In 1892, construction of a Criminal Courts building began, located at Saratoga Street and Tulane Avenue. Soon after the building was opened, the complaints began – and continued. The lighting was inadequate; there were serious sewerage and sanitation concerns, including a habitual problem with people spitting on the floors in the hallways; and basic cleaning was severely neglected.
Plans for a new courts building started developing in the mid-1920s, and progressed quickly to move the courts from the building that was referred to variously as: squalid, dilapidated, crowded, tottering and obsolete. The courts moved into the new building, located at Tulane and Broad streets, in 1931.
After the criminal courts moved, the imposing brick structure was used by various agencies and purposes, including: municipal courts; the Louisiana Sunshine Society headquarters; the chauffeur and bicycle licensing bureau; the National Youth Administration; the draft registration office; a venereal disease diagnostic center; the Tuberculosis Association of New Orleans; and others.
For a short while before demolition, the building also housed, unknown even to the First Precinct police station located above, a bustling enclave of tramps and hoboes living in the passageways below the building. Calling their quarters the “Hotel de Bastille,” the audacious residents had run electricity, water and steam heat in to make the space livable, and brought in mattresses and couches for comfort.
The building continued to deteriorate until talks began in the late 1940s to tear it down, and the commission council authorized the immediate demolition of the court building in the fall of ’49. Tenants were given a day to clear out, and the municipal courts still housed there were moved to the Municipal Auditorium until more permanent housing could be found. The courts, occupying a stage in a small theater, were graciously allowed the space, but asked to “try to get out before Carnival.”