Adolph and Naydja Bynum set the standard for success as individuals and as a couple. They are fine examples of the historical culture, passionately devoted to New Orleans and all that makes it so special. Their work as preservationists keeps New Orleans architecture looking the way the city’s rich and diverse history created it, and their work in preserving and enriching local communities has been instrumental in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
Adolph and Naydja Bynum are a husband and wife team of ‘preservationists’. This means they preserve and protect architecture that has particular importance as a part of a certain culture or period of history. Their work has covered a lot more than just architecture as their preservation efforts have grown and evolved, and they have been instrumental in all manner of enriching community activities and events in their home city.
Their chosen focus is on New Orleans architecture, and particularly property that is representative of the culture and history – in fact, it was this shared interest that brought them together. They ran across each other in 1996 in a club, and at later encounters realized they had a common interest in New Orleans architecture. By this time, Mr Bynum had already invested in a number of blighted properties in the Tremé community, renovating them and adding modern conveniences alongside emphasizing their traditional and historical characteristics, thus enhancing the rental inventory of the city he loves.
The years that shaped Mr and Mrs Bynum
Adolph Bynum developed his interest in what would become his life’s work from his upbringing. He grew up learning about the architecture of New Orleans from his mother when he would accompany her to deliver food to the Sisters of the Holy Family when they were housed in the French Quarters. As a Xavier University graduate of the School of Pharmacy, the other part of his career has been spent working with his family’s pharmacy (Bynum’s & Sons), alongside his father and brother. This pharmacy has flourished for over 55 years, delivering superb and personable medical, pharmaceutical and other conveniences to deprived African American communities in the city of New Orleans. His commitment to the culture and the city he loves is unquestionable, and it is his background that drives the passion he has for both careers.
Naydja’s interest in preservation was borne of her upbringing as well, as her “mother was always into older houses” and her “father was a carpenter”. She came from Davant, Louisiana, and was raised in a staunch “Creole life”. The strict upbringing in this lifestyle caused her to rebel against it for a time, but the relationship she developed with Creole culture led her to have a great respect for it, and she became more welcoming to its presence once she was no longer having its values forced upon her.
Before finding her vocation as a preservationist, Naydja was heavily involved in healthcare and was a nursing educator and administrator in several hospitals in New Orleans, Los Angeles, CA and Baltimore, MD. She earned a doctorate in Nursing Education and Administration at LSU Medical Center, New Orleans, and has been a high achiever throughout her life. She and Adolph married in 2000, after being in a relationship for five years and working together on their preservation efforts during that time.
A shared passion that became a shared vocation
As preservationists, the Bynums are highly active within the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), “Supporting their efforts and learning… more about the architectural details of houses.” This mission is the preservation, restoration and revitalization of the historic architecture and neighborhoods of New Orleans. Their belief is that the preservation of a city’s architecture is the preservation of its soul; its very identity, and all that characterizes it and makes it unique. The importance of this work grew in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city. The ongoing work of rebuilding with a sensitivity to the history and culture of different parts of the city is paramount to avoid losing all that makes the city unique.
The couple are co-owners of Doby Properties LLC: “That’s how we became very strong.” Their dates would involve “riding around” looking at areas that “were on the fringe of developing,” then they would go to Home Depot and architecture stores to find “antiques and architectural pieces that would fit in the particular houses that were missing.” So the activities that have become their vocation were also the kinds of activities they would do in their leisure time together – they live the dream of doing what they love and loving what they do, and they do it all together. Their passion is to invest in property and renovate it together, and their primary focus has been on ‘shotgun’ houses in both Tremé and the Iris Channel.
Asked about what a ‘shotgun’ house is, they both answer that, “They call it a shotgun because if you shoot a gun through the house, you won’t touch a wall.” This can mean that through the front door all of the rooms follow each other and the doors are aligned with each other so that if you shot through the doors you would not hit a wall. These types of property are common in New Orleans, and can be expensive or inexpensive – “it just depends on the area.” They are very popular in New Orleans today, making up the biggest inventory in the city. There are single shotguns, double shotguns and ‘camelback’ shotguns, which include an upstairs area built in the rear of the shotgun. Shotgun houses are an iconic part of New Orleans architecture and history, which is why the Bynums like to focus on them.
The beautiful neighborhood of Tremé
Tremé is the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States of America. It is, therefore, a site of tremendous cultural, political, economic, social and legal events that have played an enormous part in shaping the course of history for Black America. Tremé residents take pride in honouring the neighbourhood’s history and culture, where one can experience celebrations like jazz funerals and second-line parades, museums dedicated exclusively to African-American life, and Armstrong Park, a tribute to legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong.
One of Tremé’s most prominent landmarks is the sublime St. Augustine Catholic Church, located ½ block from the Bynum’s home, which was the first Church for free black citizens when dedicated in 1842. It still functions as a core component of the bustling local community, as well as an iconic landmark that is intrinsically linked to the rich history that the community is known for.
