Rousseau Street Police Station with the Black Maria. The Historic New Orleans Collection

New Orleans is known for its magnificent architecture that ranges from classical Greek Revival, Italianate and Spanish Colonial to the thousands of Creole cottages and ornate Victorian shotgun houses that fill old city neighborhoods. Traveling around town, however, one can find unexpected architectural treasures like this 19th century Egyptian Revival former police station located at 2229 Rousseau St. just off Jackson Avenue in the Irish Channel. 

Its origins are somewhat of a mystery. In her history of Jefferson Parish, historian Betsy Swanson states it served as a jail and courthouse when the neighborhood was still part of Jefferson Parish. In 1833, the Louisiana Legislature created the city of Lafayette, which ran from about Felicity to Toledano streets. A year later the Jefferson Parish Police Jury instructed parish surveyor and engineer Benjamin Buisson to build a courthouse and market on Jackson Avenue. In 1836, Buisson also designed and constructed a two-story prison at today’s 2229 Rousseau St.

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The Police Jury sold the 1834 courthouse on Jackson Avenue in 1852. Meanwhile in May 1843 the Police July accepted a proposal by the eminent Irish-born New Orleans architect James Gallier Sr. to redesign and convert the prison into a new courthouse. Swanson and other historians cautiously credit Gallier with the building’s Egyptian Revival design then popular in Europe and other parts of the United States. 

The building continued as a courthouse and prison even after New Orleans annexed the City of Lafayette in 1852. The annexed area, however, remained part of Jefferson Parish until 1870 when the Legislature moved the Orleans Parish line upriver to Lowerline Street and the City of Carrollton. According to a Feb. 22, 2021, Times-Picayune article, the building soon after became the Sixth Precinct police station. 

Herein lies the mystery. Did Gallier design the Egyptian Revival building? According to city records and newspaper reports in 1897 and 1921, the city constructed in 1897 a new Sixth Precinct police patrol wagon station with its “ornamental front” at that location on Rousseau Street. It replaced “an ancient structure that was known as the court building,” perhaps it replaced Gallier’s 1843 courthouse. Meanwhile, Buisson’s 1836 prison remained in tact behind the new station. Adding to the confusion as to who designed the Egyptian Revival façade, former director of the Historic New Orleans Collection Boyd Cruise noted on his conceptualized 1952 painting of the police station that architect Harry W. Charlton (sometimes identified as Henry) designed the building. Charlton, active in New Orleans from 1887 to 1904, also worked for the city’s engineering department as an architectural draftsman. To muddy the waters a bit more, according to a May 26, 1897 article in the New Orleans Daily Picayune (later Times-Picayune), the City Council awarded the construction contract to one R. Fletcher.

In 1917, the city closed the station and destroyed arrest records. On Nov. 27, 1921, the city announced plans to renovate and reopen the 1897 station to house stolen cars on one side and, on the other side, construct cells for temporary prisoners. It also planned to demolish the still-standing 1830s prison in the rear. The police station continued to operate until the mid 1930s. Since then, it has housed an auto mechanic’s garage, bakery, and various other businesses, including a float storage warehouse for a New Orleans carnival krewe. The building sold again in 2019. 

A 1957 photograph by famed Louisiana photographer Clarence John Laughlin shows the Egyptian design fully in tact. Today, however, a gutted shell of the original Egyptian Revival precinct station still stands at 2229 Rousseau St. Unfortunately, over the decades much of the Egyptian motifs were removed and its front gate replaced by a metal garage door. The mystery continues. What’s next for this historic building?