January 19th, 2012
EDIT 1/19/12: Thanks to all of you for your support. There is now a Ku’s House Facebook page to coordinate information, updates and requests for help/volunteers. Please head over to Ku’s House Facebook Page
We all know that there is blight in some neighborhoods in New Orleans. We also know that some people are taking advantage of that blight to knock down homes, buy them for a song to fix up cheaply and rent out, or just to get a neighbor they have a grudge against up against a bureaucratic wall. Since the storm we’ve seen that happen all over town. In some cases blight complaints have ruined lives, dreams, futures.
Here in my neighborhood sits a beautiful old shotgun house. Built in 1866, it’s the oldest house on our block. It was once occupied by members of the Tujague family. Mrs. Tujague had a niece who was her particular favorite. That niece was a member of the Poor Clare order, who had been shuttled hither and yon due to various diocesan edicts for many years. Although the Order had been invited to New Orleans around 1877, they had left for Cleveland for a while. Upon their return, Mrs. Tujague’s niece was now Mother Mary Magdalen, the head of the local order, and the nuns moved into the house and used it as a base of operations from about June 16, 1885 until they built a proper monastery.
Now that is a great New Orleans story. But here’s another one.
Kweku Nyaawie grew up in Central Texas based mostly out of Austin. A carpenter and cabinet maker, he came to New Orleans with his brother to help out with reconstruction of homes damaged by the Federal Flood in late 2005. He saw the destruction first hand and continued to work and save his money. At some point he decided to stay. He wanted to contribute to the community, buy a house, make it a home not a speculation project and found the shotgun at 616 Port Street. It needed work, but he knew he was the guy who could do it. He looked for period architectural pieces, was painstaking in his research, checked the history of the house, delighted in knowing that he’d be the one to restore this little bit of New Orleans history with the added bonus of living in it.
He got involved with the Community Garden Project in Treme and put his money and time into fixing the house. Long after the Poor Clares, the house had been purchased by a Mr. Frisbe, who lived there with his partner from 1977 until he passed away. His partner continued to live there until the storm. Kweku, or Ku as we all call him, bought it already needing repair in 2008. He loved working on the house and loved that it was exactly 100 years older than he was. When we moved here we knew him to say hello but never saw him because he was always at the Garden or working on that house.