When Americans first came to New Orleans in the early 1800s they settled in the uptown side of the city across Canal Street from the original city, the French Quarter. It was in this section that they built their homes and business establishments and distinguished their lifestyles from those of the Creoles residing nearby. The name ‘Canal Street” derived from a planned waterway that was to connect the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain but it was never constructed.
Instead Canal Street became the main shopping district of New Orleans. It was long home to grand department stores. The world’s first movie theater, Vitascope Hall, was established on Canal Street in 1896. Canal Street remains the hub of the city’s mass transit system.
Nearby, churches and city government buildings gathered around Lafayette Square, once a grand park for residents and cotton merchants. This is where our walking tour will begin...
bordered by Camp Street and St. Charles Avenue and Maestri Place
First known as Place Gravier, it became Lafayette Square after the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to New Orleans in 1825. Lafayette Square has been the site of inaugurations, yearly pilgrimages by school bands, and jazz concerts for over 150 years. In 1864, famed bandleader Patrick S. Gilmore presented his legendary concert with a 500 plus member band, a choir of thousands of school children, and a bell ringer. The statue of Henry Clay dates to 1856 and Ben Franklin, by Hiram Powers, to 1872.
F. Edward Hebert Federal Building
600 South Maestri Place, south side of Lafayette Square
Designed by architect Howard Lovewell Cheney, the Hebert Federal Building has held offices and a branch of the U.S. Post Office since 1939. It is highlighted by Art Deco decorations, including bas relief figures. The building stands on the site of the majestic First Presbyterian Church that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1915.
southwest corner of St. Charles Avenue and Lafayette Street, west side of Lafayette Square
Established in 1856, excepting during the years of the Civil War, when the president, Colonel George Soule, entered the Confederate Army, Soule College was a highly regarded business college. In 1884, it became co-educational to meet the demands of women for commercial education. When it closed in 1883 it was the oldest business school in the South.
545 St. Charles Avenue, west side of Lafayette Square
This impressive Greek Revival building was the inspiration of James Gallier Sr. Erected between 1845 and 1853, it served as City Hall for just over a century. It is constructed of Tuckahoe marble and features two impressive rows of fluted Ionic columns. The building has been the site of many important events in New Orleans’ history, especially during the Reconstruction and Huey Long eras. Several important figures in Louisiana history lay in state in Gallier Hall, including Jefferson Davis and General Beauregard.
WALK NORTH ON ST. CHARLES AVENUE (Lafayette Park is on your right).
Pan American Life Insurance Building
northeast corner of Poydras Street and St. Charles Avenue
The Pan American Life Insurance Building, 27 stories sheathed in red granite, was completed in 1980.
TURN LEFT ON POYDRAS STREET.
833 Poydras Street
Eminent New Orleans architects Toledano and Woggan designed the Beaux Arts-styled Hotel Denechaud in 1907. The hostelry achieved new heights of elegance and luxury in the city. It featured the first hydraulic elevators in New Orleans and the first basement ever built in the city. Locals and guests alike could marvel at the electric lights. In a heyday of grand hotels, the Denechaud was one of the grandest, hosting the world’s rich and famous. In 1970, new ownership undertook a major restoration of the tired hotel. To complete the renaissance of this living legend it was renamed Le Pavillion.
TURN LEFT ON BARONNE STREET.
533 Baronne Street
This is New Orleans’s oldest theater and opened in 1906 as the Shubert Theater, one of a nationwide chain. Local theater architect, Sam Stone, designed it to meet specifications for legitimate theater. Through the years its name and its playbill have changed several times, offering movies and vaudeville as the Lafayette, burlesque as the Star, and legitimate theater as the Poche and, today, the Civic.
RETURN TO POYDRAS STREET AND TURN LEFT.
First Bank and Trust Tower
909 Poydros Street
The post-modern First Bank and Trust Tower opened in 1987. At 36 stories and 481 feet in height, it is the fifth tallest building in both the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. The exterior of the building is clad in granite and bronze tinted glass.
1100 Poydras Street
The post-modern, 530-feet, 39-story Energy Center was designed by HKS, Inc. in 1984. It is sheathed in granite panels and reflective bronze glass with a tiered crown.
