Some buildings are eye-catching because they’re so grand. Others are eye-catching because they’re unique. Still others stand out simply because they feel somehow out of place.
Reader Brian Gros recently came across one that fits all three of those descriptions.
“Can you tell us about the white Italian villa on Barataria Boulevard in Marrero?,” Gros recently wrote.
Architecturally speaking, it’s Spanish, not Italian — but if you’ve seen the complex about which Gros writes, chances are you remember it.
Covering an estimated 10 acres and including several buildings in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it looks like the sort of mission complex you’d come across in San Antonio or a Clint Eastwood movie.
It is Hope Haven, founded in 1916 as an industrial cooperative farm by the Rev. Peter Wynhoven to serve as a home, school and source of practical training for orphaned boys who had aged out of the system.
“The orphan asylums can care for these boys only until they are 12 years of age, and that is too young for them to be thrown on their own resources,” Wynhoven told The Times-Picayune. “It seemed to me that they could be taken away from the evil influences of the city, taught some useful trade, given proper guidance and be self-supporting at the same time.”
Early on, Wynhoven’s “school farm,” as he called it, was simply a dream, but it was one that enjoyed wide community support. Over the years, newspaper reports covered a litany of fundraisers to benefit it, from movies and dances to vaudeville shows. There were at various points a euchre and lotto party, a newsboy parade, an auto race and — a true novelty at the time — an air show, all to will Hope Haven into reality.
Once that seed money was secured, the next order of business was to find a suitable site. Wynhoven found it in a stretch “overgrown wilderness” just a few miles outside the city. With a number of dairy farmers and other craftsmen summoned from Wynhoven’s native Holland to offer their expertise, the project was humming along by 1921. By then, some 250 acres had been cleared for cultivation of crops, as well as for the raising of pigs, sheep and dairy cows. A handful of humble, utilitarian buildings went up to house its young farmers.
The ultimate dream, though, was to build a proper school on the site. In April 1927, that dream became a reality when Archbishop John W. Shaw dedicated the centerpiece of Hope Haven, the Mrs. John Dibert Administration Building.
Fronted by an arched colonnade lined with twisting Solomonic columns, the whitewashed structure stood three stories tall, the first two being used for the school, the third being used to house the Franciscan brothers teaching there. A red-tiled roof and a central domed cupola topped with a cross completed the effect.
It was accompanied by a similarly designed two-story “cottage” — one of several eventually built to foster a family feeling among the boys living in them — and an ornate roadside fountain. Both still stand today.
They would be joined over the years by an assortment of other buildings, including, across the street, Madonna Manor, built in 1932 — also in the Spanish Colonial style — to house younger children.
Next to that is the Churrigueresque-styled St. John Bosco Chapel, dedicated in 1941 and featuring interior woodwork, including pews, crafted by the boys of Hope Haven in their on-campus shop.
The stained-glass windows adorning the church, including one to the right of the altar paid for by Wynhoven himself in memory of his parents, were created by Dutch craftsman Joep Nicholas, a fugitive from the Nazis, according to a TP report.
The school over the years would expand beyond its agricultural roots to teach such crafts as printing, bookbinding, cabinetmaking and carpentry, and sheet metal work to its young charges.
The school continued to house children into the 1980s, and although the chapel recently received a $1.6 million restoration, much of the Hope House campus was eventually vacated and has fallen largely into disrepair.
Then, in 2017 – with the support of an array of elected officials — Jefferson Parish entered into a 99-year lease agreement with the Archdiocese of New Orleans that cleared the way for the parish to occupy and preserve the site. (The lease cost: $1 a year.)
Some of that work is underway, although exactly what the site will be used for is still up in the air.
In early September, Louis Lauricella of the nonprofit Jefferson Community Foundation pitched the Parish Council on the idea of letting his organization develop, at its own expense, a master plan for future use of the campus. Lauricella said he envisions a multipurpose community center that could include facilities for seniors, for scouting groups, for community health initiatives and more.
The council gave him its blessing, with Councilman Deano Bonano adding, “This facility has the opportunity to be a gemstone for the West Bank of Jefferson Parish.”
Some might argue it already is.
Know of a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at [email protected]
SOURCES: The Times-Picayune archives
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