Back in the hay day of train travel, Southern Railroad’s New Orleans Terminal, seen in this circa 1908 photograph, loomed over Canal and Basin streets at the doorway of the city’s infamous red-light district, Storyville. It was designed by the famed Chicago Beaux-Arts architect Daniel Burnham whose credits include the great “White City” at Chicago’s 1892-93 World’s Columbian Exposition, New York City’s Flatiron Building, Selfridge’s Department Store in London, and the magnificent Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Construction began on the massive new train station in 1907 and it was in full operation the following year. Although meant to be a central train terminal for all passenger railroads servicing the city, the Southern Railroad was the only one to use it. Rival lines continued to work out of four other depots located in and around the central business district.
The New Orleans Terminal’s location on Basin Street, however, was unpopular among some city reformers because trains had to travel down the middle of the neutral ground directly in front of Storyville’s bawdy saloons and elaborate houses of prostitution. In 1910 they suggested moving the district line back one block away from Basin or construct screens in front of the houses and saloons to block the view of arriving passengers. The City Council and Mayor Martin Behrman debated the issue but decided to keep things as they were. Nothing happened until the Federal government forced the city to close the district in 1917.
Storyville, of course, is long gone and so is Burnham’s station, which ceased operations shortly after 1954 when city officials required all passenger railroads to move to the newly constructed and today’s Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue. The New Orleans Terminal was then demolished, and the city, with an eye to Latin American trade, transformed the Basin Street site into the park-like Garden of the Americas complete with statues of Benito Juarez, Simon Bolivar and Francisco Morazan.