Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tulane's Lost Owls

Tulane University's Joseph Merrick Jones Hall, located at 6801 Freret Street, was designed by Moise Goldstein & Associates, Architects (1939-1941). Tulane School of Architecture faculty member Nathaniel C. Curtis, Sr. (1881-1953) was chief designer at the time, and created the building's dedicatory inscription and accompanying intaglio sculpture.

The structure was originally the institutional library, drawing together the combined holdings of Newcomb College and Tulane University, and named Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. Its Freret Street entranceway features carvings of historic printers' devices, including those of Plantin-Moretus and Aldus Manutius.

Moise Goldstein hired a young Nathaniel C. "Buster" Curtis, Jr. (1917-1997) to design two owls -- symbols of wisdom and knowledge -- for placement atop the entrance facade's granite obelisks. Buster drew full-sized sketches of his stylized owls, his "own idea of what an owl should look like," and the sketches were sent to Indiana, where the stone was cut.

When Buster's owls arrived in New Orleans, they were positioned atop the entrance obelisks and Mr. Goldstein escorted Tulane University President Harris to see them. Buster Curtis later recounted:

"No one was prepared for the violent disapproval and disappointment of the good doctor over those owls and Mr. Goldstein's distress cannot be expressed. That very night he arranged for a pickup truck into which the owls were loaded and just he and I, in utmost secrecy, buried those birds in the darkness of the early morning in the back of Audubon Park. I think Mr. Goldstein paid for the owls out of his own pocket because nothing was ever said again about them -- either by him or Dr. Harris or by me, but the granite obelisks are still there."

Curtis added, "It has been said that a doctor buries his mistakes and an architect just plants ivy. But is is not always that easy. . . "

Quoted matter from: Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr. Undated typescript. c. late 1960s. Biographical Files, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blueprints & Jazz

New Orleans' Warren Easton High School was originally founded as a public school for boys, formed by the consolidation of earlier schools located "above" and "below" Canal Street. With a new building designed by E.A. Christy (completed 1913), Warren Easton boasted a centralized Canal Street location and modern educational facilities to match. By the 1930s, the school was particularly noted for its mechanical drawing course.

John W. Hyman (1899-1977) taught mechanical drawing at Warren Easton High School for nearly two decades, from the 1920s-1940s. Tulane School of Architecture faculty member Milton Scheuermann, Jr. was one of Hyman's students, and tells the story of how Professor Hyman and fellow student Pete Fountain (born 1930) used Easton's blueprinting machine to copy music. Hyman and Fountain washed the prints, then "pasted" the wet blueprints on the chalkboard; when the blueprints dried, they naturally detached from the chalkboard and fell to the floor.

During the period he was teaching mechanical drawing, Professor Hyman had an important side gig performing jazz cornet. He made his first recordings under the name "John Hyman's Bayou Stompers," eventually adopted the stage name "Johnny Wiggs" and retired from teaching. Read more about Wiggs in The Jazz Archivist.

Images above: TOP: Wickes Bros. Blueprint Machine, Southern Architect and Building News (March 1919). The Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. BOTTOM: Joan Whitehead, photographer. Johnny Wiggs "Congo Square" and Other Vintage Material Album Cover from OffBeat: Louisiana Music and Culture. URL:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Architecture Lab

An earlier post addressed the 1907 founding of Tulane University's School of Architecture, and Professor William Woodward's (1859-1939) conviction that New Orleans provided the perfect crucible in which to study architecture.

By 1915, Southern Architect & Building News reported on emerging schools of architecture in the South, cautioning that such programs "do not thrive unless the conditions of their environment are right" and commending Tulane University as one of the real "pioneers," echoing Woodward's earlier emphasis on geography and the city's distinctive architecture:

"New Orleans offers a particularly favorable location for a thriving school of architecture. In the first place, it is the only large city in the South which possesses a large number of examples of a unique and beautiful historic architecture. In fact, competent critics would place her, in this respect, above any other city in America. This is a distinction the inspirational value of which cannot be overestimated. Next in importance to a worthy past, should be mentioned the fact that New Orleans is also a thoroughly up-to-date and thriving modern city, and so added to the inspiration of antiquity are added the practical object lessons of modern building construction. To the architectural student the city streets are of the nature of a vast laboratory and he who walks may learn perhaps quite as much as he who spends his spare hours in the draughting room."

