p685 Chapter XLIII
Hotel Life in New Orleans
For many years before the Civil war the social life of New Orleans revolved around its great hotels to a degree greater than was the case, probably, ')" onMouseOut="nd();">in any other American city. The first hotel of which there is record in New Orleans was the Hotel d'Orleans, built in 1799, by Samuel Moore. It had a long and eventful history, and was finally demolished in 1907. It was succeeded by the Hotel des Etrangers, erected in 1812, and by the Hotel Tremoulet, of which the architect, Latrobe, has left us some picturesque impressions, in his diary. It was at the Hotel des Etrangers that Lafayette was lodged during his visit to New Orleans, in 1825. Here also Napoleon's physician, ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Antommarchi, stayed during his short sojourn in the city, in 1834. At the corner of Chartres and St. Peter streets still stands a building which, in the early part of the nineteenth century, was famous as a hotel and restaurant under the name of "Le Veau qui Tete."a To the same epoch belonged the Hotel de la Marine, which stood in the vicinity of the French Market, near St. Philip Street. These were, however, small establishments, though sufficient for the accommodation of the travelers who passed through the city in that primitive day; it was not till about 1830, during the "flush times," when New Orleans expanded in every direction, and grew rapidly in wealth and power, that the first of its great hotels came into existence.
These were the Hotel Royal and the St. Charles. Both of these splendid buildings owed their existence to banking companies chartered by the Legislature, in that epoch of highly speculative enterprise, when most of the solid improvements made in the city were involved in banking schemes of a more or less insecure kind. In return for the public improvements which these banks undertook to make, they secured the right to issue money. This policy had on the surface a double advantage — it built up the city rapidly, and it greatly increased its banking capital. At one time this capital aggregated $40,000,000, when New York could not boast of half as much. As a matter of fact, this fevered development resulted in great financial disaster; which was reflected in the history of many of the enterprises sponsored by these companies, notably in the case of the Improvements Bank, which erected the St. Louis Hotel. The Exchange Bank, which built the St. Charles, fared better. These hotels were erected about the same time, and were due to the spirit of rivalry which then existed between the Vieux Carré, occupied principally by Creoles, and the Faubourg Ste. Marie, or First Municipality, the people of which were almost exclusively Americans. The St. Charles was the first large building erected above Canal Street. From the day when its foundations were laid down to the close of the century, when its supremacy was successfully attacked by the construction of other large and luxurious hostelries, it was the representative building of New Orleans. It shared the fortunes of the city, good and bad; it prospered when it prospered, it suffered when it suffered. Within its walls half the business of the city was transacted over a period of fifty p686years; and there for a still longer time half the history of the State of Louisiana was written.
The first St. Charles Hotel was designed by Dakin & Gallier, the firm of architects who drew the plans for many other important buildings in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana, notably the present City Hall, the old French Opera House, and the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. The cost was nearly $800,000. That was a far larger sum than now. It was completed early in 1837. It was opened on Washington's Birthday, with a ball at which the Washington Guards, the "crack" military organization of the city, were hosts, under the command of Capt. C. F. Hozey, sheriff of Orleans Parish. Its success was great, although the first managers, Floyd & McDonald, failed. It is not clear what brought about their disaster. But they were soon succeeded by Mudge & Watrous, under whose management the hotel entered upon a long and spectacular career. The senior partner was E. R. Mudge. He sold out in 1845 to his brother, S. H. Mudge — "colonel," after the genial fashion of those days — who subsequently took into partnership a man named Wilson, previously connected with the establishment as clerk, and these two, together, continued its success down to the fire of 1851, which burned the great building to the ground.
It was a great building. "Set the St. Charles down in St. Petersburg," exclaimed Oakey Hall, in the later '40s, "and you would think it a palace; in Boston, and ten to one you would christen it a college; in London, and it would marvellously remind you of an exchange; in New Orleans, it is all three." Hall, who later became mayor of New York, and had enjoyed every opportunity to see and study the great public buildings of the world, was unable to contain his surprise at coming down to the youthful City of New Orleans — for the First District was just beginning to blossom out into metropolitan proportions — and finding there something far grander than anything New York could boast of. Nor Hall alone. Lady Wortley, an Englishwoman who had trotted about the globe, and who wrote a book about her impressions of America,b has left on record her verdict, that the St. Charles was a superb edifice, very similar to St. Peter's at Rome, with its "immense dome and Corinthian portico," the finest piece of architecture she had seen anywhere in the New World.
