Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

May 14, 201810:31 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

The Fair And The City's Founding

Lessons From Big Ideas

Wikapedia / Carey Akin - Flickr photo

This past Saturday was the 34th anniversary of the New Orleans World’s Fair, which opened May 12, 1984. That anniversary is especially relevant in this introspective year of the city’s tricentennial.
By now the verdicts on the fair are widely accepted:

  • It was a financial flop.
  • It was an artistic success.
  • Locals loved it.
  • It hastened riverfront redevelopment

With those points conceded, we can now look from the perspective of three decades plus four years (yipes) later. From this vantage point, the fair emerges as another example of the economic bucaneerism that has so often been a part of the city's history. And that goes back to the very beginning: New Orleans was not developed as an enclave for religious pilgrims nor as a safe haven for the politically persecuted. It was established instead as a business venture, a chance for John Law's Company of the West, operating under a charter from the French monarchy, to exploit the Louisiana territory of its perceived medals, pearls, furs, produce and other demands of the European market. The proponents had big dreams of the fortunes that could be made from establishing a spot near the big bend along the Mississippi.

On paper, it was not a good way to do business. Too many decisions were made based on too much bad information. Law's company eventually flopped; the city’s founder, Jean Baptiste LeMoyne Sieur de Bienville, would be reprimanded and recalled by the French government. Still, a great city arose from the calamity.

As for the experience of founding a city? It was, like the World’s Fair that it would one day give birth to, a financial flop; an artistic success; locals loved it and riverfront development was hastened.

Through the centuries the pattern would be repeated in other ways. The cost of building the world's largest dome stadium was underestimated by about $100 million, and the promised nightly spectacle of sporting events and festivals to be generated by the building never happened. Still, the stadium anchored the Poydras Avenue revival and made New Orleans a big league town. Not only has the dome long been paid for, but the refinancing of its bonds helped build both the arena that now houses the NBA Pelicans and the stadium for the team formerly known as the “Zephyrs.”

Count us among those locals who loved the World's Fair. We cherished the times we were there, although we were always conscious of the sometimes disappointing attendance. (To be a New Orleanian, we suppose, is to be a worrier.)

Because the fair had gone bankrupt during its run, the closing ceremony was trimmed, but still rich in sentiment. Earlier that year a national television audience had watched the closing of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The Olympic athletes, gathered on the floor of the Coliseum, swayed to Lionel Ritchie who, in his reggae beat, sang of partying “All Night Long.”

Most politicians shunned the fair’s finale, but not Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. Standing hand in hand with Irma Thomas, Semour d’Fair (the fair’s pelican mascot) and miscellaneous fair employees, the group also swayed, but to a recorded version of Ritchie’s song.

Ahead would be years of lawsuits, hard feelings and legal wrangling. For the moment though beauty was in the beholding. The theater’s backdrop opened to reveal big ships making the same graceful turn in the river that once attracted Bienville. With the city lights adding sparkle, the moment was soulful. Creditors were anxious to close the doors, so the party would not last all night long. Anyone who was there, however, would be moved by the moment. The city seemed special that night, a place deserving of more big ideas in the future.

 

-30-

 

"Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu" by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at gdkrewe@aol.com or (504- 895-2266)

WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12

 

 

 

 

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

about

Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

recent

archive

feed

Atom Feed Subscribe to the The Editor's Room Feed »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags