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New Orleans Mayo Factory Transformed into Arts Incubator

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

New Orleans is well known for its historic Creole cottages, above-ground tombs, and antebellum mansions. Then there’s the Blue Plate Artist Lofts. The sleek, three-story former factory looks like it would be more at home in Southern California than the Big Easy. Despite its nonconformist appearance, the rehabilitated Blue Plate is playing a key role in an effort to spark development in the Gert Town neighborhood.

The city’s first Streamline Moderne building was completed in 1942 to serve as a production center for Blue Plate Fine Foods, a revered Southern mayonnaise maker. Designed by architect August Perez, it was painted in a Mykonos blue and white color scheme, and the rooftop sign became a local fixture, visible from miles away. For 58 years, condiments were mixed, bottled, and capped there before operations moved to Tennessee.

In 2010, JCH Development and HRI Properties teamed up to buy the Blue Plate for $3.3 million. Their goal was twofold: utilize an architecturally important building and enliven a downtrodden community. To accomplish their goals, the developers spent $25 million to convert the industrial space into 72 artist lofts. Creative types are regarded as the pioneers of urban redevelopment, and it is hoped the trend continues in Gert Town, which is about two miles northwest of the French Quarter. Moreover, the lofts are in a state-designated cultural district, so no sales tax is collected on original artwork sold within the zone.

The redesigned apartments are geared toward artists. In the live-work units, the replacement windows provide plenty of natural light. Tattered concrete beams and 13-feet-tall ceilings offer visual reminders of the site’s past. The floors are also concrete, so paint spills are not a concern.

Common areas include a rooftop deck and a grassy patio, added to facilitate the exchange of ideas among the residents. The interior has rehearsal and gallery spaces, and poetry is scrawled on benches mixed throughout the hallways.

Extra effort was taken to minimize impact on the environment. Salvaged machine parts and glass blocks were reconfigured into sculptures, and the bricks from the factory’s two warehouses were reused to build a fence. Moreover, Energy Star-rated features were installed, recycled tires were used for sound insulation, and drought-resistant native vegetation dots the grounds. And on the flat roof, solar panels sit inconspicuously near the restored Blue Plate Fine Foods sign.

Seventy percent of the lofts are set aside for low-income residents, and preference is given to artists. The lofts opened in March, and rents go from $502 per month for a one bedroom and one bath to $1,950 for two bedrooms and two baths.
· Blue Plate Lofts [official site]