The building at 800 Magazine Street in the historic warehouse district of New Orleans was originally constructed circa 1844 as a livery and undertaker’s establishment for the Johnson family. The corner was altered into a grand Italianate design in 1884. The building gained a measure of historical significance when undertaker Frank Johnson Sr. prepared the body of Jefferson Davis there for his lying in state at Gallier Hall.
Through the years the structure has undergone significant architectural changes. Between the 1930’s and the 1980’s it lost most of its ornately detailed stucco and brick work, its prominent covered gallery was removed, and it gained an unsightly 3rd floor. The original stable openings on the ground floor were infilled with factory style glazing and brick, the beautiful millwork of the wood windows and doors was thoughtlessly sanded and painted, glass transoms were boarded up, termites ate through much of the original wood structure, and a maze of pipes and machinery was installed on the interior to service the coffee roasting plant it was used for until 2009. Fortunately for the city, 800 Magazine’s age allowed eligibility for both state and federal tax credits, prompting the new owner, Tony Gelderman, to restore the exterior of the building back to its 1880’s stature while developing the interior as a modern multi-use retail and residential building.
Architect Peter Trapolin, who is well known locally as an expert in historic restorations and adaptive reuse, was enlisted early in the process to guide the project though the complex tax credit process and help to capitalize on all available public funding. The project utilized both State and Federal Tax Credits and the owners also took advantage of the Façade Easement program for additional tax benefits by donating an easement on the building to the Preservation Resource Center
The detailing of the façade and gallery ornament was an intensive process. Only a single 1903 photo of 800 Magazine exists from that era. The building revealed little of its historic skeleton to the eye in its 2011 state, and its extensive alterations meant that learning about the original appearance would be an exercise in archaeology. As more and more of the original structure was revealed through construction, the more the façade plan evolved to settle into its historic bones.
800 Magazine is a series of 2 story townhouse style apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors, and a mix of retail on the ground floor. The design for the apartments is spacious and modern with large terraces and luxurious appliances. Yet it still calls attention to the historic nature of the building by exposing original ceiling joists, beams, columns and exterior brick walls. The applied finishes throughout the building, including wood flooring, stair treads and decorative wood and steel elements are salvaged from the building itself. 800 Magazine Street, is an interesting and seamless merging of modern and historic, a symbolic metaphor for the Warehouse District itself.