Happy Favorite Building Friday! Today’s building is the Louisiana State Bank Building on Royal Street. I can guarantee that if you’ve spent any time in the French Quarter, you have walked right by this fabulous building, but you probably didn’t even notice it because your gaze would have fallen on the massive Beaux Arts Supreme Court across the street. That’s fine, the Louisiana State Bank isn’t mad at ya, but you might want to pay more attention next time!
So let’s get down to it. The Louisiana State Bank was designed by Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe, known as the “Father of American Architecture”. He was an English architect who arrived to America in 1795 and got right work designing buildings. His most famous project was the rebuild of the U.S. Capitol after it had been destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. He moved to New Orleans in 1819 to work on a waterworks project. While he was here, he added a main central tower to St. Louis Cathedral and designed the Louisiana State Bank. Sadly, he died of yellow fever in 1820. (Don’t worry, I will have a whole article dedicated to Benjamin Latrobe, for his birthday! I missed it this year because I was on honeymoon.)
Anyway, back to the Louisiana State Bank. The outside of the building is pretty simple. We have a brick building covered with plaster. The front façade has a large front door which is decorated with two ionic columns and flanked by two tall windows. All three of these bays are capped with arches. Benjamin Latrobe was quite fond of classical architecture and is credited with being one of the greatest influences of its rise in popularity in the United States at the time.
If you look closely, there seems to be a gap between the door and the balcony. That’s because there is – it’s a storage area between the first and second floors. This feature is called an entresol and you can find many other buildings with this gap all throughout the French Quarter.
On the second story, we have three French doors that open out onto a wrought iron balcony. If you look closely, there are the initials of the building (LSB for Louisiana State Bank) worked into the wrought iron of the balcony. The second story was originally used as an apartment for the cashier.
The roof was originally a flat Spanish roof, but at some point a hipped roof was placed over the existing roof. According to Samuel Wilson Jr, in his report for the Historic American Buildings Survey, “The roof construction is very odd and inexplicable. There are in fact two separate and distinct roofs, one above the other, the first an almost flat one and the other the hipped roof that is visible on the building. The inner roof is sheathed but there is no roofing on it.” With 60 inches of rain a year, flat roofs can be difficult to maintain. I wonder why they covered the old roof and did not just replace it. As you might expect, the dormers and cannonball roof decorations are not original to the design.
All of these features – entresol, dormers, balconies, brick construction are all pretty typical for old buildings in theFrench Quarter. What isn’t typical is what you can’t see from the street – the interior. The bank is designed sort of like a centrally planned church like the Pantheon. It has a dome inside! But here’s the thing, it’s not just any old dome, it’s a whisper dome. A whisper dome allows the slightest sound to carry to everyone in the room. The building is now used as a special event hall called Latrobe’s so if you find yourself at a special event such as a wedding, you want to be sure to keep your gossiping to a minimum. Everyone will hear it. Whisper domes (or whisper chambers as they are referred to elsewhere) can be found in other buildings across the United States. In fact, Benjamin Latrobe’s most famous building, the U.S. Capitol has one as well.
So, the next time you take a stroll down Royal Street, be sure to notice the yellow building located at 403 Royal Street. It’s a hidden gem.
Cangelosi, Robert. “Benjamin Latrobe.” In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published January 31, 2011. http://www.knowla.org/entry/471/&view=article.
Koch, Richard. “Louisiana State Bank.” Written Historical and Descriptive Data, Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1936. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS No. LA-18-8; http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/la0010/accessed September 29, 2016).
Vogt, Lloyd. Historic Buildings of the French Quarter. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2002.
Pictures included are also form the Historic American Building Survey listed above.