Architects and Developers Breathe New Life into Former McDonogh 31 School

This story first appeared on the NOAF Blog in November 2019.

The McDonogh 31 school, located in the Esplanade Ridge Historic District, first opened its doors in 1906. The school was typical of many New Orleans’ public-school facilities built in the early twentieth century – designed in the American Beaux’s Arts style using reddish-tan brick with decorative cementitious trimming. In the 1950s, when the Orleans Parish School Board renovated many of its schools, the ground floor was altered to accommodate a large central open assembly area, and 3 new classrooms. The 2nd and 3rd floors were largely untouched in the 1950s renovation and retains its general historic configuration today.

Although built as a school for white children, the demographics changed mid-century to being primarily African-American, and the name of the school was changed in 1995 to Morris F.X. Jeff. Mr. Jeff was the leader of the New Orleans Recreation Department’s ‘Colored Division’, and was a highly respected member of the community. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the building was abandoned and remained empty until its recent conversion into the Rendon Apartments.

In 2018, the developers enlisted Trapolin-Peer Architects and Ryan Gootee General Contractors to breathe new life into the old school while maintaining its historic fabric in order to qualify for state and federal historic tax credits. The original floor plan was reconfigured into apartments – preserving all demising walls between the classrooms and corridors and maintaining the wide linear character of the 2nd- and 3rd-floor corridors. Interior doors, transoms, and trim were maintained or restored, and the building’s floors were refinished. Trapolin-Peer Architects was able to divide the classrooms, offices, and bathrooms of the former school into 26 apartments ranging from 600 sq ft studios to 1400 sq ft two bedrooms. The converted apartments offer modern amenities and architectural design work that further highlights the historic interior components. Cloakrooms were preserved and repurposed as entry halls, and the several small rooms at the ends of corridors were incorporated into the units as new bathrooms.

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