A former music hall in the Ninth Ward where New Orleans’ music legends played 75 years ago is slated to be torn down by New Orleans city officials after years of deterioration.
The building formerly known as Club Desire is nestled in the upper Ninth Ward located at 2604 Desire Street, right off the corner of Law Street. The weathered, faded-pink building now sits behind tall, overgrown grass covered in graffiti, and broken blocks of glass border one of its entrances.
Club Desire was built in the 1940’s, according to Dana Buefort, granddaughter of Charles Armstead, the sole proprietor of the club. Buefort said that Club Desire was often referred to as “The Club” and hosted numerous performances such as New Orleans native rhythm & blues icons, Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew.
“There have been so many greats that performed on stage at The Club,” Buefort said.
“Fats writes about Club Desire in his autobiography. He also mentions how my grandfather gave him his first car,” Buefort said.
Armstead “believed in and supported that community,” Buefort said, and he also owned many of the houses in the area that neighbored The Club. Buefort said that after her grandfather passed, the last time she remembered The Club open was in the 1970s.
“When he passed, my mother ran it for many years. The last time I saw The Club open was in the 70s but my family didn’t own it then,” Buefort said.
The demolition of the club was proposed by the city’s Office of Code Enforcement, and appeared briefly before the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee that oversees demolitions on Monday. At the meeting, committee member Helen Jones noted that there had once been interest in saving the structure.
“Some group was interested in purchasing it and making a church out of it, but there’s been no action in 10 years,” replied Hillary Carrere of the city’s Office of Safety and Permits. “The wall, it’s a question of whether it’s going to fall inside or on the sidewalk.”
The building is now owned by Gilbert Bell Sr., according to city records. The committee noted that no one was present to speak on the building’s behalf, and voted without further dissent in favor of its demolition.
According to Buefort, she would like to see the building saved and possibly used as a community center in honor of her grandfather.
“My wish is that they would turn it into the Charles “Charlie” Armstead Community Center, a library, a restaurant or maybe even a health center,” Buefort said.
Buefort said that she currently resides in Boston, but visits New Orleans often.
“It always saddens me when I drive past The Club. My mother, aunt and I have often discussed the possibilities of approaching the city with the desire to do something with the building,” Buefort said.
“Club Desire should be old enough to be deemed a historical site and that should be enough to save it from destruction,” Buefort said.
Now, it is not clear if the building can be saved, said Patricia Gay, executive director of Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.
“It is a sad loss for our city,” Gay said.
“Restored, it could have helped to perpetuate our jazz heritage. So yes, we have missed that opportunity,” Gay said.
Gay said that in 2008 one citizen did work to try to save the site, but efforts fell up short.
“The city was still working so hard on recovery, but public policy should have been in place to stabilize the building for the future,” Gay said.
Gay said that a strong restoration plan should be in place for preserving similar sites.
“The area is totally desolate, but a plan anchored by the restoration of this building could have brought revitalization to the area,” Gay said.
“At some point we should discuss an architectural and historical survey of the entire city, which would be a major undertaking.”
The demolition must be approved by the City Council before it is made final, and District D City Councilman Jared Brossett, who represents the area that includes the building, said that he would like to see something positive come of the site.
“There is always some tension between issues of health, safety and blight remediation versus issues of preservation,” Brossett said. “As in all cases like this, I would love to see a positive future for this site where it soon becomes a neighborhood gem once again.”
[Note: This article was first published at 11:57 a.m. Tuesday, June 2. It was updated at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 3, to include comments from Councilman Jared Brossett and the Preservation Resource Center.]