Friday, June 26, 2015

Steel Cells

In 1891, the E.T. Barnum Iron & Wire Works Company of Detroit, Michigan published its new general catalogue. Barnum specialized in fire escapes, jail cages, canopies, and elevator enclosures. Its headquarters was capped by an enormous railing and weather vane (above).
Over the company's long history, Eugene Barnum steered his enterprise from a small ornamental iron works to become one of the world's largest operations. His steel lattice jail cages were especially popular. One is still extant, on display in East Central Cowley County (Kansas). Another was enigmatically repurposed in Middletown, New York.
These were available in many different configurations, stacked or single-tiered. The cells were generally 4.5-5 feet wide, 6.5 feet deep, and 6.5 feet high. Each had its own iron corner commode, usually located below a retractable bunk.
Barnum utilized direct mail catalogs and magazine advertisements as promotional tools. By 1924, his company could boast jail shipments to 45 states. His cages were especially popular in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. For a complete listing of municipal clients by state, click here. Do you have one in your neighborhood?

Images above:

Top: Detroit in History and Commerce. Detroit, MI: Rogers & Thorpe, 1891. This image was also utilized in the company's 1891 trade catalog, now available via the Internet Archive's Building Technology Heritage Library.

Remaining:  E.T. Barnum Iron and Wire Works. Catalogue No. 650: General Catalogue. Detroit, MI: The Company, 1924. Courtesy Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. A digitized copy is available via the Internet Archive's Building Technology Heritage Library.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Louisiana Penal Labor (1930)

In 1930, Transmissions, a New Orleans journal devoted to "the interests of motor transportation" honed in on the use of prison laborers to make highway signage. With the photograph shown above, its editors championed Governor Huey Long's efforts to expand the state's infrastructure without increasing taxes. They captioned the image "Convicts Making Road Signs Reduces Costs." A small guard station and two fencing perimeters can be seen in the distance of the signage yard.

Image above: "Convicts Making Road Signs Reduces Costs." Transmission: A Journal Devoted to the Interests of Motor Transportation and Police Jury Affairs 3:2-3 (February-March 1930). Courtesy Louisiana Research Collection, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Current call number is 976.3 (388.105) L891

Friday, June 19, 2015

New Orleans Public Health (1859)

In the summer of 1859, The Daily Picayune suggested improving the City's public health by raising structures above the ground and covering the earth with concrete or brick:

"Much improvement in the health of New Orleans doubtless might be accomplished by greater attention to the condition of the earth beneath the buildings which are erected. For many years, at least, the cheaply constructed tenant houses have been erected without any attempt to prevent the possibility of pools of water standing most of the season beneath the floors. Even in the heart of the city the floors of the most expensive warehouses and stores are laid within a few inches of the soil, preventing the possibility of any ventilation, and establishing immediately the process of decay.

"A soil which constantly is saturated with water, or which is loose and spongy, containing much inorganic matter is much less favorable to health than that which is dry, porous or gravelly. The former, made under the heat of a torrid sun, will constantly emit exhalations of a noxious character, and it should be the subject of architects to neutralize or obviate, by the manner of building, the natural moisture of such localities.

"This is the nature of the soil of New Orleans, and the general flatness of the surface of the ground on which it is built increases the danger and the necessity of measures to remove it. When good drainage cannot be effected, the earth beneath all edifices built here should not only be raised above the general level, but it should be entirely covered with solid concrete. This alone will prevent constant exhalations in the summer time of impure air, and a speedy decay of the wood in the neighborhood of the foundation. How much a change in the old mode of building would improve public health those alone can fully appreciate who have visited habitations whose lower floors rest on the earth beneath even the present level of the streets. The mouldiness of the walls, the damp, sickly odor which pervades them, and the impossibility of cleanliness, will instantly be perceived. Yet whole streets are constructed with this entire disregard of all sanitary ideas.

"We are so glad to see some indication of the recognition of the necessity of elevating the floors of our edifices, and preparing solid impermeable foundations. The splendid commercial temples lately erected on Carondelet Street, and the later structures on Camp, as well as many others in different quarters of the city, are at least two feet above the level of the sidewalk, while the whole area over which they have been built, has been covered with brick and grouted.