It must be remembered that this was before the United States became the hotel building and hotel dwelling nation that ')" onMouseOut="nd();">it subsequently became. In that time there were no Commodore nor Blackstone hotels, nor even a Palmer House nor Pacific Hotel. Visitors to the country had to content themselves with very ordinary inns, or depend upon the hospitality of private persons. The St. Charles was the first of the great American hotels, and it won for the city the reputation of being the most enterprising, as it was already credited with being the most aristocratic and possibly the wealthiest city in the country. It had a magical effect upon the quarter of the city in which it stood. It rapidly built up the First District. Around it, as a center, gathered the traffic and the trade of the city. Churches sprang up near it; stores and dwellings spread out in every direction. St. Charles Street, which did not extend far above the hotel, was at that time the gayest and most animated thoroughfare in the United States, and possibly in the world. Between Lafayette and Canal streets it exhibited an almost continuous line of bar-rooms and restaurants — forty-five of the former, as a contemporary chronicle p687informs us; and thus earned for the city the name of "The Boarding House of the United States." It was a jest that had much of earnest, that nothing but a bar-room or an eating-house could flourish in that vicinity. It is said that one venturesome business-man did locate a "literary exchange" there, but by the end of the year, added a 60-foot bar, at which there were probably more patrons than in the reading room. Hotel life in New Orleans was in these brilliant years something unique. The tincture of Bohemianism and adventure made it exceedingly attractive to an excitement-loving country. There was a large floating population, especially in the First District. Many were attracted to the wonderfully prosperous city as a place in which to make a fortune rapidly. Here they remained six months or less at a time, and then fled northward or to Europe for rest and recuperation, before returning for the winter's strenuous labors. This was the element to which the hotels and restaurants catered. It was the custom to lodge at the hotels, but to eat at one or another of the countless restaurants which lined the thoroughfares opening into Canal; for St. Charles, while the chief center, was not the only street which boasted its long line of attractive eating-houses. Day boarders, too, were numerous at the hotels. It is said that several hundred outsiders dined every day at the St. Charles.
In addition to the St. Charles, the great hotels of the city included the Verandah and the St. Louis. To a later period belonged the City Hotel, which stood on the corner of Camp and Common, where Baldwin's hardware store was subsequently erected. The Verandah occupied a fine location diagonally opposite to the St. Charles, on the corner of St. Charles and Common. It was erected soon after its more famous neighbor, and cost $300,000. For a time it served as a sort of annex to the St. Charles. It was designed by its proprietor, R. O. Pritchard, as a family hotel. It was completed in May, 1838. It received its name from the fact that it was furnished on the outside with a balcony which projected over the sidewalk, and was a delightful place of resort for the guest, at the same time that it protected pedestrians from sunshine and rain as they hurried to and fro along the busy streets. The Verandah had its own special attraction. This was the great dining room, said to be the most elaborately decorated apartment of the kind in America at that time. The ceilings and walls were handsomely frescoed by Canova, nephew of the celebrated sculptor of that name. It was also adorned with some fined statuary. In the course of time the Verandah came under the same management as the St. Charles. It was destroyed in the fire of 1850, in which the St. Charles also perished, but it was never rebuilt. Pritchard, who was the first manager of the Verandah, had been interested in the St. Charles, but soon after the completion of that celebrated edifice, quarrelled with the management, and withdrew. He was supported in this action by James H. Caldwell and Thomas Banks, the former the man to whom of all others, the St. Charles owed its existence.
In the life of that day the Verandah was reckoned the cosiest and most home-like of the city's hotels; the St. Charles was the meeting place of the mercantile class, although there, too, the rich planters were apt to congregate; but it was at the St. Louis that the politicians liked to stay when they were in the city. The St. Louis was originally known as the City Exchange. Its building represented the protest of the Creoles against the tendency of the city's population to drift uptown, and such was the prestige of the great hostelry that for a considerable period it p688was at least partially successful in staying this movement. At the head of the enterprise was Pierre Soulé, who ruined himself, financially, in the enterprise. As originally planned, it was a far grander edifice than the St. Charles. It was intended to cover the entire square bounded by Chartres, Royal, Toulouse and St. Louis, and cost $1,500,000 — a sum which, reckoned by the standard of our day, would fall not far short of $4,500,000. In the competition which was instituted for the honor of designing this great edifice, eight designs were submitted, and the winner was J. N. DePouilly. DePouilly was a Frenchman who had settled in New Orleans some years before. His design called for a structure in the Tuscan Doric style, but it was never carried out fully. The materials were brought from France. But the crisis of 1837 intervened; the expensive methods of construction were modified; the size of the building reduced, and when, after three years of labor, the hotel was opened, in the summer of 1838, it occupied only the St. Louis Street side of the square which it was originally intended to cover completely. The first manager was Pierre Maspero. As its original name indicates, the primary object of the City Exchange was to supply a meeting place for business men. The hotel, ball-room, etc., were really secondary, though, of course, important features. The main feature of DePouilly's design was the rotunda in the center of the building. The principal entrance was on St. Louis Street, under a Doric portico of six columns. This gave upon a vestibule •127 feet wide and 40 feet deep, in which, as in the rotunda itself, business was transacted. These places became the assembly place of the city's auctioneers.
