Efforts to save documents stymied
3:25 p.m., Monday
By Greg Thomas
Real estate writer
Specialists working for the New Orleans Notorial Archives have been stymied in trying to return downtown to rescue some of the most historic documents in the city’s history, from original land grants to slave sale records and title records.
Federal troops have refused to let them through checkpoints into the city.
The Notorial Archives hired Munters Corp., a Swedish document salvage firm that freezes and then freeze-dries records to slowly remove moisture from them. But Munters’ refrigerated trucks were turned away by uniformed troops as they tried to enter the city, said Stephen Bruno, custodian of the archives.
The trucks were headed to the Civil District Courthouse on Poydras Street, where many of the city’s real estate documents are housed, and to the former Amoco building at 1340 Poydras St., which houses historic documents such as a letter from Jean Lafitte to Washington demanding for his expenditures during the Battle of New Orleans.
Eddy Pokluda, head of national sales for Munters in Dallas, said the company tried to get one person in to make an assessment of the damage but was turned away, even though days earlier they had coordinated with New Orleans police to have an escort into the city.
“I don’t think people realize the importance of these records. It’s imperative we get in there and see if these can be saved,’’ Pokluda said.
“These records are a historic treasure trove (that) would go to the Vatican or Smithsonian and be under armed guards and in vaults,” Bruno said. “This is extremely frustrating.’’
“Of course, the most important thing is the people and the bodies, but now we’re really concerned about the records,’’ he said.
Most governments have digitized their real estate records, and Bruno was just about to hire a firm to transfer many of the documents in the archive to the computer.
But at the Notorial Archives, most abstractors still do hand searches of the 12 million stored documents.
“We’re still in the horse and buggy days,” Bruno said.
Bruno was quick to point out that homeowners shouldn’t worry about others making claim to their properties. Further, “there won’t be any (real estate) transactions until this problem is solved. Sure, a lot of people are going to want to sell and a lot of speculators are going to want to buy.” But without access to the records by abstractors, “It isn’t going to happen,’’ Bruno said.
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