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Plans submitted for Rivergate Convention Center (1964)

On this day in 1964, C.H. Leavell & Co submitted plans for the Rivergate Center, a convention center located at the foot of Canal Street. This convention center was an attempt to revitalize the downtown area and was used not only for conventions, but also Mardi Gras Balls, High School Graduations, and even the funeral of Mihaela Jackson in 1972.

Three weeks later, on December 4th, ground was broken on the project, which was designed by the firm of Curtis and Davis, who previously designed the Thomy Lafon School, the main branch of the New Orleans Library, the Angola Prison and would become famous for their design of the Louisiana Superdome. The design of the Rivergate Center is Expressionist, a style that got its start in Germany in the early 1900s. Main characteristics of this style include expression of emotion through distorted non-traditional elements and unconventional roof designs. Some other great examples of this style are the Sydney Opera House (built from 1959-1973) and the TWA Flight Center in JFK airport New York (opened in 1962).

The Rivergate Convention Center
The Rivergate Convention Center

The most remarkable element of the Rivergate Center was the roof, which was comprised of six barrel vaults, giving it the appearance of undulation. This roof may have been a symbolic nod to the Mississippi River located just a block away. This roof was made of pressed concrete which expanded 253 feet over the main exhibit hall creating a space free of support columns. The building had exhibit space totaling 130,000 square feet with enough space for 17,500 seated guests, and also extra space for private meetings and eating facilities.

In the 1980s, with the addition of a larger, newer convention center, public opinion turned against the Rivergate Center, and the city made plans to demolish the building. Attempts were made by preservationists to add this building to the National Park’s National Register of Historic Places, which was denied due to the young age of the building – it was not 50 years old yet.

In 1995, the Rivergate Convention Center was demolished to make way for Harrah’s Casino.