Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot

The Pursuit to Answer Eternal Questions

The 2,861-bed Charity Hospital opened on July 1, 1939, and was designed by the New Orleans architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth.

Dear Julia,
I was born at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. My three younger sisters were also born at Charity, and one of them graduated from Charity’s School of Nursing. She is now a registered nurse working on a master’s degree. Living in the projects, Charity was our doctor and where we went when a hospital was required. Now Louisiana State University plans an expensive and massive new medical complex without incorporating our Charity Hospital.

When Hurricane Katrina flooded Charity, I read in James Gill’s column in The Times-Picayune that one of the few success stories of FEMA was the military group that had previously restored hospitals in war-torn areas overseas going into Charity to restore it. They got the first four floors in far better shape than they had been in before the flood (and ready to use within a month after Katrina). However, it was a waste as LSU preferred to wait for their new hospital. I wonder what effect that decision had on people who needed a doctor or a hospital at that trying time?

It seems to me that a better plan for Charity’s future would be to gut that handsome, structurally sound building and rebuild it as the anchor for the new medical complex. It would save a lot of time and money and would also obviate the necessity of disposing the debris from Charity’s destruction. This all got me thinking, since they seem so determined to do away with our Charity Hospital, which was so important to me and my family when I was growing up:

What can you tell me about the hospital and its history? It is huge, but what are its actual dimensions? How many rooms and floors does it have? Who designed it? Who built it and when? How much did it cost when it was built? And do you have any idea what is the quantity of debris that will have to be hauled away if the razing of Charity goes forward? Where can they deposit all that debris?

Rosie Agee
Harvey


Located at 1532 Tulane Ave., Charity’s main building has approximately 1 million square feet of usable space. The structure is, as you noted, massive, measuring approximately 448 feet wide by 318 feet deep by 267 feet high at the 18th floor of its the 20-story center tower; the upper two stories are set back from the front facade. Two 12-story side wings, each measuring 54 feet in width and 171 feet in height, flank the central tower and terminate in 14-story towers. It should be noted that those are just highlights of the total dimensions and exclude the foundation and some connecting sections.

The main building is only one of many that stand on the hospital’s Tulane Avenue campus. Any calculations of how much debris would be generated if it were to be demolished would have to specify whether or not it would be the only campus structure to be torn down; any debris resulting from demolition of a public building such as Charity Hospital would presumably be deposited in a waste management facility run by the successful low bidder on the necessary public contract.

The 2,861-bed hospital opened on July 1, 1939, and was designed by the New Orleans architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth. Dr. Rigney D’Aunoy designed the floor plan and acted as a liaison between project contractors and the architects.

Cost for the main building was about $9 million but hospital project irregularities, including LSU’s purchase of the Bienville Hotel on Lee Circle, were some of the factors that ultimately cost a Louisiana Governor and an LSU president their freedom. The year was 1939 and the family of scandals that took down Governor Richard Leche, Dr. James Monroe Smith and others garnered national attention and became variously known as the Louisiana Scandals or the Louisiana Hayride.

Dear Julia,
I was very fortunate to have known one of the sweetest and nicest doctors who ever lived. She had an office above the K&B drug store at the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne avenues. She was an obstetrician who treated my five children. We lived in Carrollton and my children went to Mater Dolorosa and later to Dominican. I married my husband in 1943 after World War II. Our children were born in ’44, ’46, ’48, ’50 and ’55. We love to reminiscence about the good times we had while living in Carrollton. We have one problem we hope you can help us with. We forgot the doctor’s name. Could you please see if you could find out her name?

Mrs. Lillian Backer
Covington


Dr. Ruth Gertrude Aleman had a medical practice at the corner of Canal and Claiborne avenues and is most likely the physician you so fondly recall. Dr. Aleman educated generations of pediatricians at Hotel Dieu, Tulane and LSU. At the time of her death, in 1958, Dr. Aleman was remembered as being the only female physician to have headed the staff of Hotel Dieu.

Ruth Gertrude Aleman was born on a sugar plantation in Belle Alliance, La. Educated in public schools in Assumption and Ascension parishes, she came to New Orleans and obtained her nursing degree from Hotel Dieu. During World War I, she went to France, serving as an Army nurse with the American Expeditionary Forces. Returning to civilian life after the war, Aleman continued her education, earning her medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia. Prior to entering private practice, Aleman worked in pediatrics at the Harvard University Medical School and was an extern at both Hotel Dieu and the Lying-In Hospital of the City of New York. A long-time staff pediatrician for the J.T. Nix Clinic, Aleman entered private practice in 1941.

A woman of deep faith, Aleman received a papal honor for her service to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1947, Pope Pius XII bestowed on her the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal.

Dr. Aleman died in 1958 at the age of 66. She was laid to rest in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, on Esplanade Avenue, near City Park.

Dear Julia,
Which large department store served coffee to the early-bird shoppers while they waited for the doors to open?

Kathleen Battle
Metairie


Early morning coffee was a D.H. Holmes tradition from the days of the Great Depression into the 1980s. Each morning, at 9:45 a.m., store personnel would serve hot coffee to those who had gathered in the Canal Street store’s alcove to await the store’s 10 o’clock opening. Bargain hunters, the homeless, hotel guests and the lonely were among the wide assortment of people who regularly stopped by for a daily jolt of java. It was mostly a silent ritual, one that went on day after day. There was little conversation as women gravitated to the Canal Street entrance and men gathered in their own coffee area which could be entered from the Iberville Street annex. Fifteen minutes later, fortified with hot brew, the “coffee tray” people would finish their last sips and replace the cups on the trays as D. H. Holmes threw open its innermost doors and officially opened for the day.

Dear Julia Street,
For many years before her passing my mother claimed she attended one of the McDonough schools. I recently found a newspaper publication dated from April 1941 with a list of students receiving diplomas for evening classes at the Maybin School with her name in the list. I wonder if you can tell me anything about this school? Could the evening classes have been similar to vocational training we have in schools these days? My mother was a skilled seamstress, and I’m wondering if it was possible that this school is where she received her training.

By the way, Poydras has been rather quiet lately; I hope all is well.

Linda Bellisario
Edwardsburg, MI


Linda, Poydras still hasn’t gotten over the Saints’ loss to Seattle in the playoffs last year, but we think he will get better now that football season is in full swing again.

It is certainly possible your mother may have learned at least some of her sewing skills at the Joseph A. Maybin School for Graduates. Created in 1936, the vocational school was located at 1532 Calliope St., in a building formerly occupied by the Margaret C. Hanson Normal School. Its mission was to teach local non-college-bound high school graduate, through its one-year program, business knowledge and vocational skills.

Julia on TV
Look for the Julia Street question on “Steppin’ Out,” every Friday at 6:30 p.m. on WYES/Channel 12. The show features reviews, news and features about the New Orleans entertainment scene. Viewers who can answer Julia’s weekly question can call in for prizes. Tell ’em you read about the show in New Orleans Magazine.
 

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