Monday, June 29, 2009

CDC Image Database

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) may seem an odd resource for historic images of buildings, but one finds all sorts of interesting things housed in its Public Health Information Library (PHIL). For example, the database includes images (photographs and a plan of the complex) of the Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana. The interface also provides very detailed metadata:

"Photographed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the Harvard University campus, by Harvard University, Dept. of Environmental Health and Safety entomologist/ environmental biologist, Dr. Gary Alpert, this image depicted a mature “Bald-faced” hornet, Dolichovespula maculata, nest, which had been built by its colony up under the cornice of a museum building, abutting the capital of a Corinthian column. Bald-faced hornets are common in both wooded and urban areas in New England. Queens start a new nest each spring after the weather warms up in late April or May.

D. maculata create large arboreal nests with a thin paper outer layer, and can be recognized by their black and white color markings, especially the white areas on their face. The queen finds loose bark, and other paper strips to start a small nest into which she places her eggs. She adds saliva to the paper bark and forms a smooth carton. When painted wood is used to make carton, you can see the color on the outside of the carton nest. These large wasps will sting when defending their nest, or when defending themselves against perceived harm. Stings from these insects can induce anaphylactic shock in susceptible individuals, and therefore, control of their populations need be left to professional control specialists. They are widespread across the United States. See PHIL 9814, for a close-up of a queen hornet, and 9816 for another image revealing structural details of an initial nest." [Image above photographed 2006 by Dr. Gary Alpert].

For those interested in diseases and pathogens associated with natural disasters such as hurricanes, the PHIL site is also an excellent resource.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Future of the Superdome

The New Orleans Bureau for Government Research (BGR) is sponsoring a Breakfast Briefing this coming Friday, 26 June 2009, devoted to the topic: "The Future of the Superdome Complex." The presentation will take place at 8:00 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, located at 921 Canal Street. Those interested in attending should RSVP today. Click here for more information.

Image above: Cover Illustration from New Orleans as Seen on Tour (Harvey Press, 1975), Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Original gouache painting is housed in the Curtis & Davis Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Heart of the French Quarter

Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella's book Geographies of New Orleans (2006) addresses shifting accounts of the district known historically as the Irish Channel. The area where I live, near the intersection of Esplanade and North Prieur Street, has been variously described to me as part of Tremé, the Seventh Ward, and Esplanade Ridge. And now from the past, as "the heart of the French Quarter."

The Vieux Carré Survey (1961-1966), the important index to every property in the French Quarter, is on permanent loan to the Historic New Orleans Collection from Tulane University. Under the direction of then Tulane School of Architecture Dean John Lawrence (1959-1971), the Vieux Carré Survey was organized and financed to record a 100-block area of New Orleans. The boundaries of the French Quarter remain today as they were denoted in the survey, but have they always been as such?

In November 1893, an unidentified Daily Picayune reporter published an account of his visit to the 267 North Prieur Street (now 1400 block) home of noted Louisiana historian Charles Etienne Gayarré (1805-1895):

"Where Prieur intersects Kerlerec street is the heart of the French quarter--that quarter which has no parallel in the world, and which, is, perhaps the best-known feature of New Orleans. It is just around the corner from Esplanade Street, but the difference is curious. Esplanade, with its stately homes, and the thick foliage of the trees shadowing the roadway, even at noontime, is a boulevard; but the streets below dribble off in outlandish no-thoroughfares, fringed with tiny homes, gabled, balconied and antique.

In summer time the vines grow up lovingly around these little houses, wreathing their casements with green tendrils, and when they burst into bloom, fill the air with powerful perfumes. In winter, however, the leaves fall off, and the wind blows them merrily into the street. As one passes along the pavement the foot disturbs their rest. It is a sort of impiety to stir them; they are like everything else in this dreamy quarter, lodged in corners where no one ought to intrude irreverently.

Improvement makes a detour around this place. It remains year after year just as it has been since the brave days before the war. One or two buildings have been erected there, but when they were finished was long ago, and the winds have stained them with the dull hue of age, till their newness is hardly perceptible. . ." 20 November 1893.

Clearly, to the reporter, any place inhabited by Gayarré was the heart of Creole New Orleans.