Reported in Southern Architect and Building News 36:1 (November 1915): p. 17-18, extracted from New Orleans Building Review.

Image Above: Tulane School of Architecture's early home, Stanley Thomas Hall, as it appeared in Architectural Art and Its Allies (1912). Stanley Thomas Hall was designed by the New Orleans firm of Andry & Bendernagel (1911); its fourth floor was added in 1929.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wright the 'Love Philosopher'

As reported in Southern Architect and Building News 36:3 (January 1916):

Frank Lloyd Wright, noted architect and social anarchist, has been tied again to the 'provincial whipping post.'

The lash of public criticism that fell so heavily upon Mamah Bothwick Cheney, his first 'spiritual affinity,' strikes this time at Mrs. Maude Miriam Noel, an artist of note, who has won honors abroad and in this country and was fellow-worker in Paris with Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.

Mrs. Noel is very beautiful, and a woman of rare intellectual charm, but as she is the mother of married daughters, it was beauty and brains, not youth, that lured the love philosopher of Taliesin from the shadow of grief into the light of new love, and establishes her in the love bungalow in the woodland retreat in Wisconsin where Wright and his first 'soulmate,' Mamah Bothwick Cheney, sought seclusion when they defied the world, and he forsook his wife and she her husband, six years ago.

The tragic death of Mamah Cheney and her two children -- Cheney's children, not Wright's -- in a fire that destroyed the bungalow about a year ago, was said to be the final chapter in Wright's romance. Love died for the architect when his soulmate died, so his friends said. But they reckoned without his capacity for romance.

As he reared again the destroyed love bungalow and renamed it Taliesin, love was resurrected from his soul-mate's grave. Less than a year after she perished he met Miriam Noel. Love bloomed again in the death-blighted soul; the bungalow in the forest became a 'love castle' once more.

But the Mann act, invoked upon them by a discharged housekeeper, Mrs. Nellie Breen, intruded its slimy suggestiveness into the paradise of love and polluted it with a federal investigation, which brought Wright, his 'soul's affinity,' his strange love philosophy, his unsanctioned moral code to the 'whipping post of public opinion' again.

The investigation has been abandoned, the housekeeper may be prosecuted for slander, but Frank Wright and Miriam Noel have learned that conventionality rules the world, and the world is cruelly unkind to those who place 'personal liberty' above social convention and the moral code.

Wright's wife, whom he abandoned for Mamah Bothwick Cheney six years ago, has steadfastly refused to give him a divorce; she lives with her children at Oak Park, Ill.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Orleans Architecture in Moscow 1958

An earlier post addressed Charles Colbert's Phillis Wheatley Elementary School and its inclusion in the important 1958 US State Department/American Institute of Architects "Cities U.S.A." Exhibition in Moscow, which was part of the 5th Congress of the Union Internationale des Architectes. Colbert's work was selected along with projects by Pietro Belluschi, Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen, SOM, Mies van der Rohe, TAC, & Minoru Yamasaki. The New Orleans firms of Freret & Wolf/Andry & Feitel/Ricciuti, Stoffle & Associates also contributed photographic documentation of their Tulane University Women's Graduate Dormitory Building, Johnston Hall, which had garnered international acclaim (razed).

Image above: William Wilson Atkin, Booklet for "Cities U.S.A." Exhibition, Moscow 1958. Folder 1956, Freret & Wolf Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University Libraries.

Read more about the dormitory in Architectural Forum 104 (April 1956): pp. 154-159.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Central City 1964

In 1964, New Orleans photographer Frank Lotz Miller (1923-1993) took aerial views of the newly constructed Guste Housing Project, designed by Curtis & Davis (altered 2002-2005). Miller's negative captured a broad expanse of Central City beyond to the Mississippi River and the West Bank.

