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Hurricane Katrina Fundraiser for Willie Mae Seaton


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All, I just got this letter from Brooks Hamaker, and I'm happy to promote this event here. Let's get some good representation from our members at this worthy event. Please click here to view the fine short film "Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House."




I hope that things are well with you and yours. Today is the one year anniversary of this mess and, even now, as I look out my window of my office building I can see blown out buildings and other remains of the storm.

There are many bright spots here, however, but you really have to look for them.

One of them is the work that we are doing on Willie Mae's Scotch House.

I would love it if you would:

1) pass this around and post it on your site somewhere

2) encourage your rabidly loyal readers to attend and give big bucks

3) attend the fundraiser yourself

I'll be there shucking oysters during the event and I happen to know that the response has been pretty overwhelming. Either the timing is right or people just care-I suspect a bit of both. Congress opens the next day, so there will be lots of people in town for this and it looks like we will meet our fundraising goals and be able to complete this project and perhaps even get a good start on Dooky Chase. Both of these are important landmarks in a neighborhood (coincidentally you can see one from the other) that is largely devoid of human habitation. They are places that will, inevitably, draw people to the neighborhood.

Anyway, I hope to see you there.




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Thought I'd share this account from John Currance of the wonderful City Grocery in Oxford MS. He has really spearheaded the Willa Mae project:

August 28, 2006... John Currence writes:

From the reports of the brave few who took turns laying in the insulation this weekend: The attic of Willie Mae's gets up to around 110-120 degrees up there, so anyone who has anything they need to keep warm...

Yes, I said it... insulation... I realized on the way home from New Orleans last night that we had not done a terribly thorough job of keeping everyone in the loop about what was happening on the corner of North Tonti and St. Ann, much less have we thanked the countless souls who have given up their weekends, spare change, and hearts to the project. This first installment from the front line will hopefully begin to make up for those two shortcomings, though I am reluctant to thank individuals at the risk of insulting those who I will invariably fail to mention.


The first five weekends of the Willie Mae project saw about two-thirds of the demolition completed. When we closed the doors at the end of that first push, hopes were dim as the reality we were facing a gigantic fundraising effort set in. Over the course of the spring and early summer a series of big weekends were organized. The rest of the interior demolition was completed, wiring and plumbing were removed, and by April the structure was little more than a very fragile shell. Remaining doors and windows were falling apart. The bottom four feet of the building were still only covered by the roof felt we had used to wrap the building and cover the wall studs.

The original weather board had been removed and a couple of large sections of the exterior walls were exposed. The building was nothing but studs, 80% of its original siding, and a roof. We spent a significant amount of time during these first few months treading water waiting for a couple of groups promising boat loads of cash for Willie Mae. Like the rest of the city, we found that many funding avenues were dead ends and we worked almost exclusively using funds from individual donations.


Starting Easter weekend (which I recognize is not technically Summer, but cut me a little slack... I'm nothing short of scrambled right now) the rebuilding began. An impressive shot of new blood from Birmingham and a couple of regular faces from Nashville descended on New Orleans with a smattering of others, and new wood started to hang. New weather board went up on the outside, inside framing was reinforced, ceiling joists went up on the house side of the building, and a fresh coat of paint went up on the new siding. The James Beard Foundation, after a healthy dose of lobbying, made a healthy donation of money raised in conjunction with the Beard Awards. We were back in the hunt. Several weeks later (Memorial Day Weekend) another group came to town and the rough work on the interior continued. The exterior wall in the kitchen area of the house was reframed and new windows were installed. The dividing wall between the house and restaurant was completed, and the ceiling structure was completed on the house side.

On the Fourth of July we pushed our luck and called for volunteers on a vacation once again. The rough-in on the drain work had been laid, and fresh concrete poured throughout two-thirds of the restaurant side. The heavy part of the interior framing could begin. With the strong-backed crews from Birmingham and Nashville, and one ponytailed scalawag from the Lower Garden District, the bathrooms and kitchen on the restaurant side took shape and real forward progress was visible for the first time. In the time since, smaller groups have helped do some detail work with the framing and siding of the building, and the professionals have swept in. A mechanical group has installed the central air and heat and the electricians are about 90% finished with the wiring.

This past weekend the most heroic group of volunteers arrived ready to help. Thanks to a glowing piece in the Times Picayune by Brett Anderson, a group showed up on Saturday (a blisteringly hot Saturday... and I grew up in the Crescent City, so I know how hot they can be) to hang the donated insulation that the Egerton Clan trucked down two weeks ago. These guys (the Egertons and the group who showed up this weekend) all deserve to be bronzed for their efforts. As of Sunday afternoon, the exterior walls were all draped with fiberglass, and the attic floor was covered in an itchy pink carpet. (Side note: for those of you who have not been down, insulation is a novel concept for this particular building...there was not a lick of it in the walls heretofore.) The interior is completely finished forgive one short wall section, pending the plumbers' completion, and the outside of the building needs only a touch up here and there to replace worn siding.

Donations have continued to come in a number of different forms. A lumber company donated a load of plywood which we did not have a use for, and a friend who owns an Ace hardware swapped the ply for electrical supplies to help with the wiring costs. John Besh has remained at the ready, so we remain the most well fed work crew in the recovery effort, hands down. Through a tremendous network of friends who are handy with typewriters, we have gotten more than our share of ink and the checks have continued to come in, helping us limp along.

Willie Mae remains in good spirits. She could not be more grateful to everyone who has helped and, as always, wants nothing more than to get back in the kitchen and get back to work. She is still up the street with her friend Hazel, and she's never without a smile on her face. She looks forward to making the trip to Oxford in October for the symposium, and seeing everyone who makes it down.

Hopefully, on next report, drywall will be gong up and a real time line for opening will be available.

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Well, it was about 80% Dc and 20% NOLA tonight in attendance. We drank some wine, ate some oysters and enjoyed the company of Brooks Hamaker, AKA Mayhaw Man on eG. Willie Mae was there, along with some NOLA journalists and a fine band. Here's hoping tonight raised enough to finish the drywall at her restaurant.

The space looks great - rooms for days, nice tile floors, pretty glass room dividers, and a generous bar.

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For those of you who are just dying to come down to New Orleans, I can't think of a better reason than to attend the Keys to the Kitchen handover dinner. It's on a Sunday night and there's a pretty good chance that as an added bonus you will be able to see Joe York's excellent documentary, Above the Waterline, which details the story behind this effort (After seeing myself in the movie, I now believe that my media career is better off staying on the print side of things). The food will be great (John Besh -- Restaurant August

John Currence -- City Grocery, Oxford, MS, Donald Link -- Herbsaint, Stephen Stryjewski -- Cochon, Greg and Mary Sonnier -- Gabrielle) and if you plan accordingly, this dinner could be a topper to a really nice weekend in our semi-fair city.

The Atlanta Constitution-Journal had a good piece in the Sunday paper about the current situation at Willie Mae's Scotch house.

New Orleans cook savors Samaritan's aid

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