St. Bernard Parish holds Grand Opening at Islenos Complex

Below is an article describing the recent grand opening of the Los Islenos Museum Complex in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. This was where I spent several months working last year:

St. Bernard Parish holds Grand Opening at Islenos Complex

Sunday, 04 April 2010 08:42

First in a series of five recovery celebrations in March, marking $6.5 million in federal, state and local construction dollars spent

St. Bernard Parish President Craig P. Taffaro, Jr., joined by parish, federal and state officials marked the grand opening and completion of more than $2.5 million in renovations and construction of nine historical structures at the 30-acre Los Islenos Museum Complex at 1345-1357 Bayou Road in St. Bernard.

“It certainly is a glorious day for the culture and heritage of our parish,” President Taffaro said at a brief ceremony the morning of the Islenos Fiesta that was attended by descendants of the two families who donated the original two structures for the complex, meant to preserve the Canary Islands history and culture. St. Bernard was founded by colonists from the Canary Islands between 1778 and 1783. Islenos is the Spanish word for Islanders.

In addition to the Grand Opening of the Islenos Museum Complex, President Taffaro marked a total of five other recovery celebrations in March: the Grand Opening of Violet Park No. 2, the Construction Ground Breaking of the Aycock Barn/Open Air Market, and the grand openings of both the Parish Maintenance Garage and Maintenance Shed, a total of more than $6.5 million in federal, state and local recovery dollars meant to move the parish forward and restore it to its pre-Katrina glory.

The work at Los Islenos Museum Complex has been funded mostly by FEMA with the support of the Los Islenos Society to repair damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina’s flooding and winds. The complex has two main museums in the front, the Islenos Museum and the Ducros Museum. In addition to the two museums, seven other structures were moved to the site or built with funds raised by Los Islenos Society working concurrently with St. Bernard Parish Government.

“The work of the Islenos Society to support parish government has been an object lesson in the success of public-private partnerships and how those partnerships shape a community,” said William Hyland, Los Islenos Museum Complex Director and Parish Historian.

Officials at the pre-fiesta ceremony were joined on stage by the Dot Benge, president of Los Islenos Heritage and Cultural Society. She is the daughter and niece of the Louise Molero O’Toole and Mabel Molero Quatroy who in 1980 donated their family home in memory of their parents Manuel Molero and Camilla Sylvera Molero. The family subsequently donated an additional 20 acres that have been used to transform the tranquil, pastoral area over the better part of the last three decades into a magnificent historic village that brings visitors from all over, especially on the weekend of the spring Islenos Fiesta, sponsored by the Los Islenos and Heritage Society. Additionally, Alexandre Ducros, the great grandson of Dr. Louis Alfred Ducros, also spoke about the donation of the Ducros Museum and Library by his great aunt, the late Rosa Mathilde Ducros Tennant who donated the family home in 1971.

A historical replica of the Islenos Museum, originally constructed in 1840, had to be built because the building was destroyed by a fallen oak during Katrina, and the Ducros home, built in 1800, was restored to its pre-Katrina state.

The renovations also included restoration work on the Coconut Island Bar Building, a popular community gathering place for years that had been moved to the site by the Society. The storm surge racked the building on its foundation, and it was made plum again. The windows that washed out have been replaced, and some of the all-cypress floor boards have been replaced. The roof damage has been repaired and the steps rebuilt. Electrical service has been reestablished. The physical Coconut Bar, built around 1920 and made of cypress and mahogany, has been restored, which allowed the St. Bernard Tourism Commission to serve Sangria, Spanish wine and appetizers during the Islenos Fiesta. It was built by Martina Nunez and his son Edward “Dween” Nunez, who recently passed away at the age of 102 and was the oldest living Islenos in St. Bernard at the time.

The Cresap-Caserta House has been repaired. Its roof had a huge pecan tree fall on it, exacting tremendous damage to rafters, and its windows were broken through by the storm surge. Repairs also were done to the box columns on the front, the back gallery floor as well as interior cypress flooring.

The support facilities that also were built during this renovation include sewage treatment, water, underground electrical service for all the buildings and two food pavilions with electrical service for festivals and outdoor activities.

Also, the parish rebuilt the replica of early 20th century trappers’ cabin originally designed and built by Calvin Melerine.

In a later phase, the parish is currently rebuilding the Islenos Multi-purpose building and replacements of the Estopinal House and Kitchen, which were destroyed. The replicas will incorporate a great deal of historic fabric from the original Estopinal house and kitchen.

The Los Islenos Heritage and Cultural Society is renovating the Esteves House with club funds at a cost of about $72,000 and donated $84,000 to the construction of the food pavilions.

President Taffaro said several departments worked together on this project including Recovery Director Michael Dorris Jr. and his staff, Recreation Director John Rahaim and his staff, including William deMarigny Hyland, Museum Complex Director, and staff members of the St. Bernard Public Works Department under Parish Acting Director of Public Works Logan Martin and Assistant Public Works Director Louis Pomes.

Kevin Smith Construction, which has been charged with other historic reconstruction and restoration projects such as Gallier Hall and Hermann Grima House in New Orleans, was the contractor on the first phase. Trapolin Architects is the firm responsible for the design of the entire complex, and Chalmette native Chris Chimento is Trapolin’s project manager. Clyde Burnett is the project manager for CDM, which provides oversight for all FEMA-funded projects, and Keith LaGrange of the St. Bernard Parish Public Works Department is the resident inspector.

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