This week the former Fairmont Hotel on Baronne Street celebrates five years since it was renovated and its name changed back to what it once was, The Roosevelt.
Takeover of the hotel by the Hilton-owned Waldorf Astoria group was one of the really happy post-Katrina stories. Not only was the historic hotel saved, but it was made so much better.
Once again the question became relevant, what is the correct pronunciation of the hotel? New Orleans is a city that has its own way of pronouncing various place names and the same has been true about the hotel. That double-o in the name Roosevelt is troubling. I recall many old timer New Orleanians pronouncing the name like that stuff you use to make a gumbo, “rouxs” rather than like the flower known for its fragrance. Since the name was re-adapted I have heard both pronunciations, “rouxzavelt" and "roseavelt." (I will admit, I have often found myself using the former pronunciation though feeling uncertain about it, sort of like stopping a car in a no parking zone.)
Just to resolve the question so that future generations are not rouxing when they should be roseing or vice-versa I once posed the question to the Sam Friedman, the Natchitoches developer who was the genius behind the restoration of the hotel. Friedman looked at me like I had a few too many Sazeracs. “I have always said rosevelt” he said as though there could be no other answer. “Well, it is your hotel,” I said, showing a total deference for authority, “so I guess it is whatever you say.” He nodded in agreement.
Still something nagged at me. Maybe the question needed to be posed to an even higher authority.
On this question the absolute authority would be Teddy Roosevelt, the man after whom the hotel was named. I did some sleuthing and lo and behold, I found reference to the former president once dealing with the issue himself.
In fact, there is even an article on the web under his name titled, “Disputed Pronunciation.”
It says in part, There has been much debate about the correct pronunciation of Roosevelt's last name, however, in several letters Theodore Roosevelt himself specifies the correct pronunciation. In a letter to the Rev. William W. Moir dated October 10, 1898 he writes:
As for my name, it is pronounced as if it was spelled "Rosavelt." That is in three syllables. The first syllable as if it was "Rose."
So there you have it. No court in the land can overrule the combination of Friedman and TR on this issue. Keep the roux in the gumbo pot. In the garden of local place names, the Roosevelt blooms.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival
(Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online
Watch "Informed Sources," Fridays at 7 p.m., repeated at 11:30 p.m., WYES, Ch. 12.
(The above blog was based on an Errol Laborde blog that appeared in 2011. It has been updated for timeliness.)