Restoring A Treasure: U.S. Custom House, New Orleans

See! Save! Celebrate! is the timely and appropriate national theme for National Preservation Month, commemorated in May.  GSA’s historic U.S. Custom House is a constant anchor in New Orleans’ vibrant French Quarter. Through the collaborative efforts of GSA and its partners, this architectural gem has once again been saved and, in the words of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, stands as a symbol of “what we can do when we think about finding common good.”

A recently released documentary series titled Restoring a Treasure: U.S. Custom House, New Orleans highlights GSA’s work to recover and restore the National Historic Landmark after Hurricane Katrina.

The recent modernization project, which has reduced energy consumption by 13 percent thus far, is striking a measured balance to meet preservation, modern workplace, and energy efficiency goals.

Designed with high-quality materials, including exquisitely cut stone, plentiful natural light, and passive ventilation, the New Orleans’ beloved Custom House is testament to the fundamental sustainability of 19th-century buildings. GSA’s historic buildings constructed before World War II have demonstrated lower utility and and custodial costs than non-historic buildings due to their thermal mass (wall thickness) and durable materials.  Enhancing these innately efficient and sustainable design attributes with energy conserving new green technology preserves GSA’s historic legacy while protecting the environment and saving taxpayer dollars as long-term reinvestment.  Automated light controls, daylighting, efficient HVAC controls, recycling materials, and low voc paint contributed to the Custom House rehabilitation achieving LEED Gold, one of the highest levels of building performance certification.

This film chronicles the building’s 165-year story of resplendent resilience. Before the Custom House could be completed, it was occupied by both armies during the Civil War.  It again withstood catastrophe when battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Committed to providing the best value to the American public, GSA transformed disaster into opportunity and comprehensively restored and rehabilitated the building, bringing renewed life to this part of downtown New Orleans. The city’s struggling tourism industry was bolstered by the 2008 opening of the Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium in the ground floor, which injects more than $20 million annually into the local economy. In 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection returned to its historic offices in the Custom House, and today federal employees housed in the building contribute to the vitality and economic health of the city’s central business district.

Occupying and investing in buildings that embody the best attributes of the federal legacy is fundamental to the GSA mission to make a more sustainable government.  Restoring a Treasure confirms the inherent sustainability of GSA’s centrally located monumental public buildings–community landmarks that set an enduring quality standard.

The film production is part of GSA’s efforts to support the Executive Order 13287, “Preserve America”, which encourages Americans to explore and enjoy our nation’s heritage.  The film was produced for the Center for Historic Buildings, Office of the Chief Architect by the Video and Broadcasting Team, Office of Communications. For more information, please contact historic.buildings@gsa.gov.

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