The Block is Hot
Adolph and Naydja Bynum have transformed a sliver of New Orleans into a charming haven
By J.B. Borders
When Adolph Bynum Sr. bought a dilapidated Creole cottage in the historic New Orleans neighborhood known as Faubourg Tremé 25 years ago, he had no intention of spearheading a crusade to rebuild the entire community. Bynum, now 67, had been only vaguely aware that Tremé, founded in the 1720s, was a special place—home at one point to the largest, most prosperous, politically astute, and culturally advanced community of free blacks in the United States.
A pharmacist and drugstore owner, Bynum had simply wanted to buy a home with historic charm and character. He initially looked at property in New Orleans’s French Quarter, where Europeans settled when they established the city, but he found the area too costly. He settled for a fixer-upper in a run-down, predominantly African-American neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter. The price was certainly right. In those days, Bynum could buy historically significant houses in Tremé for about $30,000, throw in an additional $80,000 to renovate them, and then watch their values increase. It wasn’t the strong financial returns that hooked him on Tremé, though. It was a scenic view that sealed the deal.
“When the realtor was showing me an abandoned house in the 1200 block of St. Claude Avenue,” he recalls, “I saw a beautiful church steeple over the fence of the backyard. I could picture a beautiful courtyard with that church steeple as a backdrop, so I bought that house and the one next door. That’s how it got started.” Bynum eventually bought every available property in that block and renovated each of them. The picturesque courtyard he had originally envisioned now spans six adjoining houses that he owns and leases.
“He decided this could be his French Quarter,” says Naydja Bynum, Adolph’s wife of seven years and his real estate development partner. Like Adolph, Naydja, 59, is descended from free people of color and has a passion for historic preservation. A carpenter’s daughter who chose nursing as her first profession, Naydja dated Adolph for five years before marrying him. In those days, she discloses, a hot date on Saturday night often meant spending time digging through the inventory at building supply stores. Together, she and Adolph now own 26 properties, including 16 in Tremé. Their strategy is to buy small clusters that they can use to catalyze and influence the redevelopment of problematic areas.
“We try to create a domino effect wherever we invest,” she explains. “We can’t control every building in the neighborhood, but we can create an environment that encourages other people to take better care of their property.” Today, Faubourg Tremé, once decaying and crime-plagued, is being revitalized as new waves of investors follow in the footsteps of the Bynums. Property values in the neighborhood have increased, blight is being eradicated, middle-class residents are returning, and support for Tremé’s jazz roots is growing. Like the music it spawned, Tremé is hot once again. U