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Gallier Hall Dedication Ceremony (1853)

On this day in 1853 Gallier Hall, located on St. Charles Avenue at Lafayette Square, was dedicated as the new New Orleans City Hall.

Gallier Hall - loc.gov
Gallier Hall – loc.gov

Before Gallier Hall, the government offices in New Orleans were kept in the Cabildo, located on Jackson Square in the French Quarter. With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, an influx of Americans led to tensions with the original Creole citizenry which led to a city ordinance that divided the city into three separate municipalities: the 1st -containing the French Quarter and Treme  where the population was mostly French, Spanish, and French speaking Free People of Color, the 2nd – stretching from Canal Street to Felicity Street in the Lower Garden District where the population was mostly Anglophone American, and the 3rd – the Marigny and Bywater areas whose population was made up of more Creoles, Free People of Color and various immigrant groups. These three municipalities were governed by their own assembly of aldermen who met with those of the other municipalities once a year to discuss the city as a whole. While in the short term this arrangement seemed like a good idea – each section of the population could be properly represented by their aldermen who were of their own culture, language and religion, it wasn’t too long before this plan proved problematic. Even still this arrangement lasted 16 years and one of the major results of this plan led to deepening cultural tensions as according to Richard Campanella, “It pitted the municipalities against each other, as residents came to perceive a zero-sum game, where one’s gain came at the other’s expense.”

When the city was reunited in 1853, the building that had been built to house the 2nd Municipality government in the American Sector was to become the unified New Orleans City Hall. It would be the seat of New Orleans government from May 10th 1853 until city government moved to the current City Hall located on Perdido Street in 1957. This building is now known as Gallier Hall, named for the architect James Gallier, Sr. who was already famous for working on such notable New Orleans Landmarks as the St. Charles Hotel, Pontalba Apartments and St. Patrick’s Church.

In keeping with the time period, the mammoth building is designed in a Greek Revival style, popular throughout the United States from the first years of 1800 to the 1850s. A recent rediscovery of Greek archeology and the adoption of Greek Democratic ideals in the founding of the new nation of America led to the spread of Greek features decorating many new buildings both public and private.

The main Greek Revival characteristics present in this building include a portico comprised of triangular pediment supported by ten Ionic columns, which according to John C. Ferguson, writing for KnowLA encyclopedia, “The column capitals are copied from those on the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens.” The pediment is decorated with sculptures representing Justice, Liberty and Commerce. Dentils (small square shaped decorations) are also present below the pediment.

Owing to the proliferation of trade with the Northeastern United States at the time, much of the building materials used for the façade came from the Northeast, such as Tuckahoe Marble, which originated in Westchester County, New York, and Milford granite which was imported from Milford, Massachusetts. The original plan called for a building completely made of marble and granite, but instead less expensive brick was used for construction. The brick is covered with plaster and scored to resemble the more costly imported stone blocks.

During its use as City Hall, many important events happened in this building such as the formal Confederate surrender of the city in 1862, and funerary services held for Jefferson Davis in 1889. It was declared a National Landmark in 1974. Today the building is used for private events and is the traditional space used for the Mayor to view and toast Mardi Gras Parades as they make their way to Canal Street.

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