Hurricane Ida destroys jazz landmark and ‘second home’ to Louis Armstrong

A New Orleans building that once housed a storefront central to Louis Armstrong and the birthplace of jazz collapsed as Hurricane Ida’s winds pummeled south Louisiana.

The vacant building in the city’s Central Business District was reduced to a pile of bricks on 29 August after years of attempts to preserve and restore the site.

Armstrong was as young as six years old when the Karnofskys, a Jewish immigrant family, hired him to work on their horse-drawn junk and coal wagons, on which he would play a tin horn. The family loaned him on his salary to buy a cornet he saw in a pawn shop window.

The Karnofsky Tailor Shop and Residence served as Armstrong’s second home, according to the National Park Service. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Morris Karnofsky, the family’s son, would later open Morris Music store, the city’s first jazz record shop and a go-to business for Armstrong and other jazz artists.

The Karnofskys’ building sat along a block on South Rampart Street with several landmarks to the birth of jazz, including the Little Gem Saloon, which was restored in 2012 to reopen as a restaurant and bar.

But the remaining buildings have largely been abandoned, and their advocates have warned city officials and preservationists for years that the endangered locations risk being erased from the city’s fragile landscape by extreme weather, ongoing neglect or over-development.

The renovated Little Gem Saloon, which in its heyday in the early 1900s hosted jazz legends Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, among others, also sustained damage during Ida.

A wall with a massive mural of Bolden by artist Brandan Odums, aka BMike, also collapsed during the storm.

Ida’s high-impact winds downed all eight electricity transmission lines that power the city, potentially blowing out power for several weeks. Entergy, the company that provides power to New Orleans and most of Louisiana, announced that it would “likely take days to determine the extent of damage to our power grid and far longer to restore electrical transmission to the region.”

Early post-storm assessments of damage to New Orleans neighbourhoods show downed trees, scattered debris and some roof damage, along with some collapsed structures, though the city was spared from mass flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when federal levees failed and inundated the city as the storm passed. The city’s systems of levees and drainage pumps held against Ida’s brute force.

Emergency crews are surveying widespread damage across southeast Louisiana following widespread power outages, loss of running water, and surging flood waters that devastated low-lying areas. Officials in St John the Baptist and Jefferson parishes reported dozens of rescue calls, including families trapped in their attics as the storm’s eyewall lashed vulnerable areas outside New Orleans and its storm protection system.

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