the central city entertainment epicenter that was the Dew Drop Inn. Now, thanks to a partnership of area community groups, the sounds of good times and good music along the LaSalle Street corridor will soon return.

The landmark at 2836-2840 LaSalle Street represents one of the most significant music heritage sites in our city. From the late 1930’s through the 1960’s, the Dew Drop Inn was one of the finest venues for African American entertainment in New Orleans and the region. The Dew Drop quickly became known as “the south’s swankiest night spot; drawing many major black performers from around the country. Acts such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Ike & Tina Turner, Otis Redding, and James Brown graced the stage. In 2010, the Louisiana Landmarks Society named the Dew Drop Inn an endangered New Orleans historical site.Dew-Drop-Inn

Kenneth Jackson, the building’s owner states: ‘It’s a world renowned historic landmark. ‘

Affectionately known as the Dew Drop, the establishment served as a hotel, supper club and barber. The current part revitalization plan will help bring culture and commerce back to the area.

Today, there is renewed interest in the revitalization of the historic corridor. The Dew Drop Inn complex represents the focal point of that vision and has great potential to bring live music and other main street commercial activity back to the area, as a result, contributing to the larger revitalization of the corridor and neighborhood as a whole.

The Dew Drop Inn Renovation Project Mission is to activate the site by reintroducing and reinterpreting its historical uses in collaboration with youth cultural programming and intergenerational workforce development. Along with Tulane City Center and Harmony Neighborhood Development, partners include, the Milne Inspiration Center and Kenneth Jackson; representing the Frank Painia family. Jackson is the grandson of the original founder (Painia).

Painia was also well known in the neighborhood by his (nickname) the “Mayor of LaSalle Street” by those in the neighborhood. The Dew Drop Inn was also influential regarding the shifting of racial tensions. The club was always open to people from both the black and white communities. In November of 1952, police raided the Dew Drop Inn after reports to the New Orleans Police of ‘racial mixing.’ Frank Painia decided that he would be arrested along with his patrons in an act of solidarity.

“The LaSalle corridor is adjacent to our Harmony Neighborhood Development (Harmony Oaks) site, so we have a lot of interest in revitalizing the corridor,” says Michael Hellier, Real Estate and Economic Development fellow.

Instead of bringing in outside investors, the (HND) wishes to help current homeowners and property owners-like Kenneth Jackson see the benefits of revitalization efforts.

Temporary aesthetics work has been going on to the facade of the building for the past few weeks, in preparation for the Better Block NOLA neighborhood event that took place on November 7. The event provided information about the project’s mission and direction of community development and allowed residents the opportunity to meet Corporate Partners and investors to learn more about the Revitalization Plan.

“This will bring back attention to this whole area, not just the LaSalle corridor Kenneth Jackson said at the November 7th event. “This will highlight areas that were formally vibrant-and show people that there’s possibility of life still existing in these areas.”

“Kenneth (Jackson) always talks about countless people who pop in and talk about how much they love the place and all of their memories. I personally experienced it this past week, at the Better Block event,” Hellier told The Louisiana Weekly. “Being around the property and every few minutes, someone would stop and talk about the history, about who played there and who they saw there and what it meant to the neighborhood. Even people from out of the city and the country come by to see the Dew Drop. It’s world famous-it’s pretty cool to see how much people really love it.”

With so many with fond memories of the landmark, the plan is to keep as much of the building in tact as possible, according to Hellier.

“From a physical as well as programmatic standpoint, we’re going to do our best to bring it back to what it was,” he added. “The restaurant is coming back, the performance space is coming back, a reduced amount of the hotel space is coming back and the barber shop is coming back. That is what the majority of people remember. And regarding the workforce development theme that will be implemented; all of the tenants that are going to come in will have a community impact, which is important to us.”

“When we talk about the revitalization, people really get excited-and they want to see it happen tomorrow, which is great motivation.”. Hellier laughs.

He says the goal is to have renovation underway by the first quarter of 2016, contingent upon the group’s capital campaign and seeking assistance by way various tax credits and other state programs. Current funders of the project include the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Art Works.

This article originally published in the November 17, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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