May 20, 2024

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Buddy Bolden’s blighted house seized by New Orleans, might be sold at auction: Video, Photos

A shotgun house that legendary jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden once called home has been seized by New Orleans’ government and might be sold in a public auction.

Bolden, a pioneer of jazz from the turn of the 20th century, lived in the unremarkable, run-down Central City building near First Street and Simon Bolivar Avenue. The deteriorating house, at 2309-2311 First, and a similar house next door, at 2305-2307, have been unoccupied for years and are sorely in need of maintenance, despite promises to restore Bolden’s house for posterity.

Buddy Bolden house
The deteriorating Buddy Bolden house at 2309-2311 First St. and the similar house next door at 2305-2307 have been seized by the city of New Orleans and might be sold at auction.

On Oct. 25, notices were posted on both properties announcing that New Orleans had seized them structures and will sell them Feb. 16.

“This is a blighted building which has been fined for violations of the minimum property maintenance code,” said Gregory Joseph, spokesperson for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration. “Those fines have gone unpaid, and so it is being sold to the public.”

The condition of the houses, which are more than 100 years old, has also “been found in violation of the city’s historic preservation laws,” Joseph said.

The owner

Greater St. Stephen Ministries, an arm of a popular church that once stood near the Bolden house, owned the properties.

In March 2019, City Hall cited the church for letting the houses become so run down that they were in jeopardy of demolition by neglect. At the time, a church representative said Greater St. Stephen Ministries leadership had “no idea that Bolden grew up there” when it acquired the properties, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Buddy Bolden house
The deteriorating Buddy Bolden house at 2309-2311 First St. and the similar house next door at 2305-2307, left, have been seized by the city of New Orleans and might be sold at auction.

The St. Stephen church building was badly damaged by fire in 2008 and has since been demolished, although the ministry continues in New Orleans East.

After the 2019 citation, New Orleans-born R&B star P.J. Morton, son of Greater St. Stephen Bishop Paul Morton, stepped in with a plan to renovate the property into a museum and community recording studio. He announced the formation of a nonprofit called the Buddy’s House Foundation to manage the project.

The auction

The Preservation Resource Center, a New Orleans nonprofit dedicated to saving historical architecture, consulted with P.J. Morton on the restoration of the Bolden house. But so far, the project hasn’t gotten off the ground.

“The PRC advised Morton on best practices for historic preservation, bringing in construction experts to tour the building and providing information on possible financing mechanisms available for historic renovations,” Executive director Danielle Del Sol said. “Unfortunately, despite the PRC’s best efforts, the owners of this historic treasure let it deteriorate, not only risking this building’s loss but also contributing to blight in this historic neighborhood.”

Buddy Bolden house
A seizure notice by New Orleans government city sticks to the front of the former home of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.

Joseph said City Hall is aware that Morton has shown an interest in the property. He added: “We have issued certificates of appropriateness in the past, but no progress has been made in restoring it.”

Before the auction occurs, the church may pay off delinquent debts and recover the property.

Uncertainty

A recent visit to the properties showed a few fallen clapboards, creeping cat’s claw vine, a graffiti scrawl and some scattered debris around the boarded houses. Extensive resurfacing is in progress on First Street.

In ways, the uncertain fate of the Bolden house befits the musician’s uncertain history. Although “King” Bolden was certainly a Crescent City star whose fiery style inspired a generation of early jazz musicians, one can only imagine the sound of his playing, for no recordings are known to exist. Only one or two photos of Bolden have been found.

Buddy Bolden tombstone
Jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden’s tombstone at Holt Cemetery.

His career essentially ended when he was in his 30s, institutionalized with what might have been mental illness. He was buried in Holt’s Cemetery in New Orleans, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

Officials from Greater St. Stephen Ministries and P.J. Morton, who is on tour in England, did not respond to several requests to comment for this story.

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