The building was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1841. It was immediately rebuilt in the same style at a cost of $600,000. For twenty years thereafter nearly all the important transactions in New Orleans in which the services of an auctioneer were required, took place within its walls. The rotunda was open for business ')" onMouseOut="nd();">purposes only from noon to 3 P.M., but the vestibule was closed only at a late hour of the night and during the early hours of the morning. Surrounding the rotunda in the new building were arcades and galleries, to which the public had free access at all times, except on Sundays, when this part of the building was closed. ')" onMouseOut="nd();">With the erection of individual "exchanges," for the accommodation of special lines of business, the patronage of the St. Louis — as the building became known after the fire — fell off. The rotunda, down to the Civil war, was a favorite place for mass-meetings both of democrats and whigs.
The lower floor of the St. Louis was principally occupied by stores, banks, and business offices. Here, at the intersection of Chartres and St. Louis, was the headquarters of the Improvement Bank, capitalized at $2,000,000, to which the building owed its inception. The ball-room and the apartments connected with them were on the second floor, and access was obtained to them by a second and smaller entrance on St. Louis Street. The principal ball-room was in the part of the building towards Royal Street, but its windows opened into St. Louis Street. The ceiling was very handsomely frescoed, and in its day the great apartment was looked on as one of the most elegant in the country. Later on, this entire suite was divided into bedrooms, and all trace of the former splendor disappeared.
p689 The remainder of the building was fitted up as the hotel. There were accommodations for 200 guests. Many distinguished writers were entertained under its hospitable roof. Maspero, the first manager, was succeeded by a Spaniard named Alvarez, who had as assistant, Joseph Santini. They were followed by James Hewlett, who as proprietor of Hewlett's Exchange had already won a position of importance in the gastronomic history of the city. Under Hewlett the St. Louis reached its meridian of splendor. Then it was that the famous balls were inaugurated which were famous all over the country. Among those which are still recalled is the "bal travesti" of the winter of 1842-3 and that at which Henry Clay was a guest. There were 200 subscribers to the Clay fete, each of them contributing $100. There were 600 guests, and when they assembled at supper, Clay delivered for their benefit what is said to have been the only oration he made in Louisiana. In the famous ball-room, too, were held the sessions of the State Legislature of 1845, when that body adjourned from Jackson, Louisiana, on the ground of the inconvenience of that town, and sought the gaities and dissipations of New Orleans.
For a time the hotel was managed by Hall & Hildreth, and then in 1872 Hiram Cranston undertook to run the place. Cranston was a widely-known hotel man. He had been for years successful at the head of an important hotel in New York City. Nevertheless, at the end of a year, he abandoned his New Orleans enterprise, after making the most disastrous failure in the history of hotel life in this city. E. F. Mioton took charge for one season but failed also.
Down to the Civil war the St. Charles Hotel met with but one reverse. That happened in 1841, when the Exchange Bank, which built it, failed, and the president and the cashier of the company fled to avoid arrest. When the affairs of the bankrupt corporations were liquidated, the hotel passed into the hands of the St. Charles Hotel Company, which has owned it ever since. The fate of the first St. Charles was spectacular in the extreme. At 11 o'clock on the night of January 18, 1851, the upper part of the building was discovered to be in flames. The house was filled at the time. It is said that there were 800 guests there. It was the height of the most prosperous season it had ever known. So crowded was the place that the proprietors had leased the St. Louis Hotel in order to accommodate the overflow from their own establishment. The cause of the fire is unknown. It is supposed to have been caused by a defective chimney; but as some plumbers were at work that afternoon with a furnace and other similar appliances, it is probable that their carelessness was responsible for the disaster. The destruction of the hotel, however, might have been averted in part at least but for the incompetent behavior of the fire department on this occasion. The fire had made great progress before the alarm was given. When the engines arrived they were only partially manned and worked imperfectly. The proprietor and his staff organized an impromptu bucket brigade and did yeoman's service. Their efforts were entirely inadequate to subdue the flames, especially as the fire above the fifth story was quite out of the reach even of the engines. Within a half-hour the front portico fell into the street with a tremendous crash. In its fall it crushed a marble statue of Washington by one of the best contemporary Italian artists, which had been presented to the hotel by John Hagan, and which occupied a prominent position at the main entrance.
