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Favorite Building Friday – Hibernia Bank Building

hibernia-bank
Postcard featuring Hibernia Bank Building.

For our first installment of “Favorite Building Friday”, I’d like to tell you about my absolute favorite building in New Orleans. It is the Hibernia Bank Building, located at 812 Gravier Street in the Central Business District. It opened in late 1921.

The building was designed by Favrot and Livaudais, an architecture firm responsible for many Louisiana landmarks. The overall style of this building is Beaux Arts, sometimes referred to as Italian Renaissance style. This architecture style was used all over the United States in this period and is characterized by the use of classical features to decorate 20th Century buildings. If you look closely, the top of the tower has a triangular pediment, as does many Greek Revival buildings built almost a century earlier. The ground floor has a rusticated look, with soaring arched windows (that I hope you saw on Wednesday’s Instagram post) and Greek Revival pilasters, which are repeated in the upper stories of the building. Italianate design is seen in the use of balustrades along the roofline of the wings.

The most recognizable feature of his building is the cupola, which was designed to resemble a Greek Temple, complete with Corinthian columns. The cupola is not just a beautiful decoration, it has practical uses as well. It was used as a beacon for boats on the Mississippi River.  According to a magazine called Architecture and Building, the original light at the top of the building was the equivalent of 2,000 candles! Also located in this tower was water container that held 20,000 gallons of water in case of fire in the building.

The interior was also completed in the Italian Renaissance Style. Architecture and Building shares this account, “The banking room is finished in black walnut, marble and bronze, the wall designs carried out in Dutch blue and gold. There are twenty-four marble columns, thirty feet high and three feet four inches in diameter. The cages are all in bronze with reproduction of ancient and modern coins, set around the windows.” The bank was equipped with cutting edge security system that used electric lights to alert clerks if the doors to the safe were not shut properly. This system was also chosen to keep the Federal Reserve and National Treasury safe, so it must have been the real deal. These impressive furnishings and state of the art safety measures must have increased confidence in customers who sought to bank here!

There was not an opening or dedication ceremony at this building, but there was an American Flag hoisting ceremony on January 17, 1921. The Times Picayune reported that at this time, this was the tallest point in the city of New Orleans. At a height of 23 stories, the Hibernia Bank would be the tallest building in the city for 44 years, until the World Trade Center was built in 1967. I would have loved to have been around to view the city skyline during this period!

hiberniabank
Hibernia Bank, 2016. Taken by me.

In 2006, Hibernia Bank moved their headquarters to nearby Place St. Charles (Stay tuned to learn more about that building!) and the Hibernia Tower was bought by HRI Properties for $3.5 million. They spent $57.3 converting the upper floors into apartments. In an interview provided to the Times Picayune, HRI’s Vice President of Development, Joshua Collen said, “What we saw was not only a great developing opportunity but a building that is an icon. We knew if it sat vacant it would probably go the direction of blight like a lot of other buildings in the CBD.” Thanks, HRI Properties for saving my favorite building from neglect!

No evening trip to Bourbon Street would be complete without at least a glance at the brightly lit cupola of the Hibernia Bank Building. When I have had enough, I just head in its direction and it guides me home.

 

 

Sources consulted:

Architecture and Building: A Magazine Devoted to Contemporary Architectural Construction. Vol. 54. New York: Comstock, 1922. (Unfortunately the page with the author information was not included in the scanned article.)

“To Unfurl American Flag on Hibernia Bank Tower.” Times Picayune (New Orleans), January 15, 1921. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://www.nutrias.org/.

Webster, Richard A. “Redevelopment of Hibernia Bank Building Nears Completion.” NOLA.com. 2012. Accessed September 21, 2016. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2012/12/redevelopment_of_hibernia_bank.html.

Postcard photo retrieved from Lighthouse Digest. (http://www.lighthousedigest.com/digest/Photopage.cfm?Photo=7525.)

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