Mobile Navigation Menu

Grand Opening of the Union Station (1892)

On this day in 1892, the Union Station opened at the corner of Howard Avenue and North Rampart Streets.

Postcard featuring the Old Union Station-Wikipedia

The building was designed by Louis Sullivan, an architect that is known for his contributions to the First Chicago School a term used to describe an architectural movement that included the use of steel framework to make buildings stronger and lighter so they could reach soaring heights. The Chicago School invented Skyscrapers!

Louis Sullivan was educated at MIT and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Upon completing school in 1875, he arrived in Chicago- a city in the process of rebuilding after a massive fire destroyed about 17,000 buildings. The firm of Adler and Sullivan was born in 1883 and went on to create such impressive buildings as the Auditorium Building in Chicago, Guaranty Building in Buffalo, and the Wainwright Building in St. Louis. Some reoccurring characteristics of these buildings include triparte design (sectioned and clearly defined – bottom, middle, top), terracotta designs in the patterns of foliage or swirls, and rusticated ground floors. These buildings have various neoclassical features but also include a lean toward Richardsonian Romanesque in design.

In 1892, Sullivan was awarded the contract to build the Illinois Railroad’s Terminal (called the Union Station) located in New Orleans. According to KnowLouisiana, “In his use of the broad, hipped roof, dormer windows, and gallery for the station, Sullivan seemed to draw on southern architectural traditions.” Undoubtedly, this building’s design uses these common features to combat the oppressive heat of our subtropical climate. Shade and airflow are the name of the game in the pre-airconditioned era. The horizontal massing of this building is interesting, as it is unlike many of his Chicago works which are taller, narrower, more “skyscraper-y”.  It has been speculated that Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in the design of this building as he was a member of the Adler-Sullivan Firm from 1888-1893. Based off of Sullivan’s other works, I have to agree that Frank Lloyd Wright probably drew this design, as it shows a major departure from Sullivan’s other buildings. The station was built to accommodate the passengers of the Illinois Central Railroad, but overtime this station would include trains from 12 other railroad companies. In 1954, the current modern train station referred to as the Union Passenger Terminal opened right next door, and the Old Union Station was torn down.

While Louis Sullivan is recognized as one of the great mentors of Frank Lloyd Wright, I feel that we would be doing his work a great disservice if we neglect to mention his influence in New Orleans architecture. His style was emulated by two of my favorite architects: Thomas Sully and Emile Weil.

Maritime Building

Thomas Sully is credited with the design of many Victorian era buildings in New Orleans, with his most significant works sharing features of Sullivan’s architecture. Most importantly, Thomas Sully used methods of the Chicago School such as steel frame construction to create the city’s first skyscraper (of 10 stories). The Maritime Building was completed in 1893 and has the triparte design and terracotta and plaster design elements.

Leon Fellman Bldg.-Charles Franck

Emeil Weil’s architectural career started just a few years after Sully’s Maritime building was completed. His work can be found all over the Gulf Coast, with a majority of his buildings being commercial in nature, ranging from churches to theaters to stores. He designed many landmarks in New Orleans such as the Dixie Brewery, the Kress Store, and the Leon Fellman Building. All of these buildings contain the triparte design, sculpted decorative details which lean toward neoclassical or floral design.

While Louis Sullivan is credited with the design of only one building in New Orleans, it is clear that his influence left a greater mark on the city through the architects who came after him, emulating his technology to build taller and his design motifs to build prettier. Thanks Louis Sullivan for your contribution to New Orleans architecture!

Sources consulted: