Thursday, May 19, 2011

Selling Braithwaite

In 1927, the Braithwaite Land and Liquidation Company commissioned surveyor D.G.W. Ricketts to map Braithwaite Plantation -- formerly Orange Grove -- and its newly subdivided tracts in Plaquemines Parish Township 13 & 14 South / Ranges 12 & 13 East. The E-Z Opener Bag Company, United Railway & Trading Company, and the Orange Grove Refining Company purchased properties here.

Ricketts, Seghers & Dibdin, Civil Engineers & Surveyors published the requisite map, including its inset "Key Map Showing Braithwaite, La. and its locations with reference to the City of New Orleans and Rail & Water Facilities as well as accessibility to chief national centers of population" 13 March 1931. Not only was proximity to other industries emphasized, but so too were express services and the region's average annual temperature, rainfall and humidity.

Image above: Guy Seghers Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Detail of Map of Braithwaite Plantation formerly Orange Grove Plantation (New Orleans: 1931).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

House Numbering New Orleans

In the early nineteenth century, the city of New Orleans codified its system of numbering houses:

ART. 1. The numbering of houses in the city of New-Orleans and its suburbs shall be established by one series of numbers for each and every street, and for this purpose the front part of each square, road, or alley, shall be divided in sections of twenty feet, if practicable, or in sections of nineteen or thirty feet, the one or the other, as circumstances or conveniency may require. Each of these sections shall bear one number. The corner, lots, or houses shall be subject to the same division on the fronts of both streets.

ART. 2. Each series of numbers shall be formed of even numbers for the right side of the street, and of odd numbers for the left side, excepting such of the streets as may have a row house on only one side, for which the natural order of numbers shall be followed.

ART. 3. The right side of the street shall be determined in the streets perpendicular to the river Mississippi, by the right of a person going down from the river towards the back part of the city, and in the streets parallel to the river, by the right of a person going down from Canal street in the direction of the current of the river; and by the right side of a person going up from Canal street in a direction contrary to the current of the river.

ART. 4. The inscription of numbers shall be made on tin or iron plates of an oval form, and of suitable proportions, painted in black oil color. The numbers shall be written in Arabic figures of at least three inches in length, painted with white lead ground in oil. The plates shall be well varnished so as not to be injured by the rain or dampness.

ART. 5. The numbers shall be placed above the main door of each house whenever it can be done, and in case of any obstacle, the numbers shall be placed on the right side of the door, and at least ten feet above the soil.

ART. 13. The City Surveyor is hereby required to superintend the said numbering; and when let out by contract, the undertaker shall affix no number without the presence and consent of said Surveyor; and in proportion as each house or lot shall be numbered conformably to the above provisions, the undertaker shall have the right to demand from each proprietor or tenant the payment of the amount to him due by reason of said work.

If you want to read more early city ordinances, including those that dictated building materials, paving guidelines, slaughterhouse and market restrictions, consult: A general digest of the ordinances and resolutions of the corporation of New-Orleans. Made by order of the City council, by their secretary, D. Augustin. New Orleans: 1831. Multiple copies of the publication are available in Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Surveyors' Plea

In the summer of 1948, New Orleans surveyor Guy Seghers entered a plea (and endorsement) to the city:

"There has never been a complete survey of this city nor has this vast area a single legal monument; thus the differences in opinion among surveyors as to street lines. The basis of all surveys consists of maps compiled prior to the War Between the States. Present-day precise instruments disclose shortages or surpluses over these old maps as well as angular differences.

Surveying requires considerable knowledge of mathematics, city and state laws and ordinances, local custom and history, plus an abundance of horse sense.

Surveying, like other professions and trades, often differs in opinion and procedure, but there exist surveyors whose knowledge of their business is tops, and who are called upon by courts and corporations as experts, in untangling the mess caused by the inexpert 'tape-man.'

The trouble the reputable surveyor finds is that an owner will agree to pay for title examination, notarial acts, title insurance, real estate costs, etc., but generally tries to avoid paying for the smallest fee of them all for the most important item--a survey. Owners will grudgingly shop like a housewife buying a can of peas, and when the owner gets what he pays for he squawks.

The solution of this problem is not a question of making bond, but of a good city survey, well monumented, thus eliminating all differences that will continuously arise with conditions as they are.

In the meantime, if I were in need of a surgical operation, I would not shop around for the doctor quoting the lowest fee, but go to a well-established specialist."

Guy J. Seghers, Letter to the Editor, The Times Picayune (June 2 1948): p. 12.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Huddling Place

In recognition of the British Library's new exhibition Out of this World, The Guardian recently asked science fiction writers to reminisce about their favorite novels or authors. Science fiction historian John Clute chose Clifford Simak's 1952 novel, The City:

"We know better now, of course. But they still entrance us, the old page-turners from the glory days of American SF, half a century or so ago, when the world was full of futures we were never going to have. In the mid-1940s, when he began to publish the episodes that would be assembled as City in 1952, Clifford Simak, a Minneapolis-based journalist and author, could still carry us away with the dream that cars and pollution and even the great cities of the world – "Huddling Place", the title of one of these tales, is his own derisory term for them – would soon be brushed off the map by Progress, leaving nothing behind but tasteful exurbs filled with middle-class nuclear families living the good life, with fishing streams and greenswards sheltering each home from the stormy blast.

Fortunately, Simak soon gets past this demented vision of a near-future world saved by technological fixes, a dementia common then to SF writers and gurus and politicians alike, and launches into an astonishingly eventful narrative of the next 10,000 years as seen through the eyes of one family and the immortal robot Jenkins, and all told with a weird pastoral serenity that for a kid like me seemed near to godlike. In its course City touches on almost everything dear to 1940s SF, and to me remembering. Robots. Genetic Engineering. Space. Jupiter. Domed cities. Keeps. Hiveminds. Matter transmission. Telepathy. Parallel worlds. Paranormal empathy. Mutants. Supermen. It's all there, and, thanks to Simak's skilled hand at the wheel, it's all in place: suave, sibylline, swift. The whole is framed as a series of legends told by the uplifted Dogs who have replaced the human race, now gone for ever. They have been bred not to kill. At the end, only Jenkins remains to keep them from learning how to repeat history and die.

It all seemed immensely sad and wise then, but fun. It still does."

Read more favorites here.

China Miéville's recent The City & The City (2010) is another great one, which Margaret Atwood has referred to as "an intricately detailed metaphor for how we live today – ignoring what is right there in front of us but 'invisible' because we choose not to see it."