Monday, September 26, 2016

Greek-American History for sale : THE HISTORIC LANDMARK BENACHI-TORRE HOUSE OF NEW ORLEANS

The Benachi House in New Orleans, LA is for sale; the asking price is just under $4 million.


FOR SALE:
THE HISTORIC LANDMARK BENACHI-TORRE HOUSE OF NEW ORLEANS

Published in The National Herald, September 17-23, 2016 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer

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We are excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group. 

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Houses related to the history of Greeks in North America are scattered all across the United States.  Among the most prominent are the Avero House in St. Augustine Florida said to the house of worship of the Greek survivors of the Ill-fated 1768 New Smyrna Colony; the Ludwell-Paradise House in Colonial Williamsburg the home but never the residence of John Paradise (d 1795); the Volcano House the resort and home of George Lycurgus; “Sundial” John Sinopoulo’s Tulsa, Oklahoma house and the Cassimus House in Montgomery Alabama which are now both on the National Register; the Church of the Redeemer in Brooklyn long-time parish of Greek immigrant champion Rev Father Thomas James Lacey--which may be condemned and demolished soon---just as the Greek CafĂ© (Miner’s Union Bar) was torn down in Butte, Montana. I am certainly not claiming this listing encompasses all the historic houses related to the Greek experience in the United States but merely representative of their overall number.

Unexpectedly, one of the most famous and well-preserved of these Greek-American Historic Houses is currently for sale, the Benachi-Torres House in New Orleans.

Nicholas Benachi, Greek merchant and Greek consul to New Orleans, built this Classicstyle house in 1859 for his second wife, Anna Marie Bidault, for $18,000. Benachi had a large family and various descendants went on to work and live not only in New Orleans but also Biloxi Mississippi. Within Greek-American historical circles Benachi is created with bringing a priest to New Orleans and by other means also helping to establish the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church—said to be the first Greek Orthodox church established in the United States. Nicholas Benachi died on February 8, 1886, at New Orleans and was buried at the family tomb St. Louis No. 3 Esplanade Avenue. In July 1964, a Trisagion, a Greek Orthodox memorial service, was held at Benachi’s tomb in recognition of his founding the local Greek Orthodox community. The ceremony was integrated into the 13th international conference of the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (Times Picayune July 31, 1964).

Greek-America owes a debt it may never be able to repay to James G. Derbes, present owner of the Benachi-Torres property. In July 1982, Mr. Derbes, a New Orleans attorney, acquired this historic home from the Board of Trustees of the Louisiana Landmarks Society for $227,000. Mr. Derbes resided in the BenachiTorre House and also let rooms to bed and breakfast patrons as well as having weddings held in the house and grounds.

Here is Derbes’ detailed description of the Benachi-Torres House: “Every once in a while the rare opportunity arises to own a piece of American history. The historic Benachi House is one of the finest estates in the city of New Orleans, and has been masterfully-restored and cared for by its current preservationist owner over the last 32 years.

Situated in a park-like setting, this Greek Revival masterpiece large center-hall combines bold symmetry with fourteen foot ceilings, and stunningly restored interior and exterior architectural details including gasoliers by Cornelius And Baker, Greek Key doorways, banded cornice moldings, Belgian granite mantels, Italian marble fireplace fronts, heart of pine floors, a Rococo fountain at the entrance, and the original cast iron fence from the Wood And Perot foundry. Upon its completion, the Benachi House came to be known as the Rendezvous des Chasseurs, or the “gathering place of the hunters.”

Mature oaks, sycamores, palms and a magnolia grace the grounds. At the rear of the property is a separate carriage house, parking for up to seven cars, a gazebo, and three patio areas with raised flower beds, two of which feature a variety of roses. The two existing buildings feature generous porches, balconies and galleries. The storage shed on the grounds has been completely rebuilt.

The Benachi House has been used for filming by movie and TV companies, and it continues to be scouted as a location for feature films and television and could present a great opportunity to gain additional income for the future owners. Episodes of the TV series Orleans and The Big Easy were filmed here. 

Situated on a prominent corner property, the Benachi House rear-terrace-grounds sprawls out into the second largest parcel in New Orleans’ many historic districts, and features a third lot with separate access, ready for a pool and pool house, or a separate live/work residence. The Benachi House and Gardens property shares the 2200 block of Bayou Rd with the adjoining Fleitas – Chauffe property at 2275, now owned by the Joan Mitchell Arts Foundation and is operated as an artists’ retreat.

In 1880s the house and grounds were purchased by the Torre family, who occupied it until the 1970s. It was bequeathed by them to the Louisiana Landmarks Society which sold it to James G. Derbes, its current owner, in 1982 and is only the third owner of this property. In a seven-year effort, the main house and its carriage house were completely restored. An apartment was added in a previously unused and inaccessible third floor space. The grounds were extensively landscaped, in part with the Gris des Vosges Alsatian flagstone original to the property. The New Orleans Historic Districts Landmarks Commission recognized this work with its prestigious Honor Award for Residential Restoration. The house has been designated a “landmark” by the Orleans Parish Landmarks Commission.

The Benachi House and Gardens restoration has been a 32- year preservation effort on behalf of the current owner, who has been involved in every aspect of its restoration. This year will mark his 70th birthday. His children are spread over the country and have no interest in continuing his work with this property, hence his decision to offer the house for sale. Mr. Derbes’s is only the third family to own this house and is hoping that the next family take as much pride of ownership and experience as much love and joy in the property as he did throughout his time in the property. Furthermore, Mr. Derbes hopes that the property will continue to be maintained in all its grandeur for future generations and homeowners to enjoy.”

The asking price for this property is just a hair under four million dollars. This is absolutely a unique moment in Greek-American history, will this building be preserved or not? 

Nicholas Benachi’s lasting contribution to the surrounding landscape does not end with this one historical house. The socalled “Cathedral of Oaks” along Benachi Avenue in Biloxi is directly attributed to Nicholas Benachi. It is said he even planted the saplings himself.

Present day Benachi Avenue was originally the only path the Benachi family beachfront home to Pass Christian Road (now Howard Avenue). Dozens of photo-post cards and other historical photographs document the Spanish moss draped along the branches of mammoth live oak trees that lined either side of this avenue. Civic improvements kept a pace as we here that “Benachi Avenue, from Howard Avenue to the beach, was ordered graded and shelled. This is good news to those living on that beautiful “Avenue of Oaks.”

When completed it will form one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in the South or anywhere else (Biloxi Daily Herald December 6, 1905).” 

Greek-American history does not begin in 1880 with the arrival of large numbers of Greek workers streaming to North America. We must reclaim our history and our heritage in the New World or lose both.