More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Sal Doucette (Carpenter)

My mother and daddy, my grandfather, Peter Mercadel, everyone practically, was raised in the Seventh Ward. . . . [I learned] through my father and grandfather and my uncles. Everyone in the family was a carpenter. . . . When I was eight years old my grandfather used to take us on jobs to carry lumber or carry nails and things. It was something that took part of my life at a very young age. . . . When I was about eight years old, my grandfather, every weekend used to have about thirty carpenters out parked in front of the door. During those days you could have your house built within maybe three weekends just for gumbo and beer! The wife would cook the gumbo and the husband would have the beer on the job site and you had your house practically built for nothing. . . . The majority of the Seventh Ward was built in that manner.

I get personal satisfaction after seeing the finished product. In other words if it's something that is very tedious to do, I take a lot of pride in it. I just did [one] house and all of the wood had to be soaked in a swimming pool and then bent to certain dimensions and it's something that is an old trade that very few of the young people have right now. . . . Well right now you still have carpenters that are doing very bad work and expecting to get paid top dollar. One of the main things when you are teaching a youngster is that he takes a lot of pride in his work to make sure that he's not satisfied with just doing something halfway.

When I was coming up I was working for like a dollar an hour. That's forty bucks a week. A lot of my work was like labor work. They didn't let you on the skill-saw or anything else like that. Right now . . . I have about four young guys working with me and I make sure that they learn every phase of the trade. All parts—skill saw, nail gun, no matter what it is—I make sure that safety's first, but I make sure that they know how to do it.

I graduated from St. Augustine [High School] in 1958, and during those days you had two years of shop drawing before you went into a shop. Now, St. Augustine doesn't have shop or anything like that. I learned quite a bit just by going to shop in mechanical drawing under Silas Kahn at St. Augustine.

Well, the young group doesn't take the pride in things that the older people did in doing the work. I have totally remodeled the security office at 701 Loyola. I did all the furniture in there. I'm hoping that with this new set-up, with the Holy Cross kids, I'm hoping to get St. Augustine's kids involved in this with Father Earl where you can teach someone to carry this trade on.

If you do a city job, like 2400 Canal Street, it's a deal where it's a non-recoverable grant. This is money given to homeowners. You go out there and remodel their home and things like that and they don't have to worry about paying this money back. I'm the treasurer of the Downtown Development Corporation/Holy Cross and we just received some up-front money from First Trust with Joe Cannizzaro. We're going to be remodeling and building new houses with soft second money, like twenty-thousand dollars of soft second money that you don't have to pay back. My little brother Sterling just remodeled one third of River Square and all the block of Dorgenois between Annette and St. Anthony.

Sal Doucette was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.