Last Saturday I took a Poydras Tour offered by The New Orleans Architecture Foundation. It was led by Shannon French, a local architect and NOAF board member. I really enjoyed the tour, it was well researched and equally well delivered. It is clear that Shannon was excited about the material and wanted to share it with his guests.
The tour started at Harrah’s Casino at 9:30 am. In this space Shannon gave an intro and briefly discussed the history of the Poydras Corridor. This street was laid out as early as 1788 (the same year as the Great Fire) and named for Julien Poydras, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during our early territorial period. The street was originally 74 feet wide, but later widened to 132 feet. This tour ran a little over two hours and covered many buildings and landmarks. Here are some highlights from this fantastic tour:
Standing in front of Harrah’s, one cannot help mentioning the old Rivergate Convention Center that had been located on this spot. Designed by Curtis and Davis (who also worked on the Superdome), the Rivergate was capped with a pressed concrete roof that was comprised of barrel vaults. Sadly, this building was torn down in 1995 to make way for Harrah’s Casino.
Then we were on the move! We headed up Poydras and stopped to look at Plaza d’Italia. This is a Post Modern style monument that includes a fountain and colonnades giving it a Roman Temple look. It was designed by Charles Moore and Perez Architects in 1978. Curiously, the components of this structure may not be the best materials for our climate, as it has been under renovation a few times in its 40 year history. Even today the structure was getting some work done on it and our view was obstructed. Supposedly, there will be an operatic performance there next month!
A quick walk down Lafayette Street got us into Lafayette Square. This park is surrounded by buildings of varying ages, from Gallier Hall a neoclassical city government building (dedicated in 1853) to the F. Edward Hebert building which was completed in 1939 and was designed in the International style with Art Deco features. This park is the heart of the Central Business District and home to many events such as a concert series called Wednesdays at the Park and Luna Fete.
After our dip into some older building history, we got back to the more modern structures. We walked up to the pavilion at the Superdome to discuss it (built in 1975 and is the largest fixed domed structure in the World!!) and neighboring buildings such as Benson Tower.
We continued down Poydras Street, and discussed the skyscrapers that were built when New Orleans was experiencing the oil boom in the late 70s, early 80s. The proof of this prosperous time is captured in the buildings’ names: the Exxon Building and the Gulf Oil Building. We ended the tour at One Shell Square, named of course for the Shell Oil Company. This building is about to be renamed the Whitney Hancock Bank Building but I imagine that in the same way that locals will always call the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the Louisiana Superdome (because that was its first name) we will continue to call the tallest building in Louisiana One Shell Square.
While my tours focus on older architecture dating from the mid-1700s into the early 1900s, it was fascinating to spend the morning learning about the newer buildings – the ones that make up our city’s skyline.
Be sure to check out this and other events sponsored by the New Orleans Architecture Foundation! This summer they are collaborating with the Preservation Resource Center to bring us a special summer event series called Mid Mod Nola. Check out their event calendar here.