p690 The fire did not confine itself to the hotel but spread to several other prominent buildings. It was then that Doctor Clapp's church was consumed. The First Methodist Church shared the same fate. The Pelican House, a small hotel, near Gravier Street, and fourteen other buildings, one of which was situated as remote from the hotel as Hevia (Lafayette) Street, were likewise completely consumed. The loss was estimated at over $1,000,000. The greatest part of the loss was, of course, represented by the hotel. The insurance on this great building was but $105,000. It was actually worth about seven times that sum. But this heavy loss did not daunt the owners. Within two days a decision was reached, and within a few weeks work was begun. Twelve months later the second St. Charles was ready for business.
The new building was of the same style and architecture as its predecessor, but lacked one feature which had excited the admiration of all who had beheld the original edifice. That was the great cupola, second only to that at the capitol at Washington. The architect was a New York man named Rogers, but he left the city before the work was completed, and his place was taken by George Purves, a New Orleans builder. His principal change was the staircase, which in the original design descended directly from the hotel office to the street. In the new building theyº divided and turned back on themselves in a highly elaborate and very attractive fashion. The new hotel was promptly leased by Hildreth & Hall, elaborately fitted up, and from that date to the Civil war shared in the prosperity of the city. In these years — from 1851 to 1861 — the St. Charles was the gathering place of the men who made the history of the South. It was in the famous "Parlor P" that Jefferson Davis and a number of the leading public men of the South held an important conference on their way to the Charleston convention. They decided then upon the course which they were to follow in that fateful meeting — a decision which probably led directly to the great war between the states.
The war found the hotel in a very prosperous condition; it left it bankrupt. In 1862, when the city was occupied by the Federal troops, the manager of the hotel refused to receive General Butler, and the result was that a serious disturbance was narrowly averted. Hildreth was a relative of Mrs. Butler's. He was a man of Northern birth, but had identified himself thoroughly with the South, and was at the time a member of a local military company. Hildreth claimed that he had closed the hotel and for that reason could not entertain the general. The Federal officials, however, easily settled the question. They took possession of the building, opened it themselves, and ran it as an accommodation for the officers of the army. Mrs. Butler occupied the ladies' parlor. She signified her wish to receive the ladies of New Orleans there, but none of them deigned to respond to the invitation, and Mrs. Butler's receptions were limited for the most part to the wives of the army officers and Federal employees. Ultimately, Butler removed his headquarters to the Twiggs mansion, on Prytania street. The hotel was then surrendered to its lessees. They kept the establishment going, but naturally there was left transient business. Travel was not attractive at that troublous epoch.
p691 In 1865, at the close of hostilities, the city was full of returned Confederate soldiers, most of them penniless. The whole population undertook to care for them. The hotels did their share of the work. Both the St. Charles and the City Hotel threw their doors open. They entertained hundreds of ex-soldiers. The books of the former show bills to the amount of $30,000 which were never paid by these brave but impecunious guests. In 1866, however, began that business revival which came to a sudden end in 1868. For those two years the city was full of people. The hotels did a fine business. When the Reconstruction policies led to the installation of a republican government, prosperity came to an end, and it was not till about twenty-five years later that good times came again. In the interval Hildreth retired from the management of the St. Charles. He sold his interests to his partner, Hall, in 1865. In 1869 the hotel was leased to Rivers & Foley, and afterwards to Rivers & Bartels. During the stormy political period from 1868 to 1880 the St. Charles was frequently the scene of important events. In its rotunda men of every variety of political views foregathered. Parlor P became nationally famous for the political conferences held therein. It was occupied by no less than six congressional commissions sent to New Orleans to investigate different phases of the radical regime. There Madison Wells, Jim Anderson, Kellogg, and a host of others made history, testifying before the visitors from Washington. Questions of trade and commerce were also ventilated in Parlor P. Here, too, at a later date, came Rex, the King of the Carnival, and made Parlor P headquarters during the brief space of his annual reign.
In 1878 the St. Charles underwent extensive repairs. When these were done it had accommodations for between 600 and 700 guests. There were 400 bedrooms. The lower floor was occupied by business offices, and there, too, was a bar-room which had a national reputation. On the second floor were two dining rooms, the various parlors and drawing rooms, etc. On occasions of special ceremony the management could parade the famous gold table service, valued at $16,000, the possession of which was one of the things that made the old St. Charles unique.
