Architectural designers envision revamped True Friends Hall

Michael Tortorich
New Orleans architectural designers Eskew Dumez Ripple unveiled this rendering of the True Friends Benevolent Association Hall in Donaldsonville.

New Orleans architectural designers Eskew Dumez Ripple, simply known as EDR+, undertook Donaldsonville’s True Friends Benevolent Association Hall as one of its Day of Service projects in honor of Martin Luther King.

The River Road African American Museum includes the True Friends Hall, along with the main museum in Donaldsonville, Dr. Charles Lowery’s medical office, and the Rosenwald School.

EDR partnered with five organizations in the greater New Orleans area, including the A’s & Aces, Animal Rescue New Orleans, House of Tulip, and A Community Voice, in a collaborative process focused on amplifying their voices through design.

The RRAAM’s mission is to enlighten the world about the journey of African Americans from slavery to independence in the River Parishes region. The organization seeks to educate visitors about the history and culture of African Americans in the rural communities of south Louisiana through the collection, preservation, and interpretation of art, artifacts, and historic buildings.

Historically, benevolent associations were self-help groups created as a way to provide insurance or mutual aid. The True Friends Hall was built in 1886, and served as a gathering place for Donaldsonville’s African American community. It is the largest and oldest existing benevolent society hall remaining in Louisiana.

In its current state, the True Friends Benevolent Association Hall stands near the corner of Lessard Street and Marchand Drive in Donaldsonville.

In need of a complete restoration, the undertaking will help the museum by providing additional space to share exhibits and benefit the community by providing space for music educations, performances, and gatherings.

The EDR team visited Donaldsonville and met with museum representatives to assess the condition. The teams worked together to re-imagine the future of the building, creating floor plans and renderings to update the space, while paying homage to the original characteristics.

The first floor will house a large event space, as well as food service and an additional space for a future tenant. The second story will hold office space.

The new addition of an outdoor stage will allow for events and performances.

EDR created a comprehensive budget for the renovation to further assist in planning and fundraising efforts.

Lee Melancon, the City of Donaldsonville’s Director of Community and Economic Development, said the museum complex is part of a larger makeover spanning the historic district’s Lessard Street and Railroad Avenue.