Restoring a House, Making a Home in New Orleans

Alex Chadwick talks to Angelo Ricca, a New Orleans demolition and housing contractor who purchased a damaged home near a canal that flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So far, Ricca has spent thousands restoring the home, and he swears he'll keep coming back to his native city.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

Along the Gulf Coast no date looms in the distance with more foreboding than June 1st. That's the beginning of hurricane season. So much is still not ready.

Half the houses in New Orleans remain empty. Some are gutted, some not. One family living in one of the area's worst hit neighborhoods though is planting pansies outdoors. The Riccas live in Lakeview and they are just about ready for hurricane season at their place. Angelo Ricca joins us from there. Hello Angelo, welcome to the program.

Mr. ANGELO RICCA (Resident, Lakeview, Louisiana): How you doing?

CHADWICK: I'm well, thank you. You have moved from Riverbend, one of the neighborhoods that stayed safe through everything, to a place that's almost right next to the 17th Street Canal, which is really where the flooding began, isn't that so?

Mr. RICCA: Yes sir, we're about a half a block from the canal, between the canal and Fleur-de-lis.

CHADWICK: Why would you do such a thing?

Mr. RICCA: I like taking chances, I guess. The house is a gorgeous house and we have armed guards patrolling all the time, so it's a secure area. It's in a real nice neighborhood and I honestly believe it will never happen again. This is something that happens once every hundred years or so. And I lost one other house in the storm, but I always have to be doing something.

CHADWICK: What kind of shape was the house in when you bought it?

Mr. RICCA: It had nine foot of water in it.

CHADWICK: And what have you done to the place to transform it?

Mr. RICCA: Mainly, the first thing we did before we even worked on the inside, we planted flowers and got rid of all the dead plants and tried to make the place look more presentable outside for eye appeal. And then we just started working on the inside. It was all gutted and we had to rewire it and sheetrocked it and put all new doors in, and it looks real nice.

CHADWICK: So look, you've put in leaded glass in this house.

Mr. RICCA: Yes.

CHADWICK: Crown moldings.

Mr. RICCA: Oh yes.

CHADWICK: Crystal chandelier.

Mr. RICCA: Yes, two of them.

CHADWICK: Hardwood floors.

Mr. RICCA: No, sir.

CHADWICK: No.

Mr. RICCA: We have stone floors and carpet.

CHADWICK: Well, are you worried that another storm might take all that out?

Mr. RICCA: I'll do it again.

CHADWICK: So you're going to stay?

Mr. RICCA: Yes, sir.

CHADWICK: Well, what does your wife think about living beside the 17th Street Canal?

Mr. RICCA: She loves the house.

CHADWICK: Well, I guess she loves the house, but does she love the location?

Mr. RICCA: Yes, because she was from Metairie and I was from New Orleans all my life, and people here just kind of stay in their own neighborhoods forever, I think.

CHADWICK: Was there a time ever in the last six months where you thought to yourself, I just have to move on, this is not going to be the place for us anymore?

Mr. RICCA: No sir. I'd never leave New Orleans. I'll never leave New Orleans, I love it too much.

CHADWICK: Well, you must have left during the flood?

Mr. RICCA: Yes, we did. Only because my daughter, my youngest daughter, made me.

CHADWICK: Well, thank heavens there's someone there to talk sense into you.

Mr. RICCA: Yeah, well, she had animals. We had to go all the way to San Antone just to get a place that would keep us with a dog and a cat.

CHADWICK: Your business, this is a family business of construction and demolition and rebuilding?

Mr. RICCA: Yes, sir.

CHADWICK: So you're family's been in this for a long time?

Mr. RICCA: 54 years.

CHADWICK: And you know all the New Orleans housing styles, the shotgun houses and the Creole cottages and the stately mansions and everything that makes the city so unusual and so beautiful. How do you think about the city coming back to that glory?

Mr. RICCA: I see it coming back. It's going to take a while, but it's coming back, because a lot of people feel exactly like I do, that, you know, they love the city and they're not going to go anywhere. They're going to have to come back for the food and the heat and mosquitoes and everything else.

CHADWICK: Well, the food part sounds good.

Mr. RICCA: Excellent. Best in the world.

CHADWICK: Well, good luck with it, Mr. Ricca.

Mr. RICCA: Just takes work, not luck.

CHADWICK: Angelo Ricca set up house near the 17th Street Canal in metropolitan New Orleans and spoke with us from his store. Thanks, Angelo.

Mr. RICCA: Thank you.

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