Image: Frank Lotz Miller, photographer. Guste Housing Project, 1964. © Curtis & Davis Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Do not reproduce without written permission.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Architecture & Carnival

As reported by Architectural Art and Its Allies March 1912:

"Now that the carnival is past and gone for another twelve month [sic], the decorations have disappeared, the stands come down, the props been knocked from under many a veranda, and life has assumed its normal flow again, we may well dismiss the subject; but before doing so, it might not be out of place to stop to consider for an instant a matter which is but incidental to the festivalbut which has a marked effect upon the appearance of the business portion of the city and the comfort of the people.

From time immemorial it has been custom to span at will the sidewalks of any and all New Orleans streets with verandas, which take many and divers shapes, from the attractive and architectural balcony to the mere shed roof, without which no corner grocery is complete. By far the prevailing type on the main thoroughfares has been a light structure, resting on iron columns at the curb and railed above with one or another of the few designs of cast iron rail for which the foundries have carried patterns since the forties. These verandas serve throughout the year to shelter the shopping crowds from sun and rain, and would seem to suggest Bellamy's Eutopian [sic] general umbrella. They are not different from isolated examples elsewhere, but their prevalence in New Orleans makes them conspicuous.

During the carnival, with their tiers of seats filled with laughing people, they add much to the enjoyment of the pageants, but they have their drawbacks. Thus far they have not received the serious consideration of architects that they should have. Their frail construction makes it necessary each year to shore them up with row on row of braces, which greatly impede the circulation of crowds beneath, at a time when the uninterrupted space is most seriously needed, and give the stranger the impression the buildings of which they are part, are unsafe.

They obstruct light and some architects have essayed to reduce them to mere suspended awnings at impost heigh, with transoms of prism glass above, but to those who recall the old days, when cafes made hanging gardens of them and spread their delicacies al fresco as on a Parisian boulevard, it would seem that the proper regulation as to height and strength to carry any carnival load, without obstructing the sidewalk, the veranda might be retained upon Canal and other broad streets of the business section, and given architectural effect as that of the Madison Square Garden of New York, but the veranda should be banished altogether from the narrow streets and residential avenues, where every impulse should be for light and air and freedom from unsightly objects, which impair the vista. As these verandas are an encroachment on the public domain, and are only permitted on sufferance, the city would be justified in refusing to issue permits for them altogether on neutral ground boulevards and in the business section, when their construction will require obstructive bracing to carry a crowd. The money spent year afer year for bracing these galleries would pay many times over for members of larger size in their original construction." [unknown author, p. 12]

Addendum: The Times-Picayune reported that a French Quarter balcony collapsed on Friday, 18 March 2011. See Chris Granger's photos here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Architect's Drawings for Sale 1881

As reported by The Daily Picayune 12 November 1881:

"Special Notice to Architects and Builders. -- For sale at the office of Howard and Thiberge. No. 13 Commercial Place, a valuable Architectural Library Black Walnut Book Case; also a large Black Walnut Chest of Drawers, containing 578 Architectural Drawings. Original Designs. Plans. Elevations, and Sections with Preliminary Studies, Rough Sketches, Tracings, Specifications, and several selected Plates of American Architect and Building News, all belonging to the undersigned, who will state terms and give all other particulars at his room. No. 8 Hotel Dieu. HENRY HOWARD, Architect."

Henry Howard, the Irish-born architect noted for designing the Cyprien Dufour Residence (1707 Esplanade Avenue) and the First Presbyterian Church on Lafayette Square (destroyed by the Great Hurricane of 1915), died in November 1884 after a prolonged illness.


Reported by The Daily Picayune 3 June 1913:

"Joseph Thompson Kendall, an old Confederate soldier and builder of Carnival floats, died peacefully at the Soldiers' Home last night at 9:20 o'clock, after an illness of several weeks. A native of Grand Well, Miss., the deceased lived in the city practically all his life, and was noted for his skill as a builder, his work in that line and in the construction of Carnival floats having attracted wide attention. His first attempt at float building was several years ago, when the Phunny Phorty Phellows turned out, when he was said to have constructed all the floats in that parade."