The Civil war also wrought great changes in the St. Louis hotel. The burning of the hotel in 1841, as has been said, caused the collapse of the Improvements Bank. The property was then sold to the Citizens' Bank, which made many attempts to dispose of it, but invariably had to take it back on a foreclosed mortgage. In 1874 it was sold to the State of Louisiana for $253,000, and for the next eight years was used as the state capitol. During that time it was the meeting-place of the "black and tan" Legislature, for the convenience of which the famous rotunda was floored over at the height of the second story, converting the lower portion into a basement or cellar. In the domed chamber thus created the state senate held its meetings. In 1874 the hotel was the headquarters of the Kellogg government, and was one of the centers of the struggle between the revolting people and the "carpet-bag" government. Again, in 1877, it was the scene of political disorders of the most singular character. When, after four months' tenantcy, Packard withdrew from the building, he left it in a state of terrible dilapidation and filth. Soon afterwards, with the removal of the state capitol from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, caused the building to be closed. In 1884 R. J. Rivers, previously manager of the St. Charles, leased the property from the state, and re-opened it as a hotel. At this time the building was repaired and p692to some extent remodelled, and renamed the Hotel Royal. Rivers abandoned his enterprise seven or eight years later, and nobody cared to follow him in what was obviously a losing venture. Subsequently, the state disposed of the property to J. A. Mercier, but the building remained unoccupied and fell into general disrepair. The rat-proofing campaign which followed the discovery of a few cases of bubonic plague in the city, in 1914, led to an investigation of the old building; it was condemned as a breeder of vermin, and the owners not caring to expend the large sums which would have been necessary to make it safe and sanitary, had it torn down.
The fate of the second St. Charles Hotel was more spectacular. A serious fire in 1876 did extensive damage to the hotel; another on October 3, 1880, when ')" onMouseOut="nd();">damage estimated at $25,000 was done; and finally, on April 28, 1894, the building was entirely consumed. It is rather a remarkable fact that only in the last fire was there any known loss of life. In 1850 several persons were slightly injured. In the last fire, however, four persons perished, and a number were more or less slightly injured. The present building was erected immediately after the fire.
In addition to the St. Charles New Orleans possesses at the present time a number of excellent hotels, of which the most prominent are the Hotel Grunewald, the Hotel de Soto, the Monteleone, the Lafayette, and the Planters'. The Hotel Grunewald was established on Baronne Street, near Canal, in 1893. The present magnificent structure, extending back through the square to University Place, dates from 1908. The DeSoto was opened in the spring of 1906. It is a magnificent building covering an entire square on Baronne and Poydras streets. The Monteleone was established in 1901, on Royal Street, one block below Canal Street. The Lafayette occupies a commanding location overlooking Lafayette Square. It was opened to the public in October, 1916. The Planters' Hotel, formerly known as the Hotel Bruno, is situated on Dauphine Street, corner of Iberville. It was opened in 1906, and the building was renovated and refurnished in 1919.
An important part in the social life of the city is played today by the clubs, of which two, at least, have a history stretching back to a date before the Civil war, and several to a time immediately following the conflict. The Boston Club is the oldest surviving organization of this type. It was formed in 1841 by a coterie of gentlemen devoted to the "game of Boston," a card game in vogue at that time. Of the original members none survive, and only a few of those who were members at the time of the Civil war. The club was incorporated in 1842. Its first quarters were on Royal Street, but after a short residence here, it transferred its household goods to rooms on the south side of Canal Street, adjoining Moreau's restaurant. About this time other games than Boston began to be played in its comfortable card-rooms. During the Civil war the club was closed by order of the Federal authorities, but it was re-opened in 1865, in new quarters on Royal Street. Later on the club took rooms on Carondelet Street, near Canal, and finally occupied its present home on Canal Street, between Carondelet and Baronne. This building is a fine type of the pre-war southern residence. It was built by the famous Dr. W. N. Mercer, when he relinquished his stately mansion on Carondelet Street, where he entertained Henry Clay, during the latter's visit to New Orleans. Mercer was an intimate friend of p693Clay, and it is said was the generous but anonymous benefactor that paid the statesman's debts, in the later years of his life. Among the noted men who have belonged to the Boston Club may be mentioned John R. Grymes, the great lawyer; Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate secretary of state; T. J. Semmes and Gen. "Dick" Taylor. Jefferson Davis likewise frequented the club whenever he was in New Orleans.
The Pickwick Club is the other organization which originated before the Civil war. It was founded in 1857 in a parlor above the famous Gem saloon, which figured so frequently in the annals of the city in Reconstruction days. Its first habitat was on St. Charles Street, near Canal. The first president, A. H. Gladden, entered the Confederate army as commander of the First Confederate Regulars, and was killed at Shiloh. The members made up a purse of $1,000 and contributed it to the support of the families of the soldiers killed in the war, and then virtually disbanded; but the tradition was cherished by such men as the late John Q. A. Fellows, and when peace came again, the club was resuscitated and re-organized. Up to 1881 the quarters of the club were at the corner of Canal and Exchange Alley. There General Hancock was entertained while he was in New Orleans, at a Christmas celebration which is remembered on account of his presence. The club then was domiciled in the mansion now occupied by the Boston Club, and in 1884 it occupied a building specially built for its use at the corner of Canal and Carondelet streets. In 1894 this palatial edifice was burned, and after two or three years of experiment with quarters in the vicinity, first on the opposite corner of Canal and Carondelet, then at No. 4 Carondelet Street, it located at its present quarters on Canal, near Rampart.
The annals of the Pickwick, however, are not exclusively social. It came into existence as a result of an interest in the Carnival. The seven gentlemen who issued the call for the meeting of January 3, 1857, at which the club was organized, were interested in building up a Carnival organization. For many years the Pickwick Club and the Mystic Krewe of Comus were, as far as the public were concerned, one and the same thing. The first pageant was given on February 24, 1857. After the procession "the grotesque masquers repaired to the Gaiety Theater, and made much fun and merriment and enjoyed quizzing their wives and sweethearts to their hearts' content without revealing their identities. At 12 o'clock precisely the captain's whistle blew, and the Krewe marched without lights to No. 57 St. Charles Street, where on the third floor of this store a bounteous repast awaited them, the experiences of the night were told in wine and wit and much enjoyment, until early morning ended the first festival." In 1874 members of the club played a conspicuous part in the attempted overthrow of the radical government. In 1878 the club did much to relieve suffering caused by the great epidemic of yellow fever in that summer. In 1879 the members formed the "Dietetic Association," and distributed beef tea and soup to the needy, and delicacies for the convalescent, from the club windows in Exchange Alley.
The Louisiana Club dates from 1879, and has for many years occupied comfortable quarters on Carondelet Street, near Canal. The Harmony Club, which since 1896 has inhabited a stately marble palace on the corner of St. Charles and Jackson avenues, came into existence in the early '70s, as a result of the merging of two older organizations, the "Deutscher Companie" and the "Young Bachelors' Club," the latter organized about 1856. The Deutscher Companie may be traced back to p6941862 when a meeting attended by young men prominent in Jewish and German circles was held, and at which the suggestion of the formation of the club was made by the late Sol Marks. In April, 1863, the idea took shape, with forty members, Mr. Marks being elected president and M. L. Navra, secretary. The Harmony Club is the leading Jewish social organization of the city. Its first president, Joseph Magner, favored an uptown home, and did, in fact, secure rooms in the vicinity of Delord Street, but subsequently a site on Canal Street was occupied. Then for a time the club was domiciled in the magnificent old Hale residence, on Camp Street, corner of Howard Avenue, where afterward the H. Sophie Newcomb College held its first sessions.
Another important Jewish organization, the objects of which are not exclusively social, is the Young Men's Hebrew Association, which owns a fine building on St. Charles Avenue, at the corner of Clio. This building was erected in 1906, at a cost of $100,000, replacing a smaller structure put up in 1896, which had been destroyed by fire.
The Chess, Checkers and Whist Club came into existence in 1880, as a result of the enthusiasm of C. A. Maurian, C. F. Buck, and J. D. Seguin, all devotees of the "king of games." They founded a small club for the study and cultivation of the game. At first a single room accommodated the members. This was at No. 128 Gravier Street. The membership, however, increased rapidly, and by January, 1881, numbered 150. In the meantime larger quarters had been secured at No. 168 Common Street, and then at No. 170; but in the following year it was found necessary to lease a whole floor of the building at the corner of Common and Varieties Alley. In 1883 it was removed to handsome quarters at the corner of Canal and Baronne, where it remained till 1920, when the present quarters — formerly the Cosmopolitan Hotel — on Bourbon Street were occupied. Fire destroyed the club building in 1890, but it was immediately rebuilt. In 1881 Capt. George H. Mackenzie, the famous chess-player, visited the club, and gave a series of exhibitions. This was the beginning of a delightful custom. Thereafter the celebrated chess-players of all lands have been at various times guests of the club, and have played with its members. Among those who have matched their skill against the membership were Zukertort, Lee, Steinitz, Pillsbury, and Laskar. The greatest of all chess-players, Paul Morphy, who was a native of New Orleans, was a member. Down to his death he frequented the rooms. A fine marble bust of this master, which is one of the treasured possessions of the club, occupies a prominent position in its rooms.
