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Old Mandeville Treehouse Should Be Preserved

Cindy Chang, The Times-Picayune - SEP 23, 2009. When Raymond Kierr and his wife, Josephine, needed to get away from it all, they drove across the lake to their house among the trees.

Known as the treehouse, its unusual octagonal design made it a landmark in Old Mandeville, where even the newer construction tends to mimic historic Creole cottages. From the second-floor living area, the trees were close enough on all sides to be practically touchable -- a vantage point typically enjoyed only by birds and squirrels.

Now, six years after Josephine Kierr donated it to the city of Mandeville for use as a public park, the house stands draped in plastic, its roof torn by Hurricane Katrina and its future in doubt.

City officials must make good on their promise to turn the land, on Carroll Street between Monroe Street and the St. Tammany Trace, into a "primarily wooded" park. But the agreement with the Kierr family says nothing about the building itself. Renovation costs may run as high as $70,000, and last week, the City Council passed a resolution supporting its demolition. But the Kierrs' daughter, Susan, a Madisonville resident, says she will try to save the two-bedroom, raised house, perhaps by securing grants or other sources of money. Her parents have both passed away, after two decades of spending weekends at the treehouse.

"Tearing it down would just show a lack of imagination, " Susan Kierr said. "There has to be a new vision for how it can be used." Informed of Kierr's desire to preserve the structure, built in 1975 from a prefab kit, city officials said they want to respect the wishes of the family and are open to the idea, provided the price tag is not too high.

"I've always called it the treehouse, so certainly it has some significance in that respect, " said Councilwoman Trilby Lenfant. "I want the best use for the property, which is some type of garden. Whether or not the building remains, I have no strong feelings either way."

According to Sheldon Storer, owner of Topsider Homes in North Carolina, the treehouse kits have been a mainstay of his company since it was founded in 1968. The house is constructed around a central stem, with wood beams radiating symmetrically outward and rooms divided evenly like slices of a pie.

Because the octagonal shape provides no large, flat surfaces, the design is remarkably hurricane-resistant, Storer said. The Mandeville house sustained only roof damage in Katrina -- the rest of its problems are mostly due to nearly a decade of neglect. The treehouses -- formally known as pedestal homes -- were originally conceived by architect Guy Bartoli as an elegant solution to building on steep North Carolina hillsides. Hundreds have been erected throughout the world, including in the Caribbean and Panama, using kits purchased from Topsider. Clusters of 50 or 60 exist at the North Carolina resorts of Hilton Head and Pinehurst, and Disney World also had a treehouse development. "I'd love to see it restored. I'd love to be a part of that restoration in some way, " Storer said of the Mandeville house. "It's architecturally unique, and if it's in a park-type setting, and the necessary resources are available, we'd be happy to participate in that effort in some way and help bring it to its original state."

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