This term broadly used to refer to a type of vernacular architecture (architecture characterised by the use of local materials and knowledge) indigenous to the Gulf Coast of the United States. The style was a dominant house type about 1790 to 1840 in the former settlements of French Louisiana in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
In the city of New Orleans, however, the term Creole cottage tends to be more narrowly defined as a 1 1⁄2-story house with a gabled roof, the ridge of which is parallel to the street. The house usually has four squarish rooms with no hallways and is built up to the front property line. The primary difference between these cottages and those found elsewhere is the lack of a full front porch.
Indeed, the typical Creole cottage in New Orleans stands flush with the front property line and has no gallery. Additionally, urban areas had what is known as a Creole townhouse, a multi-story, typically L-shaped building standing flush with the sidewalk. The first floor served as mercantile space and the upper floors as the family’s living quarters. Some Creole townhouses had a low mezzanine-type storage area known as an entresol located between the first and second floor. A wide carriage passage connected the street to a rear courtyard.
Restoring New Orleans in the wake of a devastating natural disaster
One of the most defining events of New Orleans in a generation was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And for people like the Bynums, who own a portfolio of properties across the city, this event had a particularly big impact. Naydja says: “When the storm came in… we had to prioritise,” but being the type of people they are they turned adversity into opportunity. For example, they took on a property that used to be a bar. Adolph says: “A historic bar; it was one of the well-known jazz musicians that used to play there and had a grocery there. It was Alphonse Picou.”
Their main principle when renovating is to do it to a level that they would be happy to live in, but with this space they were actually working on a place that they would live in themselves. In this case, “We say we’re going to just do the minimum, but we do the maximum.” This is still a work in progress, and they have had thoughts of making it into a restaurant, but are now thinking of converting it into an art gallery. Whatever they choose to do with it, “there’s no business yet… but it’s going to be beautiful.”
The fear among preservationists in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was that a property vacuum would enable a gentrification process to kick in. As old, ruined property is replaced, New Orleans is vulnerable to becoming homogenised by the construction of property with no architectural character, stripping away the city’s heart and soul. Adolph and Naydja Bynum have been instrumental in preventing this from happening, working tirelessly in all their capacities to ensure that restoration projects preserve the architecture of New Orleans as central priority at every step.
Going above and beyond for the preservation of Creole culture in New Orleans
Their work as preservationists goes beyond focusing entirely on architecture. They have been involved in Tremé with the New Orleans African American Museum of Art, Culture and History. Mr and Mrs. Bynum are currently on the board for the Historic Faubourg Tremé Association (HFTA), and are the founders of the annual Tremé Fall Festival to raise funds for the restoration of the St. Augustine Church and other non-profits in the community. The festival falls on the first weekend of October, and invites visitors to enjoy the very best in music and food that the famous neighbourhood of Tremé is known for. It has featured many of the most renowned musicians and artists from Tremé, including Shannon Powell, Kermit Ruffins, Leroy Jones and John Boutte, and has featured local artists such as Terrance Osborne. The festival also offers jobs and provides economic stimulus for the community, while helping to keep the Tremé culture alive.
Of course, Adolph and Naydja Bynum are more than just pillars of the community and committed architectural preservationists. They are successful entrepreneurs who have built a prospering portfolio of New Orleans real estate, with a good income from both renting to a number of satisfied tenants and selling renovated homes for a tidy profit. With strong academic backgrounds, the couple are always seeking to develop their knowledge and skills through study, and Naydja references this when she speaks of how she “Read a book on managing property.” This book helped her learn what tenants want in the properties so she can provide it.
Community figures whose passion has preserved a vital culture
There is nowhere quite like New Orleans, with different neighbourhoods in the city speaking of different elements of an essential part of the history of the United States. The history of African-American people in the nation, both pre- and post-slavery, is inextricably linked to New Orleans, covering a range of cultures that is such a prominent part of the Bynums’ lives. This is the culture that they have been so instrumental in preserving, particularly through their restoration of properties using traditional architectural elements in Tremé.
Adolph and Naydja Bynum are well-known to the people of their city, whether it’s through their work as property owners and managers or their efforts to promote the richness of local cultures. From their interview, what is clear is that they were made for each other – these are two people who grew up and fell in love with their city. They both spent time away from New Orleans via travel, and built very successful careers for themselves through academic merit and hard work, but when they came together the fire of their true passion was ignited and they became entrepreneurs of the highest order.
Their achievements are admirable and inspiring, in terms of their separate careers, their mutual vocation and the nature of the marriage they have. They set an example for success, devotion, cultural awareness, community spirit and marital commitment that should inspire present and future generations. The many cultures that make up the rich populace of New Orleans, owes a great deal to Adolph and Naydja Bynum.