"The most cursory examination of these buildings will show how much more attractive, as places of business, they are than those whose floors are embedded in the earth. It is also true that much less damage will result to goods of a perishable nature in our climate in the former than in the latter class of buildings.

"It is the true policy, then, not only as a means of improving public health, but enhancing the value of improved property to adopt the later style of building, of which we have cited several examples.

"This change in the mode of buildings is so important that we cannot but regard it worthy of some legislation on the part of the Council. Certainly it is quite as necessary to regard what concerns the health of the city as that which has reference to the lines of the streets."

Excerpt from:

"Improvement in Building."  The Daily Picayune 20 August 1859. As viewed in ProQuest Civil War Era Database.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Colori e disegni

 We recently acquired a large number of color-related publications for the Southeastern Architectural Archive's Architectural Trade Catalogs collection. Many of these were printed in the early twentieth century, and pertain to exterior and interior paint, flooring and millwork. For those interested in matching historic palettes, these brochures and catalogs may provide  selection criteria. For example, the Aladdin Company's 1916 catalog offered the color choices indicated above.
We have noticed a number of Aladdin designs in greater New Orleans. The Lamberton model, shown above, can be found on both Audubon Boulevard and Pritchard Place.

Images above:  Aladdin Company. Aladdin Homes. Catalog No. 28. Bay City, MI: The Company, 1916. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

International Archives Day!

Happy International Archives Day!!

If you want to see representative images from hundreds of archives worldwide, click here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy Home (1923)

Architect-builder Edwin L. Markel (1888-1956) completed a new residence for his family in 1923 and invited the public to visit his "Happy Home." Located at 4416 South Galvez Street, the house featured Celotex insulating lumber as an interior plaster base and as a sheathing under the exterior stucco and brick. Markel selected Celotex after visiting J.W. Thompson's Building Material exhibit (shown below) in the Weis Building (830 Common Street).
In November 1922, realtor Meyer Eiseman announced that Louisiana would soon boast the only town in the world to be built of bagasse. Located on the former Ames Farms tract, the celotex houses were intended to lodge plant workers after the company invested $1,000,000 in the West Bank riverfront property.(1)

The Celotex Corporation recognized the model home as an effective marketing device. It hired New York architects Henry Otis Chapman, Jr. (1898-1967) and Harold W. Beder (1876-1967) to design its demonstration house (shown below) for the 1939 New York World's Fair's "Town of Tomorrow".
Claiming Celotex products to be completely termite- and dry rot-resistant, the company published brochures and souvenir books for fair-goers. Savings and Loan Day was held on September 30, and the Celotex House hosted hundreds of association delegates who came to view the structure and its grounds.
After the Second World War, Celotex heavily promoted its ominous-sounding product, "Cemesto."(2) Precision-Cut Homes was a local builder that established a fireproof concrete block industrial plant mobilized for Cemesto prefabricated construction. It launched its model homes first in Jefferson Parish, at Cross and Second Streets.(3) The company could supply homes to qualified veterans for a mere $5,500 and offered dealer franchises to those located within a 300-mile radius. Precision-Cut was a short-lived venture: its 2500 Calliope Street plant was advertised for sale in August 1947.

(1)"Builders to Use Cane Pulp Board." The Times-Picayune 7 November 1922. Cambridge landscape architect John Nolen planned the Celotex "Farm City" of Clewiston, Florida for the company (1923-24).

(2)Celotex had launched Cemesto-Board in 1931.For more on Cemesto, see Jack Breihan, "Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company." DOCOMOMO_US Newsletter (Summer 2008): p. 7. URL:

(3)"New Plant for Pre-Fab Houses." The Times-Picayune 19 May 1946.

Images above:  Top:  "Celotex Insulating Lumber." Advertisement. The Times-Picayune 4 February 1923.