The Young Men's Gymnastic Association is another well-established institution which has a distinctive place in the life of the community. It was formed in 1872 under the name of the Independent Gymnastic Club, but this name was abandoned shortly after organization in favor of the present more accurately descriptive title. Its admirably equipped premises at No. 224 North Rampart Street have been occupied since 1888. Somewhat similar in its general aims is the Southern Yacht Club, the second oldest ')" onMouseOut="nd();">yachting organization in the United States. It was founded in 1849, and since 1879 has occupied quarters at West End, the present luxurious building having been erected a few years ago on the site occupied by an earlier and less elaborate structure. The St. John Rowing Club, which may also be mentioned as having quarters at West End, dates from 1869. The city also boasts of numerous other clubs, some p695interested in athletics, like the Audubon Golf Club, and the Pontchartrain Rowing Club; others, like the Choctaw Club, in politics; some in civic development, like the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs; others of a literary and social character, like the Press Club, and a few for women, like the Catholic Women's Club, the Era Club, etc.
The Round Table Club, however, is unique. In its handsome clubhouse on St. Charles Avenue, overlooking Audubon Park, no game of chance is played for money; it has never had a bar, and its lectures are weekly events which enlist the services of the ablest men in the country and bring out the criticism and comment of experts of every description among the members. This club was organized in 1898 by a little group of professional, literary and artistic men, among them the late Rev. Beverly Warner, Prof. J. H. Dillard, and Horace Fletcher, each man a celebrity in his way. A preliminary meeting at Mr. Fletcher's rooms was followed by a meeting at Doctor Warner's residence on January 3, 1898, "to consider the formation of a club literary, artistic, scientific, etc." To the nucleus of three this meeting added Prof. J. B. Ficklen and Prof. H. B. Orr, then of Tulane University; Prof. Ellsworth Woodward, of Newcomb College; Henry W. Sloan, and P. M. Weltfeldt. At first the club was known as the Fellowcraft Club, but the more alluring and significant name was adopted soon after organization. Doctor Warner was chosen the first president. The other officers were Dr. J. B. Elliott and Dr. Robert Sharp, vice presidents; Porter Parker, secretary, and L. H. Stanton, treasurer. The first home of the club was at No. 1435 Jackson Avenue. The opening of the clubrooms was an interesting event. Mrs. Mollie Moore Davis wrote a poem for the occasion; Miss Grace King sent a letter of congratulation, and there were greetings and contributions from many other literary lights. The weekly lecture is given on Thursday night, from October to June. The roster of lecturers is too long to be given here, but it may be said, in passing, that it includes every noted man who has visited New Orleans in the last twenty years. The list of officers of the club is also noteworthy. Doctor Warner retained the presidency until he resigned to accept a pastorate in Philadelphia. He was succeeded by Professor Ficklen. Other presidents, in their order of election, were: Victor Leovy, J. J. McLoughlin, A. B. Dinwiddie, and Allison Owen. Except for a brief interim during which T. H. Anderson was treasurer, Mr. Stanton has filled that office continually since the foundation of the club. The secretaries have been: Porter Parker, Charles Uhlhorn, J. D. Miller, E. T. Florence, T. J. Anderson, E. L. Symonds, W. H. Symonds, Prof. Pierce Butler. The present building was occupied in 1919.
Of a distinctively literary order is the veteran society which meets once every month in the historic Sala Capitular at the Cabildo. The Louisiana Historical Society was established on January 15, 1836. Its first president was Judge Henry A. Bullard of the Supreme Court. The society soon fell into decay. It was re-organized in June, 1846, a constitution was adopted July 1, 1846, and the celebrated historian, Francois Xavier Martin,c was elected president. He died in December, 1846. The next year the society was incorporated and Judge Bullard was again elected president. A list of the members was published in 1850 and comprises the names of many distinguished Louisianians. The society seems to have prospered for several years.
p696 By Act No. 6 of the Legislative Assembly of 1860, approved January 16, the society became in reality a state institution, inasmuch as the act decreed that "in the event of a dissolution of the Historical Society, all books, maps, records, manuscripts and collections shall revert to the state for the use of the State Library."