To read documents related to Tulane University School of Architecture's role in developing the Vieux Carré Survey, see the Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Michael P. Smith Photographs: Panel Discussion

On June 20, The Historic New Orleans Collection's Director of Museum Programs, John H. Lawrence, will moderate a panel discussion on Michael P. Smith’s (1937-2008) photography. Other participants will include photographers Matt Anderson, Syndey Byrd and Owen Murphy, as well as Ransom Center photographs curator Roy Flukinger.

Seating is limited for the presentation, which begins at 2:00 p.m. Reservations are suggested and may be made by calling (504) 523-4662 or by e-mailing This event is presented with support from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and in conjunction with the exhibition In the Spirit: The Photography of Michael P. Smith from The Historic New Orleans Collection, now on view at The Collection’s Royal Street complex and at the Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St. in the New Orleans Arts District. More information about the exhibition is available at

Friday, June 12, 2009

Film Distribution Row: S. Liberty Street

In the mid-1930s, the 100 and 200 blocks of South Liberty proliferated with motion picture company film distribution centers. United Artists, Warner Brothers and Paramount all owned structures in this corridor. The building below is the lone survivor. Built for United Artists Corporation in 1929, the structure housed fireproof film storage vaults, had concrete floors, and brick outer walls.

In 1953, the New Orleans architectural firm Benson & Riehl (1951-1961) was hired to draft specifications for restoring the former Warner Brothers building after there had been an explosion on the 150 S. Liberty Street site. Also completed in 1929 -- designed by Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth -- the Warner Brothers structure had brick walls 12" thick, concrete floors and fireproof vaults for storing films. As Warner Brothers expanded its business, successor firm Dreyfous & Seiferth was hired to build a new film exchange at 201 S. Liberty Street (1948).

Where were the structures located?

United Artists Corporation (built 1929)
Universal Film Exchange (by 1955)
143 & 147 S. Liberty Street

Warner Brothers
150 S. Liberty Street (1929)
201 S. Liberty Street (1948)

Paramount Pictures
215 S. Libery Street

Screen Guild Productions
218 S. Liberty Street

Pathe Film Exchange
221 S. Liberty Street

Saenger Theaters
234 S. Liberty Street

R.K.O. Film Exchange
1418 Cleveland Avenue

Fireproof film vaults were also located at 222 & 223 S. Liberty Streets and 1307 & 1309 Tulane Avenue. In 1931, Southern Sound and Service Inc., a film laboratory, was located at 1315 Tulane Avenue. Most of the area is now developed as Tulane Medical Center.

If you want to read more about the history and development of film exchange/distribution rows, read Max Joseph Alvarez's article, "The Origins of the Film Exchange," Film History: An International Journal 17:4 (2005): 431-465 available from Project Muse.

Historic photographs of many of the film exchange buildings, including the structure below, may be found in the LOUISiana Digital Library. Most of these images were digitized from the Charles L. Franck/Franck-Bertacci Photograph Collection, The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Building contracts/specifications for the original Warner Brothers Film Exchange may be found in the Southeastern Architectural Archive's Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth Collection.

Above: 143 & 147 S. Liberty Street, built 1929. Upper right: Detail of Art Deco ornamentation from 143 & 147 S. Liberty Street. As photographed 11.06.2009 by K. Rylance.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Louisiana Cypress 1809

The Garden Library of the New Orleans Town Gardeners features an early thirty-page pamphlet on the Louisiana bald cypress:

Mémoire sur le cyprès de la Louisiane: (Cupressus disticha, de Linné)
By M. de Cubières, Simon-Louis-Pierre de Cubières
Versailles: Imprimerie de la Société d'agriculture de Seine et Oise, chez J.-P. Jacob, 1809.

The short treatise includes a history of the tree's identification by various naturalists, its distinctive features, its potential uses in France, as well as a discussion of its appearance in Great Britian's Kew, Stowe and Blenem Gardens. Cubières credits Henry Compton (1632-1713), the Bishop of London, with transporting the first seeds from America. Compton's Fulham Palace gardens did include the American magnolia and azalea, but John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) is generally believed to have first imported the bald cypress seed.

