When contractors complete ground-up construction this fall on the Deutsches Haus overlooking Bayou St. John in New Orleans, it will mark the end of a long homeward journey for the German cultural organization.

The original Deutsches Haus on South Galvez Street in the Mid-City neighborhood was torn down in 2011 to make way for the VA/University Medical Complex. The organization has taken up temporary residence in suburban Metairie since then.

Not only will the building’s completion signify the Deutsches Haus’ return to Mid-City, but it also coincides with the organization’s 90th anniversary, the New Orleans tricentennial and Oktoberfest 2018.

The project called for more than 10,000 sq ft of space, a 40-ft gabled roof, German-inspired architectural details and incorporation of salvaged artifacts from the original building. The new Haus also features an open main hall that can accommodate 300 people, plus an adjacent beer garden.

“When we lost our property on Galvez, a lot of our old members didn’t think we’d have a permanent house in their lifetime.”

– Jack Gonzales, President, Deutsches Haus

Construction is about 75% complete on the $3.9-million project, and general contractor Trimark Constructors plans to have everything finished by mid-September—almost a year after construction began.

“A lot of times you get an owner who’s not worried about staying in their hotel; they’re just worried about building it,” says David Waldvogel, project manager for Trimark. Members of the Deutsches Haus, however, were a lot more invested in the project. “We’re excited that they’re excited,” he says. “All they want to know is if their beer is going to be cold.”

As a completely volunteer-run organization whose building was facing demolition in 2011, Deutsches Haus underwent a period of uncertainty about its existence and the future of its popular Oktoberfest celebration. The building had been completely remodeled and rebuilt only a few years earlier after being severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Members of the organization had pooled their resources to pay for the storm repairs.

The organization staged a Save the Haus awareness campaign, and in 2011 reached a deal with the state to acquire a highly visible, five-acre site along the bayou and across from New Orleans City Park, not far from its old location.

“When we lost our property on Galvez, a lot of our old members didn’t think we’d have a permanent house in their lifetime. So they’re very emotional about the project and seeing it come to fruition,” says Jack Gonzales, Deutsches Haus president.

A Haus for All Seasons

Deutsches Haus worked with Mathes Brierre Architects to design a space that could accommodate its many events. In addition to Oktoberfest, the group hosts German classes, performances, cultural events and beer and wine tastings. It also plans to rent out the new space for private functions.

The building’s open main hall will feature a large bar and panels to divide the space into a two-thirds, one-third configuration for concurrent events. “The main thing was to make it as flexible as we could to accommodate all their various needs,” says Ed Mathes, chairman at Mathes Brierre.

The building also will include a small meeting room that seats 30 and a bar that seats 56. The outdoor beer garden under the oaks will host Oktoberfest.

Architects also designed the site to use existing paved parking, including more than 200 off-street, secured and lighted spaces, as well as driveways leading into it.

Deutsches Haus reused an existing slab to construct a warehouse for storage of Oktoberfest items and decorations.

After all designs were finalized, construction was broken into two phases. The first phase involved building infrastructure for the Oktoberfest area. Gibbs Construction prepped the site and installed electricity, sewerage, water and lighting. As soon as the festival ended last fall, Trimark began driving pilings for the new building. The foundation was completed in January.

Architecture Reflects Culture

Classic German architecture inspired the look of the building, but designers also wanted it to fit in with the surrounding area. “The building is definitely more of an architectural anomaly than a structural anomaly,” says Daniel Bobeck, structural engineer for Linfield, Hunter & Junius Inc.

A unique aspect of the building is the 16-ft by 18-ft wooden trusses in the main hall. The eight prestained, prelaminated trusses shore up the roof, creating a 40-ft peak with exposed beams and tongue-in-groove wooden decking.

Because the trusses penetrate the walls, from interior to exterior, builders had to protect the beams from weather while they were being erected 40 ft in the air. “We had to be very careful with how we waterproofed them,” Mathes says.

To preserve part of its history, Deutsches Haus salvaged some of the materials and artifacts from its Galvez Street building before it was demolished in 2011. Waldvogel orchestrated the placement of those specialty parts in and around the building.

For example, a bowling alley in the original Deutsches Haus was removed in the 1960s. The wrought maple flooring from the alley was used to create a 3-in.-thick top for the small bar at the back of the new building. There wasn’t enough wood to create the entire bar, so contractors used other reclaimed materials. They milled some of the old heart pine to make the bar top and trimmed the front of the bar with reclaimed timbers and floor and ceiling joists from the Galvez house.

“It was a bit of a challenge to sift through the amount of wood they had to get to the amount of wood they needed as far as things that had rotted or had termites,” Waldvogel says.

Before Deutsches Haus took over the Galvez Street location in 1928, the building served as the Galvez Exchange of the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Co. Deutsches Haus held on to some old manhole covers, and builders incorporated one of them as the centerpiece of the new concrete patio. There’s also a cast-iron eagle from a corner of the old building that will stand in front of the new one.

Elevation, Soil Considerations

As with any other ground-up construction project in south Louisiana, engineers had to contend with flood-elevation requirements in raising the building. That can be problematic because the city’s soil conditions often make structures susceptible to settlement. The Mid-City area took on several feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, so elevation requirements are set at nearly 4 ft above grade in the neighborhood.

“The elevation is set by FEMA and the city, and then we have to build to those elevations and design for hurricane loading,” says Bobeck.

The initial stage called for 4 ft of fill, which induced some settling. “We ended up having to engineer a foundation that would take not only the building structure loads but also prevent it from settling over time,” Bobeck says.

Engineers used 55-ft timber piles to reach the best soils for supporting the foundation. They also brought in a geotechnical engineer to help them induce settling before construction. The project calls for nearly 255 timber piles, 30 tons of structural steel and 650 cu yd of structural concrete. Nearly all of the structural steel and concrete are in place, and about two-thirds of the architectural work is complete.

Some of the building’s architectural features required a unique structural design. Engineers had to devise special framing to support both the hanging facade in front as well as storefront windows placed along almost the full length of the building. “There was some good consideration [made in] designing that portion of the structure for lateral loads,” Bobeck says.

Engineers also designed the structure to support the large, open hall and its heavy wood framing. “Tying the structural wood framing back into the steel and beam framing on the rest of the building so that it could take wind loads was fairly challenging as well,” Bobeck says.

Scaled-Back Plans

The 10,000-sq-ft Deutsches Haus building is a downsized version of the original plan. When the proposal first emerged in 2014, it drew criticism for including an 18,000-sq-ft building. Deutsches Haus concluded it would be best to scale that back.

“We recognized very early on that we had designed something too large for our needs and our budget,” Gonzales says. “So we took a step back and scaled the project down to something that was more affordable for us to maintain and moved forward with that scaled-down design.”

The smaller building contains many of the same elements and configurations—just smaller in terms of total square footage.

Despite the need to obtain some final permits, contractors are hoping to have construction complete for this year’s Oktoberfest. “It’s unlikely the house [itself] will be integrated into this year’s festival, but it will certainly be a centerpiece of this year’s fest,” Gonzales says.

He adds that he’s most excited about returning to a place they can call their own. “The property is absolutely phenomenal in terms of the beauty of the location and the nice cool breeze coming off the bayou in the summertime,” Gonzales says. “It’s going to be a spectacular place to meet and enjoy company.”