Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot

A monthly pursuit of answers to eternal questions

Dear Julia,
My mother went to Newcomb in 1917. It was located where Connery Place is now. She often talked about the people she met but I don’t recall if she mentioned living in a dorm. Did Newcomb have dorms there? Exactly when and why did it move to its present location and what happened to the original buildings?
Sam A. Threefoot, M.D. New Orleans

Julia Street with Poydras the ParrotWhen H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College was founded in late 1887, it was briefly housed in a building fronting Lee Circle. The structure, once a private residence, housed the Harmony Club before Newcomb College moved there, quite briefly, from 1887-‘90.

Outgrowing its intimate campus, Newcomb then moved Uptown, taking up residence at a palatial home whose main house and grounds took up an entire block fronting on Washington Avenue. Then known as the Burnside place, the home had originally been built for James Robb.

From 1890 to 1917, Newcomb College was located in the James Robb House. The college’s dormitory, the Josephine Louise House, was across the street at 1231 Washington Ave. Before moving in 1917, to a new, more spacious campus on Broadway Street next to Tulane University. Newcomb College’s Washington Avenue campus was sold to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary stayed at the Washington Avenue location until moving in 1955, to a larger, new campus on Chef Menteur Highway. Soon thereafter, the Washington Avenue campus that had been Newcomb College’s second home was demolished. 

Dear Julia and Poydras,
Your answer to the question about Quarters A [a former plantation home located on Naval Support Activity site, see August 2007 issue] mentions the Ott family that owned the LeBoeuf House and brings to mind Mel Ott, born in nearby Gretna. Ott, a baseball Hall of Famer, spent his entire 21-year career with the New York Giants and when he retired in 1948, had hit 511 home runs – 200 more than the closest National Leaguer. Is there a family connection or is this an incredible coincidence?
John Ingersoll

There are, in the New Orleans metropolitan area, several Ott families who share close or distant kinship with Gretna’s favorite native son, Mel Ott. While it’s possible that Luther Dock Ott, who once owned the LeBoeuf Plantation in Algiers, may be related to Mel through a distant ancestor, I don’t believe the family relationship, if one exists, is a close one.
Luther Dock Ott, who died in 1924, was born in Waterville, Penn. Although the ‘10 census lists him as a Louisiana native, all earlier census records in which Ott appears identify him as a Pennsylvanian, as does his obituary. 

Dear Julia and Poydras,
I understand that Lee Circle hasn’t always been the name of the circle at St. Charles Avenue. Can you tell me the other name and when it changed? No one I’ve spoken with remembers any other name.
Jack Ricks
New Orleans

Unless your friends are over 130 years old, I wouldn’t expect them to recall Tivoli Circle. City ordinances enacted in the summer of 1877 officially changed the city railroad roundabout’s name to Lee Circle and granted the Lee Monumental Association permission to erect a statue on the site honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee. 

Prior to its becoming Lee Circle, someone must have complained that Tivoli Circle was a bit bare. In February 1858, the City Council ordered the street commissioners to plant trees in Tivoli Circle. Thirty-one years later, in February ‘84, the beautification bug hit again and the city earmarked $1,000 for improving Lee Circle. A grand in ‘84 would buy a bunch of beauty and improvement for such a small space! Since the ordinance was passed early in that year, it seems most likely the city’s sudden interest in the space was because New Orleans was expecting plenty of company later in the year when the World International Centennial Cotton Exposition would come to town.

Dear Julia and Poydras,
Many years ago my mother, Mercedes Messina Gerache, told me about the restaurant her father, Salvatore Messina, owned and operated with his three sons (her brothers) Peter, Simone and Louis, on Decatur Street for many years in the vicinity of what is now called Sbisas restaurant.
    I have heard many stories (some have even told me it was the original Messina’s Restaurant) but no one knows for sure – your column has uncovered so many interesting facts, I hope you can help me trace my roots!
Bona Fortuna,
Joseph Gerache
Vicksburg, Miss.

Thank you for wishing me good luck. 
According to the 1910 census, your mother and her family were residing at 905 Hospital St. (now Gov. Nicholls), in the French Quarter. City directories from the same era show that the Salvatore Messina who lived at 905 Hospital St. ran a saloon at 1119 Decatur St. Located only a short walk from Messina’s home, the 1119 Decatur St. site is now home to Café Roma/Turtle Bay. Café Sbisa is located one block away from your grandfather’s former place of business.

Dear Julia,
My wife’s maiden name is LoCicero. Her grandfather was Gaspar LoCicero Sr. He owned and operated a grocery store, bar and restaurant, all in the same location, across the street from the police station where City Hall now sits. In fact, the family story says that he rented one of his properties to the family of Louis Armstrong and that Louis Armstrong even babysat for my wife’s father, Gaspar LoCicero Jr. He sold that property to the city so that City Hall could be built there. As far back as my wife can remember, her grandfather owned that property until he sold it in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. However, she doesn’t know if it was a grocery store, bar and restaurant before her grandfather purchased it, who owned the property prior to the LoCicero’s purchasing it or how long her grandfather owned the property.
I hope you can find out some of this information and I look forward to future magazines.
Ken Francis
Texas City, Texas

The LoCiceros had operated family businesses at the corner of South Liberty and Perdido streets from at least 1903 or ‘04 until selling out to the city in the mid-‘50s. Gaspar LoCicero first operated a grocery at 501 S. Liberty St. By the ‘40s, John LoCicero had taken the reigns and, by the mid-‘50s, your grandfather, the younger Gaspar LoCicero, was running a grocery at that same location. He also ran Gaspar’s Bar, a tavern located next door, at 503 South Liberty St.

Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch for two or a $150 dining credit to Riche
Here’s a chance to eat, drink, be merry, listen to music and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for one of two Jazz Brunch gift certificates for two at a New Orleans landmark, THE COURT OF TWO SISTERS in the Vieux Carré or a $150 dining credit at one of New Orleans’ newest jewels, Todd English’s Riche, located in Harrah’s Hotel.

To take part, send your question to: Julia Street c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, La. 70005 or email to: errol@neworleansmagazine.com. This month’s winners are: Ken Francis, Texas City, Texas; Joseph Gerache, Vicksburg, Miss.; John Ingersoll, Atlanta, Ga.; Jack Ricks, New Orleans; and Sam A. Threefoot, M.D., New Orleans.

Julia on TV

Look for the Julia Street question each Friday on “Steppin’ Out” at 6:30 p.m. on WYES/Channel 12. The show features reviews, news and features about the New Orleans entertainment scene. Viewers who can answer Julia’s weekly question can call in for prizes. Tell ‘em you read about the show in New Orleans Magazine.

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