Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Orleans State of Mind (1940)

According to various reports, New Orleans architecture was a big hit in New York during the spring of 1940.

Bourbon Street's Old Absinthe House Bar (shown above) was reproduced at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows. Lucien J. Cazebonne claimed that the reproduction was an exact copy of the original bar. The facsimile was erected in the "Gay Old New Orleans" section of Michael Todd's show featuring Gypsy  Rose Lee.(1)

In Manhattan, architect Max Bohm and painter Tony Sarg remodeled a Greenwich Village tenement row to resemble the Vieux Carre:

"Wide bands of ornamental iron connecting the tiers of balconies at each end and at regular intervals have built up in the mind the idea that they are not just emergencies to be used in the event of fire but are a substantial part of each apartment. The balconies are wide as well as long. The suspended flower baskets also help to fix in the mind the New Orleans atmosphere.

"Just inside the entrance door which is not in the center of the facade but slightly off to one side, are murals, scenes of New Orleans. The old Absinthe House is detected in one corner of the group. Sketches of doors leading into interior courts and arcaded sidewalks near Jackson Square cover one wall panel. On the opposite side of the river is a view of a Mississippi river packet discharging cotton on the levees. This serves to introduce the lobby, which runs parallel to the front of the building. Iron grille, stone flooring, hanging balconies, arches and one large palm complete the picture."(2)

The New York Herald-Tribune lauded Jane Street apartment owner Arthur Rule's taste.

(1)"Orleanian Goes to New York to Show Famed Bar." The Times-Picayune 10 May 1940.

(2)"New Orleans Features Used to Make New York Rehabilitation Distinctive." The Times-Picayune 21 April 1940.

Image above: Walter Cook Keenan. Old Absinthe House. 238 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA. 18 November 1944. This and other Bourbon Street photographs are online via Tulane University Digital Library's Bourbon Street, 1944-1952.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Old Marrero Cemeteries

Continuing on yesterday's theme regarding placing and dating historic cemeteries in southeastern Louisiana. . .

Civil engineer (c.e.) James Webb platted the so-called Robinson Avenue Subdivision in early 1921. He based his map on two existing plans, one that c.e. H.L. Zander developed in 1915 (reproduced above as "Exhibit A"); and one that J.W.T. Stephens created in 1919. For surveyors, crediting earlier surveys is an important part of the process: the quality of a new plat depends on the accuracy of its sources.

Zander had attempted to establish the Arpent Tract between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the new Amesville Highway.(1) Identifying the cross-axial artery as "Robinson Lane," Zander referenced the former land holdings of the Robinsons and the Dennises. He also measured two historic cemeteries, one he referred to generically and the other he identified as the St. Joseph Cemetery.

Both cemeteries appear on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas of 1937, which I manipulated below. "A" is the St. Joseph Cemetery and "B" is the unnamed one.

St. Joseph Cemetery is still extant (333 Robinson Avenue) and has been expanded towards its originating worship space. Its historic neighbor is now a near-empty lot.

(1)This later became part of the Jefferson Highway, and today is referred to as Fourth Street.

Images above: Digitally enhanced detail of James Webb, c.e.. Robinson Avenue Subdivision. New Orleans: 5 May 1921. Blue line copy, from Guy Seghers Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Box 119. Folder 30.

Digitally altered detail of Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas. Volume 7 [true 11]. Sheet 1119. New York: 1937. As viewed via Digital Sanborn Maps Database, available at Tulane University Libraries.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Old Harvey Cemeteries

Subdivision surveys can help researchers locate historic cemetery sites. The Southeastern Architectural Archive's Guy Seghers Office Records has a considerable number of twentieth-century surveys that document graveyard locations.