Center and Bottom:  The Celotex Corporation. "Thanks for Dropping in to see the Celotex House." Brochure. Chicago: The Company, 1930. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Holly Springs Iron

In 1860, Holly Springs, Mississippi (1858 map detail shown above) began to garner attention in the Gulf South as a source for ornate iron facades. Wallace Scott McElwain (1832-1883) had established a foundry partnership with Wiley Jones and E.G. Barney just one year earlier. The completion of the Mississippi Central Rail Road to New Orleans made direct shipments of iron castings to the Gulf possible.

In March 1860, The Mississippian announced that Jones, McElwain & Company had received a contract "with some citizens of New Orleans" to deliver $65,000 work of iron for a large hotel project.(1) That same month, D.I. Ricardo notarized a $100,000 building contract between Wm. McElvain [sic] and John G. Barelli for William A. Freret's Moresque building.(2) One year later, the company received two contracts for iron store facades located in Square 171 of the First Municipal District.(3) The first, for Hugh W. Montgomery, featured abundant Gothic Revival ornamentation on its Camp and Common Street facades (Camp Street detail shown below).(4)

The second, for Thomas C. Herndon, was based on plans by William A. Freret. This structure was later replaced by Thomas Sully's New Orleans National Bank.
In February 1862, the Confederate States of America acquired the Jones-McElwain foundry. An 1861 War Department map -- digitized by the Library of Congress (detail above) -- is annotated to indicate the strategic locations of Holly Springs and Oxford along the Central Rail Road line.  In November 1862, the Union Army took over the complex and briefly used it for munitions storage until Confederate General Earl Van Dorn's action raid on Holly Springs resulted in its destruction.

(1)"A Large Contract." Mississippian 23 March 1860.

(2)"Building Contract." D.I. Ricardo. 1860, March 5. MOB 77, f. 246 and 46?, as cited in Building Contracts, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers & Drawings, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

(3)"Building Contract." T. Guyol. 1861, 14 March. Vol. 49, No. 148 and "Building Contract." T. Guyol.1861, April 10. Vol. 49, No. 214, as cited in Building Contracts, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers & Drawings, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

(4) It was demolished in the 1950s, when the L-shaped property sold to the Whitney Bank for us as a drive-through.

Images above:

G.W. Colton and Richard Swainson Fisher. Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Inset: Vicinity of New Orleans. New York: 1858. Detail. David Rumsey Map Collection. URL:

Unidentified photographer. 207 Camp Street. Circa 1955. Detail. Visual Materials Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

United States War Department. Map of the Alluvial Region of the Mississippi. 1861. Detail. Civil War Maps, Library of Congress. URL:

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mean Streets

With all the public works projects underway in New Orleans, it seemed like an appropriate time to introduce this undated photograph, labelled "Laying Sewer Pipes on Camp Street."

In the summer of 1906, The Times-Picayune reported on public complaints regarding Camp Street infrastructure projects:

"General Superintendent Earl, of the Sewerage and Water Board, has addressed a communication to Mayor Behrman, giving a full explanation of the condition of Camp Street, near Philip. Superintendent Earl told the Mayor that the condition of the street at that point, concerning which there has been much complaint, is due to the work of the New Orleans Railway Company and not to any work done by the Sewerage Board. The entire explanation of the trouble seems to be that the Railway Company used the gravel on the side of the street where the sewer was built, thus rendering conditions very bad. Mr. Earl says that the Railway Company should have compelled their contractor to furnish the necessary gravel, and that they have failed to do this. He adds, however, that the Railway Company has been most considerate in every way during the construction of the sewer at that point and that therefore he did not desire to be too harsh in his criticism of the manner in which the work had been handled.

"On receipt of the letter of Mr. Earl, Mayor Behrman forwarded copies of all the correspondence to President Foster, of the Railway Company, asking him to take action to remedy the evil at the earliest possible moment."(1)

(1)"Camp Street Complaints." The Times-Picayune 16 August 1906.

Image above:  Unidentified photographer. Laying Sewer Pipes on Camp Street. [The residence shown on the immediate right is located at 3435 Camp, corner Delachaise. ] Undated. "Camp Street." Visual Materials Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.