One of New Orleans’s oldest surviving cemeteries, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was placed on the Watch in 1996 because of its advanced state of deterioration. Established in 1833, Lafayette No. 1 is located in New Orleans’ historic Garden District and was among the city's earliest and most significant above-ground burial sites. It remains in use today. Distinguished by its intersecting avenues designed to accommodate funeral processions, it was the city's first planned cemetery. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its significant history, location, and architectural importance, it retains its original size and configuration, and contains a variety of tomb types and styles. Following its model, over 30 above-ground cemeteries, traditionally referred to as “Cities of the Dead,” were constructed in New Orleans in the nineteenth century. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused considerable damage to the historic walls and tombs of Lafayette No. 1, which resulted in its placement on the Watch again in 2006.
1996 World Monuments Watch
WMF’s earliest involvement in New Orleans provided funding to Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving historic cemeteries in Louisiana. The stabilization and conservation of Lafayette No. 1. included restoring abandoned tombs, repairing historical landscape features, and improving the site’s public presentation. WMF’s post-Katrina efforts concentrated on the restoration of three badly damaged and abandoned tombs. Using funding from the World Monuments Fund, Save Our Cemeteries was joined by Preservation Trades Network in 2006 and 2009 for a preservation field school in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. The latter project focused on the conservation of the Taylor Tomb.
The 1996 Watch listing noted that “maintenance of cemeteries, especially the older ones, is almost a universal problem.” In the specific case of New Orleans’s oldest and most famous cemetery, the major threats to the site were vandalism, lack of maintenance, and unmanaged tourism. Lax security allowed scavengers to raid the structures for souvenirs. The cemetery’s vegetation was overgrown and the tropical climate caused the stone used for the grave markers and tombs to weather badly. This project helped develop a model maintenance plan for historic cemeteries, allowing New Orleans’s “Cities of the Dead” to rest in peace.