Friday, October 30, 2015

Spooky NOLA

We hear a lot of ghost stories in the Southeastern Architectural Archive -- from building managers, homeowners, genealogists, electricians, facilities staff, general contractors and shorers. In past years, I presented a Halloween lecture to former Tulane University faculty member Milton Scheuermann, Jr.'s "Architecture and Mysticism" class. Since he retired in June, I decided to post the presentation online.

View the images here.

& if you want to know my favorite SEAA Ghost Story:

Two electricians came into the archive one day to suss out some issues pertaining to a building they were hired to rewire. They needed to examine the SEAA's blueprints.

As they were consulting the drawings, they conveyed that about twenty-five years ago they were working on a CBD skyscraper building (they didn't want to say which one) because the manager was reporting frequent electrical problems.

They ultimately examined a ceiling crawl space.  As they shimmied across the floor, they started to discover artifacts. A shoe.... another shoe.... some pants.... a hat ... the BONES.

Startled, they backed out immediately and called authorities.  They said they never heard a convincing outcome.

The only report that they could find in the local paper described two workmen coming across horse bones in a building.

One electrician remarked, "Horses don't wear pants!"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New SEAA Website

The Southeastern Architectural Archive launched its new website today! It features a smartphone-friendly interface, enhanced search capabilities and links to the archive's expanding digital content.

Check out the site at:

With thanks to Neal Schexnider, Kevin Williams, Candace Maurice, Anthony del Rosario, Phil Suda, Alan Velasquez, Joshua Windham, Lynn Abbott and Alaina Hebert for all the work and feedback!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Segregation Forms

Dillard University architect Moise H. Goldstein (1882-1972) designed the Richard Berthelot Lemann Memorial Park in 1934 (illustration above). The playground was built on city land that had resulted from the overfill of the former Carondelet (Old Basin) Canal. Site clearance and grading took nearly a year to complete.

Touro Infirmary Chief of Staff Dr. I.I. Lemann and his family donated $15,000 for materials and equipment, and federal emergency relief workers (FERA) supplied the labor. Under Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley's administration, the city offered the former canal site extending from Marais Street to North Prieur. Additionally, the city agreed to the Lemann family's stipulation that should the city ever use the site for other purposes, the city would develop a new Richard B. Lemann Memorial Playground elsewhere.

The playground was originally segregated by race, gender and size. From Marais to North Claiborne - the section closest to the Municipal Auditorium - the playground was for white children.  From North Claiborne to Prieur, the playground was for black children.  Each park had its own designated girls and boys areas, and separate areas for small children and big children.

The North Claiborne entrance to each playground section featured memorial iron gates, each with its own plaque. The two playground sections were entirely surrounded by fencing in order to protect the children from "automobile hazards."  Park superintendent Lawrence Di Benedetto proclaimed the fenced enclosure a "new era" in playground design.(1) Since the park's namesake had died in an automobile accident, the safety feature was apropos.

The dedication ceremonies were held on June 16, 1925, with the riverside section celebration at 4:00 pm and the lakeside section following at 5:00 pm. FERA bands performed at both events, although the evening celebration had considerably higher attendance numbers.

To see the gates today, click




(1)Di Benedetto, L. "2 Playgrounds To Be Dedicated." New Orleans States 14 June 1925.

Image above:  "Drawing of Lemann Memorial Playgrounds." The Times-Picayune New Orleans States 30 December 1934.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Monolithic House (1946)

Before there was Lustron, New Orleans entrepreneur Andrew Higgins sought to manufacture a porcelain-coated steel building system. Invented by California architect Maury I. Diggs  and further developed by Higgins' research department, the ferro-enamel product could be utilized to build a house for as little as $3,000. Higgins hoped that he could re-purpose the Michaud plant to manufacture his trademarked Thermo-Namel to meet the nation's demand for affordable post-war housing.

Diggs visited New Orleans in March 1946 to help erect the first Thermonamel structure at Higgins' Industrial Canal site (press photograph above). The prefabricated enameled low carbon iron sheets were set up hollow with a 2.5" cavity that was later filled with Thermo-Con, a cellular concrete insulation that Diggs also invented. Once the Thermo-Con hardened, the building was "cemented" into place. Both Higgins and Diggs referred to the resultant structure as "monolithic."(1)

The completed demonstration house had a flat roof that extended beyond the exterior walls. Diggs designed the small residence and its surrounding garden walls, all comprised of Thermonamel. The material was also used for trim, rounded corners, gutters, shingles and floor tiles. Window openings were ordinary casements sealed in rubber and installed after the Thermo-Con pour. A unique feature was a circular tub, shown in the lower right-hand corner room above.(2)

The Higgins family acquired lots in the new Lake Vista subdivision with the intent to build their own Thermonamel residences. World War II veteran M.J. McLaney hoped to construct a Thermonamel Steak House on Air-Line Highway, and enlisted New Orleans architects Sporl & Maxwell to design an automobile-friendly scheme.

(1)"1st Higgins House Now Being Built." New Orleans States 20 March 1946.

(2) Hartshorn, Richard. "Higgins Building First New House." The Times Picayune 20 March 1946.

Image above:  Unidentified photographer. Going Up. Press photograph. March 1946. Visual Materials Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

New Orleans at Sea

We have mentioned naval architect George G. Sharp's designs for the Delta Line in a previous post. The Southeastern Architectural Archive recently acquired Delta's Information and Rate Schedule No. 10 (1956).
The brochure includes Scottish interior designer John Heaney's room arrangements for the Del Norte, Del Sud and Del Mar  (shown above). Passenger staterooms were commodious, and the promenade deck included wedge-shaped variants. Passengers stored clothing and other personal belongings in lockers, but Delta advised that ships in port of call would have many visitors on board, and thus recommended storing valuables with the bursar. For those interested in making new purchases, Maison Blanche department store maintained shops on all three ships.

The air-conditioned "Dels" sailed from New Orleans with stops in Rio de Janiero, Santos, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. The line served southern cuisine in its dining rooms and allowed passengers to develop their own entertainment activities. Cruise directors also orchestrated elaborate festivals, including two-day "Neptune Parties":

"On the eve of crossing the equator, the ship is boarded by Davy Jones, scribe of the Royal Court of King Neptune, accompanied by the royal prosecutor and defense attorney. The initiates who have never before crossed the equator are charged with all manner of crimes.

"On the day of crossing, King Neptune comes aboard to hold court, pass sentence upon the initiates and carry out the royal punishment. King Neptune and his Royal Court are selected from those passengers who have previously crossed the equator. The initiates are awarded a handsome certificate, signed by Davy Jones."(1)

When docked at New Orleans' Poydras Street wharf, the boats became entertainment venues for such groups as the National Coffee Association and the Associated Press Managing Editors' Association. Fashion and jewelry shows, international trade events and awards celebrations became quite popular on the Dels.

(1)"Planned Recreation Keynotes Delta Luxury Line Voyages." The Times-Picayune 4 November 1949.

Images above:  George G. Sharp, architect; John Heaney, interior designer. "Main Deck" and "Promenade Deck." from Delta Line  Information and Rate Schedule. South America-West Africa. No. 10. New Orleans?: Delta Lines, 1956. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Economy of Space (1898)

"Underground Demands on the Streets" 

"Heretofore all the life of New Orleans has been above ground. Nothing was buried, except the foundations of the houses. Not even the dead are put under the earth.

"Now, however, when it has been realized that much that conduces to the advancement of human comfort in cities must be buried in the earth, because in the streets there is not room enough above ground, problems come up for solutions that have not been properly considered here, although they have been fully solved in other cities.

"This matter has suddenly been forced upon the attention of the people of this city by the laying of conduits for electric wires and by the impending requirements of the drainage and sewer systems. Ordinarily in cities draining and sewering are accomplished by one process. The surface or storm water finds its way into the underground sewers and is carried off with the other contents of the sewer pipes and tunnels. Here, because the city stands in a basin, over the sides of which all fluid matters must be lifted, there can be, therefore, no gravity sewerage or drainage.

"It is held that the sewerage and storm water must be carried off by different routes, and any project to force them to move together has been heretofore opposed by the Drainage Board. But now that it is proposed to bring the sewerage to a great extent under control of the Drainage Commission, it is not easy to see why there should be any insurmountable obstacle to connecting them both. It even seems that in many ways such a combination would be advantageous. If the storm water were to be carried wholly in open canals, that would forbid the charging of that water with feculent matters; but since the canals are to be covered, and since the ultimate destination of their contents could be made the Mississippi River, instead of Lake Borgne, the drainage and sewerage systems could most economically be combined; and since the drainage system is in the incipiency of construction, and the sewerage works have not been commenced, there would be no serious difficulty in so altering the plans as to combine them, and deliver all the outflow into the river at some point below the city.

"These suggestions are worth consideration under existing conditions and prospects, upon grounds of pecuniary economy and convenience, and they have some relation to the amelioration of the conditions that are now troubling the city as to the occupation of the streets by innumerable public and private pipes, conduits, drainways and sewer tunnels.

"The City Council, in giving underground privileges to various private corporations, acted with undue improvidence and prodigality, the result of inexperience and lack of forethought. Various electric companies which have been ordered to put their wires underground are proceeding to do so without apparent regard for any other consideration than each naturally has for its own interests.

"When it is reflected that there are perhaps, a half-dozen such companies that need space for its conduits, and that there are already the water and gas pipes, and that the drainways and sewer tunnels are to have room, it is seen that from the way things are being done that there are few streets in this city that will contain them. It is plain that the most exact economy in disposing of the space available will be required to secure any accommodation for all the uses that must be provided for.

"It will, therefore, be impossible for each and every company requiring space below the street pavements to get it if each is allowed to dig at its own sweet will. All the electric conduits ought to be packed together as densely as possible, so that they may be able to use the same manholes. Even in the widest streets this ought to be done, otherwise the city will not be able to find room for its drain and sewer arrangements. If the city does not take hold of this problem and solve it now, the trouble it will inflict will increase enormously with every day of delay.

"Any person who is acquainted with the underground arrangements of other large cities where drainage, sewerage, water, gas, steam and electricity are carried beneath the streets, has realized that economy of space for each, so that room for all may be attained, has been the subject of the most careful study, resulting in the development of every ingenious and approved device. The forcing together of all the electric conduits, and the combining into one of the drainage and sewerage systems, will go far towards securing the required space for all important needs."

From:  The Daily Picayune 11 December 1898.

Image above: Bored Cypress Log. 64.5" Length; 13" Diameter. Architectural Fragments and Artifacts -- Collection 112. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Photograph by K. Williams 6 October 2015.