NEW ORLEANS — A piece of New Orleans’ rich musical history is in danger of being lost.
The late Pete Fountain grew up and learned how to play music in a modest shotgun double at 820 North White Street in the Bayou St. John neighborhood.
“He was born there, and he lived there until 1951, when he married his wife Beverly,” Benny Harrell, Fountain’s son-in-law and longtime manager said.
Fountain was 10 years old when he posed for a picture in front of the house. He was holding his first clarinet dressed in a McDonough 28 band uniform.
“You see the young boyhood picture of Pete, the innocence, big smile on his face,” Harrell said. “He has his clarinet. He’s so proud and went on to do great things with it.”
Over the years, Fountain’s childhood home has fallen into disrepair.
Neighbors say nobody has lived there for years.
“It’s an historic landmark and it’s just sad that it’s being just, it’s going to fall down one day,” Ed Siren who lives across the street said.
“There’s a lot of mosquitoes,” Kristie Crawford who lives next door said. “It abuts my backyard and in general, every six months or so, it kind of looks like a jungle, vines start growing over my fence. It leads to a lot of rodents and lots of stray cats and other animals that tend to take up residence there.”
Harrell says the family is saddened by the condition of the home.
They would like to see the property preserved.
“I think it’s important not only because my father-in-law Pete lived in the house, but I think it’s important for all the neighborhoods in New Orleans to keep these older homes and the character of the neighborhood intact,” Harrell said. “That’s the soul of our city.”
Kenny Can is the house's current owner. He told WWL-TV he does recognize the historical significance of the building. He said he is putting together some financing and is promising to begin major renovations later this year.
Siren, who tried to purchase the home from Can, is skeptical of his promises.
“It’s just an ongoing drama between him and the neighbors here and nothing ever seems to be getting done,” Siren said.
“When you live in a city that is alive with music and has such a great history, it makes sense that one would want to preserve those buildings,” Crawford said.
Harrell said it’s important to maintain homes and other places associated with the city’s culture bearers.
“Pete spent his whole life as a musical ambassador for the city of New Orleans,” Harrell said. “When people come and they want to learn about the music, it’s just not the music that’s being played, you go back into the neighborhoods to see what developed them.”
Harrell said Pete Fountain’s family would be happy to talk with neighbors and see how they can help bring the home back into commerce.