Friday, January 30, 2015

Diffusion: Store Fronts

In 1908, the George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Indiana announced the diffusion of its products nationwide. Touting the hundreds of its storefronts on a map of the continental United States and including Bermuda (shown above), Mesker claimed his enterprise was the largest such establishment in the country. It specialized in inexpensive two-story fronts decorated with galvanized iron cornices and pediments and cast iron sills and columns.
Mesker also provided services to architects and employed architects to assist prospective builders. Boasting 104 fronts in Alabama, the company worked with architect L.E. Marley on the Brockton storefront represented above.
For the South, Mesker's products were especially popular in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 178 Mississippi structures featured Mesker iron, including Neff and Owen's storefront in Osyka, shown above  Its general plan No. 7011 (below) was used for the Osyka Bank on Railroad Avenue.

Images:  George L. Mesker & Co.  Store Fronts. Evansville, Indiana: The Company, 1908. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mid-Century Mardi Gras

As we enter Mardi Gras season and as a reminder to history buffs who may not be aware of the Southeastern Architectural Archive's growing number of digital collections, the Cole Coleman Louisiana Photographs includes a large number of historic parade images such as the one reproduced above.

A commercial photographer, Coleman specialized in local subjects developed in series. The collection includes straight photographs and corresponding negatives of visiting celebrities, jazz musicians, notable structures, festival culture, restaurants, wildlife and foreign trade operations.

In 2014, the Tulane University Digital Library digitized over 500 Coleman photographs housed in the Southeastern Architectural Archive. View the Mardi Gras images here.

Image above:  Howard "Cole" Coleman, Mardi Gras on Canal Street. Undated photograph. Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Still Standing

In the previous post, we mentioned the Coliseum Arena, located at 401 North Roman Street. Built in 1922, the structure is now home to Aluminum and Stainless, whose enormous sign is visible from the I-10.

In early 1921, John Dillon, Frankie Edwards and Al Buja fronted a boxing syndicate, Coliseum Incorporated, to develop a site located on the corner of North Roman and Conti Streets. They instructed the architects to eliminate interior posts in order to provide all fans with unobstructed ring views.(1) The Milwaukee Auditorium and Madison Square Garden were considered as models, since Edwards intended the space to serve multiple uses, including public lectures and musical performances.(2)

Construction was delayed by a labor shortage and tornado damage. Builder August Frank, known for his "Times-Picayune Homes" erected the four-story, steel-trussed white brick-sheathed building. Total costs exceeded $100,000. Featuring four entrances and a balcony, the entertainment venue could accommodate 8,500 people. The Times-Picayune reported that the acoustics were so good that a "moderate toned voice" could be heard from the balcony's rear.(3)

The Coliseum Arena (aka Coliseum Auditorium) opened 21 July 1922 when heavyweight Charley Weinert (1895-1969), "the Newark Adonis," sparred with New Orleans native Martin Burke. Joe Louis (1914-1981), "the Bronze Bomber," attracted a large audience in November 1936.

(1)"New Boxing Arena to be Erected by Local Syndicate." The Times-Picayune 30 January 1921.

(2)"New Coliseum Auditorium Soon Will be Completed." The Times Picayune 23 April 1922.

(3)"New Auditorium to be Ready Soon." The Times Picayune 16 July 1922.

Image above:  "The Coliseum." The Times Picayune 22 April 1922.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Shock Period

In early 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. visited New Orleans. He spoke at a number of venues, including the Coliseum Arena (401 North Roman Street) and the New Zion Baptist Church (2319 Third Street, shown above).

On February 1st, he addressed a large audience that filled the Coliseum. Sponsored by the United Clubs, Inc., King's lecture focused on integration and non-violence, and warned of the reappearance of the Ku Klux Klan in the guise of White Citizens Councils.(1)

On Valentine's Day, King proclaimed a "shock period" in the nation's move towards integration. Earlier that day, members of the Southern Negro Leadership Council met at the New Zion Baptist Church to elect King its first president. At that meeting, the group voted to drop the word "Negro" from its name, and drafted a telegram to President Eisenhower requesting that he reconsider his refusal to address southern lawlessness, suggesting that the alternative would be a mass pilgrimage to the nation's capital.  In his public address that evening, King referred to segregation as a cancer, 'slavery covered up with artificial niceties of complexity.' (2)

New Zion had been constructed under the direction of Reverend Abraham Lincoln Davis, Jr., president of the Ideal Missionary Baptist and Educational Association. Architects Nolan, Norman and Nolan designed the modern structure after World War II.