The cemetery highlighted above -- in a 1922 Eustis & Bres survey -- was located towards the rear of the Louisiana Cypress Lumber Company's tract along the Harvey Canal in Jefferson Parish. This area was formerly known as the Destrehan Tract, and Joseph Rathborne began to operate a cypress lumber concern here as early as 1889.(1)

By 1940, the Rathborne Land Company was subdividing its massive holdings along the Intracoastal Waterway. The area where the old cemetery had been was redeveloped as a residential section of four- and five-room frame residences. Surveyor Guy Seghers platted the subdivision, noting an existing cemetery along what had been Julia F. Grefer's land (shown below).

This second graveyard is still intact, known as the Evening Star Cemetery [AKA Harvey's cemetery; Harvey cemetery]. Since Hurricane Katrina, it has expanded across Grefer Avenue, absorbing what had formerly been a series of 30' wide residential lots.

Knowing variant geographical names can facilitate the research process. Consulting  GNIS is one means of determining place name changes. For Louisiana, knowing the names of subsequent plantation owners is also beneficial. Marie Adrien Persac's Norman's Chart of the Lower Mississippi River (1858) is one means of determining familial connections, and the United States Mississippi River Commission's Preliminary Map of the Lower Mississippi River: From the Mouth of the Ohio River to the Head of the Passes (1885) is another.

(1)Advertisement. The Times-Picayune 5 July 1948.

Images above: Digitally enhanced detail of Eustis & Bres. LA Cypress Lumber Co. Tract. Survey. 1922. Box 120. Folder 45.

Digitally enhanced detail of Guy J. Seghers. Industrial Subdivision of Property of Joseph Rathborne Land Company, Inc. Harvey, Louisiana. 10 October 1940 with annotated corrections to February 1944. Box 120. Folder 29.

Both Guy Seghers Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ithiel Town & New Orleans

The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains an important letter written by New York architect-engineer Ithiel Town (1784-1844) regarding his improved Lattice Bridge design of 1835. When the document came on the market, William Cullison III acquired it with support from the Marjorie Peirce and John Geiser, Jr. Fund.

Dated 23 July 1836, it gives illustrated instructions for a proposed bridge spanning 250 feet, with trussing extending 300 feet. Town advises the recipient, Boston carpenter John Livermore, to use either spruce or pine planks configured in a repeating diamond pattern, and sets a “lowest” price of $1/foot for “the whole length of the trusses of the bridge.” 

Town was a prominent New York architect and engineer known for his patented bridge. He promoted the innovation in various classified advertisements, professional publications and correspondence, thus securing its use from New York to Alabama.

New Orleans architects James Dakin, James Gallier, Sr., and Robert Seaton worked for Town before moving South; Minard Lafever also knew him. In January 1835, Town expressed an interest in visiting Louisiana to establish new bridge contracts.(1) 

(1)Ithiel Town (New York). Letter to Seth Shine (Tuscaloosa, Alabama). 17 January 1835. Cited by Jim Wilson, "Letter approving the contract to build a bridge across the river at Wetumpka." As viewed 20 November 2015. URL:

Image above:  Ithiel Town. Lattice Bridge Diagram. Pen and ink on paper. 1836. Marjorie and John Geiser II Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

NEW! William Henry Jackson Finding Aid

With the assistance of Tulane University M.P.S. student Ahleah Boise, the Southeastern Architectural Archive recently finalized the processing of the William Henry Jackson Photochroms. This collection consists of over 300 color prints dating from 1898 to 1906.

Read more about the collection in the online finding aid here.

If you are unfamiliar with the Southeastern Architectural Archive's holdings, consult its list of "Finding Aids by Collection Name."

Monday, November 16, 2015

NOLA Street Dogs

We recently came across the tale of two famous New Orleans street dogs, Mike and Boozer. One hung around the Central Business District, the other habituated the French Quarter. In May 1914, Home and Country's traveling correspondent wrote:

"Down on St. Charles street, just a little distance from Canal, we will find 'Mike.' Everybody speaks of Mike when they pass him, although he is an old white dog brought to New Orleans on board an ocean liner as a special guest of the Captain, some years ago. Mike was born in London some twenty-three years ago, and has visited every port in the world.(1) To every cheery 'good morning' or 'good evening' of the passerby, Mike responds with a thump of his stubby tail on the sidewalk, a blink of one of his bleared [sic], old eyes or a nod of his battle-scarred head in much the same manner as a centenarian to whom the world is bound to show respect. We will get better acquainted with Mike some of these days. Maybe he will tell us some stories of how strange seaports appear to a dog. In the 'vieux carre' we will have to visit 'Boozer.' At one time 'Boozer' was appropriately named, for he drank not less than fourteen strong milk punches every day. Then, like a lot of other good fellows, he commenced to miss a good many of his old pals among the men who visited his master, and he began to feel strange and out of sorts. The change in 'Boozer' was so marked, that the doctor was called in and the whole trouble was laid to the door of the milk punches. As a result 'Boozer' went to the whiskey cure. He stayed there for twenty-eight days and came back a total abstainer. Next to Mike, he is perhaps the best known canine character in New Orleans. There are two factions in the city each of which will insist that one dog or the other is entitled to the medal; Mike, owing to the fact that he is the only dog in New Orleans to have been arrested and kept in a cell for fifteen days like a human, convicted of disorderly conduct; and 'Boozer,' because he is the only dog in the country to have taken the whiskey cure."(2)

If you are now wondering whether this story is a bunch of hogwash, you may be interested in a little more background information.

Mike was a favorite of the Central Business District, friend to the NOFD, saloon owners and countless messenger boys. His haunts included St. Charles and Perdido Streets. His early years in New Orleans were spent at the Klaw and Erlanger Theatres; he later circulated with the American District Telegraph runners. When a late life attack rendered him incapacitated, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals administered strychnine and he was buried in an unmarked grave.(3)

Boozer was a French Quarter regular, adopted by J.J. Brauning, proprietor of the Greenwall Cafe at Dauphine and Iberville Streets. Boozer had arrived in New Orleans as a puppy, in the company of New York tourists who decided they could not care for him and subsequently passed him on to Brauning. When automobiles began to appear in the section, Boozer adopted a fondness for hitch-hiking. When the dog's health began to decline dramatically, Brauning took Boozer to a Burgundy Street veterinarian who offered to administer the so-called "Keeley Cure." When Boozer died in May 1915, Brauning buried him and marked the Dauphine Street grave with a marble slab.(4)

BTW, Tulane University Libraries maintain important book collections named for former New Orleanians Charlee Lachatte and Little Awful Annie.

(1)Some claimed his origins to be a Third Ward saloon.

(2)"Rambling around the 'Vieux Carre' and the New New Orleans." Home and Country X:8 (May 1914): 5-31, 31.

(3)"Mike, Most Famous Dog in New Orleans, Leaves His Beaten Paths to Meet Death." The Times-Picayune 26 May 1914.

(4)"Boozer Fills New-Made Grave Found in Dauphine Street." The Times-Picayune 9 August 1916.

Friday, November 13, 2015

DIY Rathbone DeBuys

In the early 1930s, New Orleans architect Rathbone DeBuys (1874-1960) was experiencing hard times. He laid off his fourteen employees and reduced his office space. Faced with typing his own correspondence and juggling various contract documents, he designed this time-motion suite in the Hibernia Bank Building and wrote an article about his efforts.

He made the 96 x 30" conference table with griffin legs that he purchased in an antique shop. A sash and door company supplied the top, and DeBuys built an informal truss to tie the elements together. He placed all of his active job files on the table so that they would be close at hand.

Read more in American Architect (June 1932).

Image above:  Rathbone DeBuys Office, Hibernia Bank Building, 812 Gravier Street. 1932. As reproduced in Rathbone DeBuys. "An Architect Cuts Office Time." American Architect 141:2608 (June 1932): p.16.