Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
A MONTHLY PURSUIT OF ANSWERS TO ETERNAL QUESTIONS
I have heard that, during the Great Depression, the WPA operated a theater in New Orleans. Is this true? Where was it located?
Yes, the Federal Theatre Project had a theatre in New Orleans. It was located at 2301 Tulane Ave., across the street from Dixie Brewery on the Tulane Avenue side of the same block that once housed Bud’s Broiler. The Library of Congress’ Music Division houses more than half a million items relating to the Federal Theatre Project. Digitized excerpts from those holdings form the core of an online exhibit, The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939, which may be found by visiting memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/fthome.html. Included in the exhibit is the production notebook from the 1937 New Orleans production of Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
For 20 plus years I have stayed in my favorite hotel at 625 St. Ann St. Even so, I can’t seem to get a true history of the property. I have heard it was once a Creole private home, once a school and that it was once destroyed in a fire.
It seems to be a large property for even a wealthy planter or a school unless the school was a boarding school. Any information you can find will only add to the enjoyment of my next visit.
As is so often the case with French Quarter properties, history of a site can get confused with the history of the buildings still standing at a particular location. Yes, a small one-room boys’ school was located on the site in the mid-1730s, but it’s long-gone, having fallen into ruins by 1740. Likewise, Jean Baptiste Destrehan once had, at the corner of St. Ann and Chartres streets, a lavish Colonial home that burned in the fire of 1788 but it, too, has been gone for centuries. The Vieux Carré Commission estimates 1856 as the date of construction for the townhouse that forms the entrance of the present day Place D’Armes Hotel.
The current façade, which combines used brick and historically inappropriate French doors, is the result of a 1960s renovation and doesn’t reflect the original building style. Because the building is heavily modified, it has proven difficult to prove its date of construction and for whom it was constructed. Marcos Tio owned the site from 1795 to 1822, whereupon his nephew Francisco Tio inherited the property. In 1856, the younger Tio sold the property to Miguel Avengno. While it’s known that the property had a house on it as early as 1822, during Marcus Tio’s ownership, I’m unaware of building contracts or other documentation that conclusively proves that the present-day building is the same one Marcos Tio’s nephew inherited in the early 1820s.
Marcos Tio’s life is somewhat better documented than the history and architecture of properties the Catalonian merchant and his nephew owned. Charles E. Kinser’s two-volume 1993 doctoral dissertation, “The Tio Family: Four Generations of New Orleans Musicians 1814-1933,” traces its roots to the Spanish-born Marcos Tio and Victorine Wiltz, a free woman of color, with whom Tio fathered seven children. The interlibrary loan department of your local library should be able to locate a copy you can borrow.
There is an empty lot on Moss Street between DeSaix Boulevard and Esplanade Avenue that once was home to an NOPD station before it was inundated with Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. In my youth I remember the same site as being a Louisiana National Guard barracks. I have heard stories that it was once a home for retired Confederate soldiers in the early 20th century. Is this true, and can you give me a history of this site?
Located on a large parcel of ground in what’s now the 1700 block of Moss Street, Camp Nicholls was the second Confederate veterans’ home to operate in the state of Louisiana. Only one month following its May 1884 dedication, it was home to more than 300 Confederate veterans. Having served Civil War veterans for nearly 60 years, Camp Nicholls found new use during and after World War II, when the Louisiana National Guard built a vehicle storage building and armory at that location. Among the National Guard units once based at Camp Nicholls was the 141st Field Artillery, better known as the Washington Artillery. Last used by the New Orleans Police Department, buildings on the Camp Nicholls site sustained damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A post-Katrina study deemed the surviving structures non-historic and the site was razed in April 2009.
I look forward to my New Orleans Magazine each month. I usually go to “Julia Street” first since I enjoy learning more about New Orleans history. However, I question the answer about the New Orleans Base Ball Park. I grew up in Mid-City, attended Beauregard School and attended Mass at St. Anthony of Padua church. St. Anthony is in the 4600 block of Canal Street. The preceding block, between N. Olympia and N. Murat streets, is the 4500 block. So was the N.O. Base Ball Park in the 4100 block of Canal Street or the block between N. Olympia and N. Murat streets? Thanks, and keep up this interesting column.
The New Orleans Base Ball Park was on the North side of the 4500 block of Canal Street, in the square bounded by Murat, Olympia and Customhouse (now Iberville) streets. It existed for only about five years. In late July 1890, local newspapers reported the City of New Orleans had given Toby Hart only three days notice to clear fencing and other obstructions so the city could reassert its claim to the public thoroughfares that surrounded the block. The city claimed that, when the park was established, it sprawled and encroached on the surrounding city streets. In the weeks that followed, additional plans for the square came to light. On Sept. 20, a public real estate auction offered for sale 24 prime residential lots, located on high ridge land, in the square bounded by Murat, Olympia, Canal and Customhouse (now Iberville) streets, which had been known as the New Orleans Base Ball Park.
My first visit to New Orleans [was] in 1968, thanks to my army bubbas, the Noto Brothers. They took me to a bar – they can’t seem to remember [what it was called]. What I remember was how good the hamburgers were and I’ll never forget the peanut shells on the floor. Was there such a place or was that the night Poydras and I were found in Pirates Alley with an empty bottle of rum? Please help a New Orleanian at heart stuck here in Pittsburgh.
Ralph, like Poydras’ auntie always says, “better to be found in Pirates Alley with an empty bottle of rum than to be in Pittsburgh.” I’ll bet you and your buddies set out in search of brews and burgers and ended up at Ruby Red’s. In 1968, the popular eatery was located at 435 Esplanade Ave., across from the Old United States Mint. The site is currently the home of Café Bamboo and the Dragon’s Den.