The Greater Little Zion Baptist Church, located in the historic neighborhood of Holy Cross in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, was founded in 1900, and is one of the oldest of over 70 churches in the area. The small wooden church was constructed in 1916, its 200-member congregation drawn from neighborhoods across New Orleans. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused significant flood damage to the church. Its historic wooden floor and pews were lost. The electrical system was also destroyed, rendering the church unusable.
Preserving the church helped to invigorate community action
In March 2006, in collaboration with Preservation Trades Network, we performed emergency assessments. The flooding had led to buckling and swelling of the church floor and volunteer workers gutted the floors, but unfortunately this well-intentioned work led to the loss of several historic building elements and salvageable historic materials in the process. Greater Little Zion Baptist Church was selected as the first in a series of community-based demonstration projects and workshops led by WMF and PTN. In 2006, local homeowners and tradespeople, practicing professionals in preservation and allied fields, and volunteers gathered to repair the building and also to learn practical, hands-on knowledge for repairing their own properties. The group treated the church for termites, repaired the sills and joists, and installed insulation and a new floor.
The church was selected as a project not only because it is of historic value, but because it faced conditions common to many structures in Holy Cross. It had become an informal community center and gathering point for a community seeking to re-establish itself after Hurricane Katrina. Preserving a church such as Greater Little Zion Baptist Church helped to invigorate community action.