The very first tenant of the New Orleans Convention Center – now known as the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – was the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.
Construction of the 15-acre facility started in 1981, after years of planning. The $93-million price tag was paid for with state and federal funds and a local 2 percent hotel tax. It was essential in bringing the Fair to New Orleans, just as the Fair was essential in getting the Convention Center built.
During the Fair the space was called the Great Hall, and it was full with multiple pavilions and attractions.
The Louisiana Pavilion hosted a boat-like ride that toured rivers, swamps and marshlands, ran through the eye of a hurricane and even experienced Mardi Gras, all to a soundtrack of country, Cajun and jazz music. The Preservation Resource Center exhibit featured a relocated 1835 Creole cottage, complete with a garden and a picket fence. The exhibit was funded by the 10,000 people who donated $25 each to have their names printed on bricks that were used to pave the sidewalks of Fulton St. Mall.
Another major facet of the Great Hall was a 300-by-100-foot lagoon water course, with five themed barges including a replica of a Mississippi River steamboat, which paraded along in artificial rain and lightning.
Smaller but no less impressive attractions included a 47-foot-tall walk-through heart sponsored by Ochsner Foundation, a working television studio via WDSU and a reenactment of the Battle of New Orleans. Then-new technology – such as telephone calling cards and newspapers that could be “delivered” on home computers – was also highlighted.
Winding through and above all of this was the 10-car monorail, with one of its three Fair-wide stations located in the Great Hall.
After the Fair, the Convention Center hosted its first convention on January 13, 1985, the Helicopter Association International.
Note: This is Part 11 of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.