Cubières claims that it was not until 1750 that the bald cypress was cultivated in France, the first seeds brought by the renowned botanist Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau(1700-1782), whose Art de rafiner le sucre (Paris, 1764) also graces the Garden Library.

In 1963, the bald cypress was designated as the Louisiana State Tree.

Above: Lauxan, delineator; Bessin, engraver. Cupressus Disticha/Cyprès de la Louisiane. Plate 1, from M. de Cubières, Simon-Louis-Pierre de Cubières. Mémoire sur le cyprès de la Louisiane. Versailles, 1809.

New Digital Resource

The American Antiquarian Society has recently announced that its entire collection of daguerreotypes (as well as their cases) has been scanned and made available online. The notable holdings include images of Edgar Allen Poe and Clara Barton, and a few mid-nineteenth century scenic views of San Francisco.

The daguerreotype above represents the B & M Railroad Station at Lincoln Square in Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1855-60. To view the collection, click here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fumigants & Architecture

The National Library of Medicine has recently upgraded the interface for Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), its wonderful digital repository.

As my New Orleans house is being fumigated today, it prompted memories of the eradication efforts for yellow fever. Upper left is a 1905 photograph of the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital fumigation service in New Orleans (Image ID 151300). IHM contains many photographs of New Orleans public health efforts, as well as images of historic health officials, hospitals and medical programs. Search "Tulane" and you will find images of Tulane University's School of Medicine, which was originally housed in Richardson Memorial, now home to the Tulane School of Architecture.

At left is a 1914-1920 image described in IHM metadata as "View down a walkway and street littered with piles of wood, probably from buildings destroyed to eradicate rats; a horse and carriage (center left) are paused in front of a building entrance. New Orleans (La.)." Image ID 143334.

Looking Forward/Looking Backward II

19 September 1932

"The recent serious falling of one of the large canopies of one of our important buildings impresses one with an unfortunate tendency in the design of more modern buildings in which the galleries and balconies are being abandoned and substitutes are adopted which have neither the art nor the security of those old features which are typical of our city and which have been admired more by the visitor than ourselves.

The cause is no doubt the competiveness of our merchants who in their natural contest for business, and in which the logic of the situation is not sound, attempt to attract when in fact they retard business. . .

Rainy or hot days are certainly not good days on Canal Street. Since the old style galleries have been removed the heating area of the sidewalk has been increased at least two fifths due to the sun upon sidewalks which formerly were in the shade. The movement of the people during rain is practically stopped, which would not be the situation were a proper covering over the sidewalks and across the cross street in arch form.

The need for some protection is admitted in the motly [sic] canopies and awnings both of which have little to commend them and are a hazard in the first instance and a source of continual expense in the latter case. Gradually neither of these are being used in imitation of cities in which there is a snow climate which few realize is the main reason for the non-use of galleries and canopies, and with it all business naturally suffers many hours during year in our city which would not be so much the case were it possible to go from one store to another or block to block.

Our predecessors had sounder ideas on this question than we have today.

Edward Bellamy in his book "Looking Backward" written in 1887 and picturing Boston in the coming year 2000 A.D. describes automatic covering over the city sidewalks making it possible to go from place to place irrespective of the weather, and which permits business accessibility to be maintained at all times.

So much for analysis.

For suggestion:--Havana has its arcades or colonades, so has Genoa, Florence, Paris on Rue Rivoli and other business streets, Houston in some instances and other cities where sound thinking has been done.

Why not along Canal Street have a colonade, with the light metal columns which were so prevalent in the past and above it have a gallery with iron railing such as that of the Pontalba Buildings, and under the gallery, from column to column cast iron or wrought iron grilles of such artistic nature as we still have in few instances in our down town section. Maintain the height uniform and provide an innovation in arching over the cross streets to a heighth to clear the trolley wires of the street cards. Modern steel constrution [sic] and metal works provide greater facilities than in the past and such galleries would also serve 'practically' for the Carnival or other days of celebration. . . "

Rathbone DeBuys, Architect.

Typescript with manuscript edits, Rathbone DeBuys Office Records, Box 1, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Monday, June 1, 2009


T. Meek. Meek Reads, graffiti at 801 N. Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA.  As seen 31.05.2009.  Photograph by K. Rylance.