1500 Sugar Bowl Drive
Designed in 1967 by the New Orleans modernist architectural firm of Curtis and Davis, the Superdome is the largest fixed domed structure in the world. Its structural steel frame covers a 13-acre expanse. Its 273-foot tall dome is made of a Lamella multi-ringed frame and has a diameter of 680 feet. The first game was played in the Superdome in 1975.
TURN RIGHT ON LASALLE STREET AND RIGHT ON PERDIDO STREET.
1300 Perdido Street
The current New Orleans City Hall opened in 1958.
TURN LEFT ON LOYOLA AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT ON GRAVIER STREET.
Hibernia Bank Building
812 Gravier Street, at the corner of Carondelet Street
The headquarters of Hibernia National Bank was the tallest building in Louisiana when it was completed in 1921. The white dome that tops the 20-story, 355-foot skyscraper remains a familiar part of the New Orleans skyline - lit up for holidays in bright colors.
TURN LEFT ON CARONDELET STREET.
231 Carondelet Street, corner of Gravier Street
The Cotton Exchange was conceived and financed by a group of cotton merchants in 1871 when fully one-third of the entire production of cotton in America was sent to New Orleans. The Exchange wanted to bring order to what was a highly speculative and often erratic pricing system by providing a centralized trading office where people involved in the business could obtain information about market conditions and prices. As well as trading, the Exchange established standards for classification and facilitated payments between buyers and sellers. The original Cotton Exchange Building was replaced with a new larger one built in 1920-1921.
147 Carondelet Street
The Security Center was built as a Federal Reserve Bank and the vault was originally constructed in the early 20th century to house the U.S. Government’s gold. The walls of the vault are 3 feet of solid concrete, reinforced with hardened steel; the only entrance to the vault is through a 38-ton, multiple combination and keyed steel door. Today it is privately owned and operated.
739 Canal Street at Bourbon Street opposite Carondelet Street
The present Astor Crowne Plaza incorporates the historic Astor Hotel on this site from the turn of the 20th century.
TURN RIGHT ON CANAL STREET.
722 Canal Street
Coleman E. Adler opened a family jewelry shop on Royal Street in the French Quarter in 1898 and the business quickly gained a reputation for excellence throughout the South. The family tradition continues today on Canal Street.
102 St. Charles Avenue at Canal Street
Like Adler’s, Rubenstein’s is another New Orleans institution that has remained family-run through the generations. When Morris Rubenstein set up shop in 1924 the corner storefront was only 11 feet by 14 feet. Soon joined by his brother Elkin, the boys made a living selling shirts, collars and neckties. The business boomed after World War II when the Rubensteins made a deal with Arrow shirts to sell white shirts to returning servicemen. Eventually the store grew from its humble beginnings to seven buildings - five on Canal Street and two on St. Charles Avenue.
605 Canal Street
German-born P.P. Werlein left teaching for music publishing in 1842 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1853, he moved operations to New Orleans, where he established a company called Ashbrand & Werlein at 93 Camp Street and later moved to the center of Canal Street In 1861 Werlein ignored copyright law and published unauthorized sheet music for “Dixie” which stirred great profit and controversy. Both disappeared with the fall of the Confederacy in the Civil War. P. P. Werlein & Halsey reopened in 1865. Philip Werlein’s son, also named Philip, became the new owner. Many years later, the business fell to Philip Werlein, Jr.’s son. In 1940, David Franck bought the Werleins’ publishing business, but the family kept their retail store open in New Orleans as the nation’s oldest family-owned retail music company. Today the Werlein Building is occupied by the Palace Cafe owned and operated by Dickie Brennan, of the famed New Orleans restaurant family.
U.S. Custom House
bounded by Canal, North Peters, Iberville, and Decatur streets
The U.S. Custom House is one of the oldest and most important federal buildings in the southern United States and one of the major works of architecture commissioned by the federal government in the nineteenth century. This monumental granite Greek-and-Egyptian-inspired building was begun in 1848 and completed over a period of 33 years. The grand Marble Hall in the center of the building is one of the finest Greek Revival interiors in the United States
442 Canal Street
This Greek Revival building was given a dressing of modernistic linking gold and silver aluminum panels.
TURN RIGHT ON MAGAZINE STREET.
World Trade Center
(visible at the edge of Mississippi River)
The World Trade Center-New Orleans is a non-profit organization of over 1,600 corporate and individual members which was started in 1943 as International House and in 1945 as International Trade Mart, its two predecessor organizations, which merged in 1985. WTC New Orleans was the first of what are today 336 World Trade Center organizations in 92 countries.
New Orleans Board of Trade
316 Board of Trade Place off Magazine Street
The New Orleans Board Of Trade was founded in 1880, and trading continued on the floor until the 1960s. Centered on the eastern wall of the building are three clocks, which have been in place since the building was erected, giving the times in New Orleans, New York & Rio de Janeiro, which were the major players in the Green Coffee Trading. The eight-sectioned mural done was hand-pained by local artist Alvin Sharpe in 1932. It took him approximately three months to complete. First, the canvas was glued to the dome, and then he painted them while on a scaffold in the prone position -- the local version of Michelangelo. In 1993, the Board of Trade was once again renovated, the floors leveled and carpeted with a permanent dance floor installed. It is now available for special event rentals.
St. James Hotel
330 Magazine Street
During the early 19th century, trade between New Orleans and the West Indies brought thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean, among them was a merchant named Che. In 1833, the Banks Arcade was built to furnish American merchants with a place to trade. Che leased a shop on Magazine Street in the Banks Arcade and became notorious for having insider information on the French merchants. One night in 1851, French merchants set fire to Che’s store. After the flames were out, Che was never found. The news of his death led the highest voodoo priestesses to conduct rituals that would deliver his spirit home to the Caribbean, but this procession was abruptly interrupted. Eight years after Che’s disappearance, in 1859, the Banks Arcade was renovated and the original St. James Hotel was built. From 1861 to 1865, during the Civil War, the hotel became a Union hospital. Today the St. James Hotel is located only blocks from its original location - which is now the Board of Trade Plaza. Its British West Indies theme honors Che, so his legend can live on in the beauty of the island heavens.
TURN RIGHT ON POYDRAS STREET.
Whitney National Bank
southwest corner of Poydras Street and Camp Street
The building was erected in 1870, subsequently burned and was rebuilt by 1910. At that time it was owned by the TimesDemocrat, the New Orleans newspaper that would later become the TimesPicayune. The newspaper sold the building to Metropolitan Bank in the 1920s, which was one of the local institutions Whitney acquired during the Great Depression. Since then, this Poydras and Camp location has grown into one of Whitney’s largest branches, holding over $72 million in deposits when federal regulators conducted their last survey of deposits in June 1999.Since converted to a hotel, one of the bank’s two vaults, located in what is now the lobby, serves as a private dining room for up to eight people.
TURN LEFT ON CAMP STREET.
John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building
600 Camp Street, east side of Lafayette Square
Completed in 1915, this monumental three-story Italian Renaissance Revival building was called “the most important public building of the New South” when it opened. Regional building materials were used throughout, including Mississippi and Louisiana pine, Tennessee and Georgia marble, and Louisiana gum. It is faced in white Cherokee, Georgia, marble atop a gray granite base. The first story is articulated with deeply incised horizontal striations while the marble on the upper stories is cut in smooth ashlar blocks. Round-arch openings dominate the first story. Dramatic colonnades with Ionic columns are on the Camp and Magazine street elevations and support a cornice inscribed with the names of past Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. The building began life as the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse It served as a public high school for three years after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. After an extensive restoration the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals returned to the building as its only tenant. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and has since been featured in several films and television shows. In 1994, the building was renamed to honor John Minor Wisdom, a respected judge who served on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1957 until his death in 1999. Wisdom strongly promoted civil rights and issued landmark decisions that supported school desegregation and voter rights. In 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Eli Lilly and Company
338 Lafayette Street, southeast corner of Camp Street
This factory building features Art Deco flourishes.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET TO COURT PLAZA.
St. Patrick’s Church
724 Camp Street
Among the most revered of New Orleans historic landmarks is Old St. Patrick’s Church, a stunning example of the arts and crafts of another era. Aside from the magnificent Gallier Hall, Old St. Patrick’s is the only early landmark of distinction in the Lafayette Square area that still remains much as it did originally. The church dates to 1840, but the parish was established in 1833, the first outside the boundaries of the original city. The first structure was a small wooden building at the site the church occupies today. The new church, designed by noted architects Charles and James Dakin was of Gothic style in elegant details, with a ceiling imitating Exeter Cathedral. The tower is 185 feet high, the vestibule 40 feet, the nave 85 feet.
RETURN DOWN CAMP STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN LAFAYETTE SQUARE.