In addition to this, many of the original archives and historical documents of the state have been preserved by the society for many years; but the state gives no assistance whatever to the society, not even printing the reports of its proceedings.
Mr. Charles Gayarre, the historian of Louisiana, was elected president of the society in 1860, but the Civil war coming on, the society slumbered until by act of the Legislature, No. 108 of the Extra Session of 1877, approved April 30, a new charter was given it and its domicile was transferred from Baton Rouge, the state ')" onMouseOut="nd();">capital, to New Orleans. Meetings were held but not regularly. Judge Gayarre remained the president until 1888, when he resigned, after holding the office for twenty-eight years. W. W. Howe, formerly a justice of the Supreme Court, was elected president in 1888 and held the office until February, 1894, when Prof. Alcée Fortier, professor of romance languages in Tulane University of Louisiana, whose reputation as a historian was deservedly great, was elected president. He was annually re-elected president unanimously, till his death in 1914, when he was replaced by the present incumbent, Gaspar Cusachs.
The publications of the society, beginning in 1895, have been issued regularly but before that, as far as can be ascertained, but one was officially published, and that was an address of Judge Bullard, published in Volume I of the "Historical Collections " of B. F. French.
As at present conducted, there is at every meeting one or more valuable papers read or addresses made and these are all permanently preserved, and in due course published in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly, a magazine which has been regularly issued since April, 1918, edited by John Dymond, Sr., down to his death in 1922, and since then by Henry P. Dart.d The society has a large collection of historical matter, including copies from the archives in Paris of many volumes of unpublished Louisiana historical material. Most of the historical relics at the Louisiana State Museum are the property of this society, and the collection is constantly being increased by donations and loans, the society not being financially able to make any purchases.
There are in New Orleans two most interesting buildings now used for court purposes, fronting Jackson Square, with the famous St. Louis Cathedral between them. The oldest is the Cabildo, built while Louisiana was a Spanish Province in 1795, and the other the court house, built in 1813. By an ordinance of the City of New Orleans, ratified by the Legislature, these buildings have been perpetually dedicated for museum purposes. The room formerly occupied by the Supreme Court in the same ordinance is dedicated to the use of the Louisiana Historical Society. It was in this room that was effected the final transfer from France to the United States of the Louisiana Territory, December 20, 1803. It is particularly fitting, therefore, that the room should become the living place of the Louisiana Historical Society. In 1903, on the 100th anniversary of this transfer, the society gave a celebration thereof, following as far as possible the original ceremonies, culminating in the signing of a process verbal thereof in this room and a proclamation of p697by the governor of the state from the same balcony where Governor Claiborne addressed the people in 1803.
To particularize the public functions which the society has originated and participated in, for the last fifteen years, would require more space than is here available, but mention may be made of the reception of President William McKinley in 1901, the Charles Gayarré Centennial celebration on December 20, 1905, the historical entertainment to President Taft and his party October 31, 1909, and in connection with the Kentucky Society of Louisiana, the celebration on April 12, 1910, of the fiftieth anniversary of the unveiling of the Henry Clay monument in the City of New Orleans. When the James S. Zacharie Public School was dedicated, the society presented to it a ')" onMouseOut="nd();">picture of Mr. Zacharie, who had been its vice president. When the Beauregard School, named after Louisiana's great general, P. G. T. Beauregard,has just G. T. Beauregard',WIDTH,170)" onMouseOut="nd();">º was opened, a bust of the general, given by Camp Beauregard No. 130, United Sons of Confederate Veterans was presented through the president of the society. It is frequently represented at school dedications, presentations of pictures and other public affairs.
In conjunction with a committee from the Louisiana division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the society requested the state superintendent of education to set apart annually a day in the public schools, to be known as Louisiana Day, when the history of the state should occupy the attention of the pupils, large and small. The suggestion was adopted, the day fixed April 30, being the day of the signing of the treaty of cession from France to the United States, of Louisiana, in 1803, and the day when Louisiana was admitted into the Union in 1812. The society also celebrated worthily the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of Louisiana into the Union, on April 30, 1912.1
The Author's Notes:
1 See the paper by W. O. Hart, read at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, in Iowa City, in 1912.
- Capuchin A Catholic friar.
Text prepared by:
- Jacob Schlenker
- Taylor Thibodeaux
- Michael Horn
- Lasan Ihalekkankanamalage
Smith, Kendall J. History of New Orleans. Vol. 1 an 2. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1922. Archive.Org. Chicago New York, The Lewis Publishing Company. Web. Apr.-May 2015. https://archive.org/details/historyofneworle02kend.