JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Sophie L. Gumbel Training School
Dear Julia and Poydras the Parrot,
I am curious what you can tell me about the large building on Loyola Avenue, between Nashville and Joseph streets Uptown. I have passed by it many times while walking my dog and always wondered about it. Now, apparently, it’s part of the United Way, but what was its original use?
Upon her death, Sophie Virginia Lengsfield (1844-1916), widow of millionaire Simon Gumbel, left a $50,000 bequest that the city used to fund the establishment of the Sophia [sic] Gumbel Home for the Feebleminded and Blind, an offshoot of the Touro-Shakespeare Almshouse. Architect Moise H. Goldstein designed the building, later known as the Sophie L. Gumbel Training School. Opened in 1922, the facility initially taught marketable skills, such as broom-making and weaving, to young girls with developmental challenges. From ’43 to ’62, the city welfare department utilized the property as a home for neglected and abused children. The Association of Retarded Children, now known as the ARC of Greater New Orleans, has leased the property since ’63. The building’s original use predates its completion.
Between October 1918 and April ’19, New Orleans had 54,089 reported cases of influenza and 3,489 flu-related fatalities, giving the city the dubious distinction of having the third-highest influenza-related death rate of any United States city struck by the Spanish Influenza pandemic of ’18-’19; only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia lost proportionally more of their populations. No fewer than one out of every seven people living in New Orleans contracted the Spanish Flu and, of those who caught it, one person out of every 15 died.
In mid-October 1918, as local flu cases soared, Sophie Gumbel’s family suggested that the nearly-complete vocational school being built in their mother’s honor be used as an emergency hospital. Through the leadership of Dr. G. M. Corput and efforts of the local Red Cross, the Sophie Gumbel Emergency Hospital opened its doors on Oct. 20, 1918. The transformation from empty shell to fully equipped, fully functional six-ward 300-bed acute care hospital had taken only about 10 days from concept to completion. (A herculean feat likely unparalleled until the aftermath of the 2005 federal levee failures, when medical personnel and 150 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division strove to restore a Level 1 trauma center.) In its first 48 hours, the Sophie Gumbel Emergency Hospital admitted 73 flu patients, only four of whom died within that period.
By early 1919, flu cases had subsided and other uses for the Gumbel Home were contemplated. In March of that year Mayor Behrman, Dr. Oscar Dowling and others endorsed a plan to convert the Gumbel Home into a center for drug addicts and the mentally ill, but the plan never materialized. Instead, the facility served as housing for disabled servicemen who had returned from World War I and were enrolled in the Tulane Receiving School, which held classes at the nearby Isidore Newman School. It wasn’t until the summer of ’22 that the Sophie L. Gumbel Training School finally began the work for which it was originally created.
I have lived in New Orleans 60 years and have always wondered about the living quarters situated on the river side of the levee. Do those people have electricity, plumbing, etc.? Do they pay property taxes? Do they flood?
Those people residing in the batture, the alluvial land between the riverbank and the water’s edge, live in a long-standing legal quagmire in which taxation and ownership remain contentious issues. The gist of problem is the question of who owns and can tax land created by a body of water’s alluvial deposits. Batture dwellers currently reside on such land without paying property tax. Battures and their associated property rights are discussed in RS 9:1102 of the state’s legal code. As far as electricity, flooding and sanitary arrangements are concerned, they undoubtedly vary from one batture home to the next.
I am about to retire after working for 28 years at the Jefferson Parish Library System. Prior to that I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, where I’m from.
About 30 years ago the Louisville Courier Journal newspaper ran a column on Saturday called, “The Best of Everything.” Every week they featured what they considered the best of something, no matter where it was. One week they did pillows and their pick for the best pillow was available only in New Orleans. If I remember correctly it was a store on Canal Street. I think the pillow was used in a chair for an aching back, but could’ve been a good bed pillow, too.
To be so well known as far away as Louisville (Louisville hadn’t even heard of the New Orleans World’s Fair) it must be remembered by a lot of people here. I have asked a few but no one seems to know.
Can you give any information about this? Maybe the pillows are still available somewhere.
Irvin T. Diemer II
Are you sure you’re not recalling the massage pillows that Rick George demonstrated and sold at the 1984 World’s Fair? The only other pillow-related local news I was able to find was a story that ran in The Times-Picayune on May, 31 1983, and discussed the successful testing of an oil spill cleanup method employing pillows stuffed with chicken feathers. Alfred F Crotti devised the cleanup system, which was subsequently awarded U.S. Patent number 4,439,324.
Win a restaurant gift certificate
Here is a chance to eat, drink and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for a tour and Creole breakfast for two at Degas House or a Jazz Brunch for two at The Court of Two Sisters. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are Irvin T. Diemer II, Kenner; and Lynne Higgins, New Orleans.