(1)"King Predicts Victory for Integration by 1963." The Times-Picayune 2 February 1957.

(2)"Speak, Negroes Again Urge Ike." The Times-Picayune 15 February 1957.

Image above: Nolan, Norman & Nolan, architects. Front Elevation; New Zion Baptist Church, 2319 Third Street, New Orleans, LA. Job No. 822. Nolan, Norman & Nolan Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Battle of New Orleans Site

Since the National Park Service is celebrating the Bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans this holiday season, we decided to feature some early surveys of the site. These are photostat copies of the original surveys that were collected by Guy Seghers, whose office records are retained by the Southeastern Architectural Archive and the Historic New Orleans Collection. 

Barthélemy Lafon (1769-1820) developed the survey shown above while employed as deputy surveyor under Isaac Briggs (1763-1825). Thomas Jefferson had appointed Briggs "Surveyor of the Lands of the United States, South of the State of Tennessee" in 1803 and one year later Briggs was assigned to develop a post road from Washington to New Orleans. Lafon's survey records the plantation properties of J.M. Pritchard, Mssrs. Prevôt and Chalmette. Signed 13 February 1808, "la 32eme anné de l'Indépendence des Etats-Unis de l'Amérique," the document primarily records Prevôt's landholdings from the Mississippi River to a grove of trees. A drainage canal separates the plantations of Pritchard and Prevôt.
The second survey -- surviving as a fragment -- was signed in New Orleans on the 20th of March 1878. It records the town of Fazendville, then consisting of twenty lots, each measuring 120 feet in depth and sharing a common alley. By this time the area was unified by a levee road and a larger canal (dating to January 1815) was in place.The city and the United States government claimed nearby parcels.

Images above: Photostat copies of surveys. Folder 4, Box 109. "Battle of New Orleans Site, St. Bernard Parish." Guy Seghers Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Men at Work 1927

Over four years ago, we posted a 1903 illustration of the Radford Architectural Company's design department.  For those interested in Architectural Practices in the Age of Manual-Mechanical Reproduction, the following 1927 account may be of interest:

"It is very gratifying to me to observe how the carefully laid plans of procedure in connection with the Jung Hotel project are working out. In order to avoid the customary method of endless erasure and re-drafting on the large scale working drawings, with the consequent liability of making grievous errors by not following the changes through all the affected sheets on various tables and in so many different hands, with the attendant smudging and soiling of the finished sheets and possible necessity of marking new sheets (sometimes nearly completed) which had become torn and frayed and crinkled under such harsh usage, and to prevent the demoralization of the draftsmen under the circumstances of their continual uncertainty, we decided to make complete studies on small scale, and to make all erasures and changes on these preliminary sheets. This method was adhered to with stubborn determination against the temptation to begin the actual working drawings, even though it sometimes seemed that we were hazarding time and delaying constructive progress.

"The result was that a few days ago we had completed accurate, dependable small scale models, with all necessary alterations, erasures and adjustments made and carefully checked; whereupon we started four men to work up the final drawings. They are going full speed ahead upon these, with full confidence that they are headed straight and will not be obliged to rub out and redraft. Their progress is almost unbelievably fast; and as soon as we have settled some further problems, which are being worked out under my guidance, and are now nearly all solved, we will put at least two more men to drafting working drawings; which will, of course, result in a fifty per cent increase in speed.

"Insofar as the drafting portion of the designing operation is concerned, we are very much in the position of one who has already carefully cut and fitted various little oddly shaped pieces of a pattern quilt and who has now only to lay them into their respective places in the pattern and to stitch and bind them all together in the finished article.

"Parallel with this work, the structural steel and concrete designs have been progressing, and the heating, wiring, ventilation, plumbing, refrigerating, and other mechanical equipment systems have been designed and developed, so that these are now advanced to a stage of completion concurrent with the architectural plans. Under the circumstances, I am encouraged to hope that sufficient progress may have been made to justify my beginning the composition of the specifications within two weeks from tonight.

"Three things must be accomplished before I can work upon the specifications:  First, the plans must have been completed to a point where I am able to retire in quiet to work, without being interrupted every few moments with questions to answer, decisions to make, problems to solve, emanating from the drafting room and from the structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering system designers; second, the plans must have been developed to a point where a set of blue prints from the semi-completed sheets may be furnished so as to afford an adequate idea of the nature and scope of the various contract operations that will be involved; and finally, the plans must have been brought to such a stage of detail and notation and dimension as to make it possible for me to check them for errors as I write the description and requirements of workmanship, materials, and methods, because this checking that I do, as as I study the plans, sheet by sheet and operation by operation, is the only minute and intimate check they receive in this vital respect."

Leon Weiss.  Letter to Caroline Dreyfous. 11 August 1927.  The Writings of Leon Weiss, Vol. I. Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roof Gardens

Roulhac Toledano has been researching French and Spanish influences on Louisiana gardens for her forthcoming book with Mary Lou Christovich. She recently mentioned the fact that the flat-roofed dwellings that once proliferated in the Vieux Carré accommodated roof top gardens. Grace Dunn's 1895 New Orleans: The Place and the People featured Frances E. Jones' illustration of two such adjacent houses on Dumaine Street (shown above). Only one of the two flat-roofed structures is extant.
In the early twentieth century, roof gardens were largely associated with hotels. In 1918, the Grunewald Caterers of the Roosevelt Hotel established its roof garden on West End Boulevard. When it opened, the venue was geared towards autoists, with the caterers advertising that they would deliver sodas, ice cream and sandwiches to customers' automobiles. Early motorists could then board the West End-Mandeville ferry for touring wooded areas on the north shore. By 1919, the West End Branch Roof Garden (as it was called) was a popular dining and dancing venue during the hot summer months. The elevated space accommodated refreshing lake breezes. Various New Orleans jazz musicians recollected performing at the "West End Roof," and some of these accounts are now available online through Music Rising.

Architect and early auto enthusiast Leon Weiss was a patron at the West End Roof, where he took his future bride, Caroline Dreyfous. When the Jung Hotel was considering a roof garden in 1927, Weiss accompanied clients Peter Jung, Jr. and Leon Jacobs to the newly constructed Markham Hotel in Gulfport, Mississippi. The Markham -- designed by the Chicago firm of Marshall and Fox -- featured a roof garden, and Jung and Jacobs sought first-hand assurances that the band noise would not prove objectionable to hotel guests desiring sleep. Writing to Caroline in July 1927, Weiss conveyed that he and his clients had dined on the roof, listened to music and watched couples dance, while cooled by Gulf breezes. Jung and Jacobs slept soundly, their fears assuaged.(1)

When Weiss drafted his specifications for the Jung Annex's 16th-story roof garden, he required a terrazzo floor on concrete insulated with two thicknesses of Celotex. The space had a movable skylight, so that whatever the weather conditions, dancers would be able to enjoy themselves. The large arched windows -- modeled after those at Versailles -- were designed to "disappear" during mild weather, providing a plein-aire view of the city. For its grand opening in late November 1928, musicians John Hyman (aka Johnny Wiggs) and Joe Loyocano (amongst others) performed from the mezzanine. Weiss's roof garden scheme was somewhat reminiscent of the one erected on the Pythian Temple. Other nearby venues with roof gardens included the St. Charles Hotel (New Orleans), the Eola Hotel (Natchez), the Bienville Hotel (Mobile), the Grunewald Hotel (New Orleans, below), the Young Men's Gymnastic Club (New Orleans), and the Murdock Restaurant (Galveston).

In 1928, Kansas City architect Alonzo H. Gentry renovated and expanded Joplin, Missouri's Connor Hotel. The Bal Moderne, its remodeled roof garden, could seat 500 and provided a "high-ceilinged" dance floor illuminated through amber-tinted glass.(2)

During World War II, Gretna was home to Nelson's Roof Terrace and Rhumba Room, at the corners of Kepler and Monroe Streets.(3)

In 1901, The Daily Picayune reported on the growing popularity of roof gardens in New York City.(4)  Hoteliers in the Gulf South touted roof gardens as a means to entice tourists during the steamy season.(5)

(1) Leon Weiss. Letter to Caroline Dreyfous.   19 July 1927. Writings of Leon Weiss, Vol. IV. Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

(2)"Lighting System a Big Part of Annex Decoration Plan." Joplin Globe 3 February 1929.

(3)Nelson's Roof Terrace. Advertisement. Jefferson Parish Yearly Review. 1942, p. 144. URL:

(4)"Growing Popularity of Roof Gardens." The Daily Picayune 21 July 1901.

(5)"Hotel Business a Good Barometer." The Times Picayune 1 September 1901.

Images above:  Frances E. Jones. "Spanish Houses on Rue Du Maine." In Samuel Wilson, Jr.'s copy of Grace King's New Orleans: The Place and the People. New York: Macmillan, 1895. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

"The West End Branch Roof Garden." The Times Picayune 23 September 1919.

"The Jung Roof Garden." The Times Picayune 24 November 1928.

"The Grunewald Hotel Roof Garden." The Lumber Trade Journal 58 (15 October 1910).