When the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue opened in October 1948, it was prepared for a music collection that didn’t yet exist. The mansion, once home to a silent movie star, was purchased by the Latter family and donated to the New Orleans Public Library to serve as a memorial for their son, who had been killed in action in World War II. Adaptations to the home to prepare it for library use included a second floor music room and adjoining soundproof listening rooms.
With city funding low following WWII, the library was hoping for donations of records and sheet music from the public to form its music collection. The first donations arrived within weeks: four records from local groups and eight books of bound sheet music collected by the Armstrong family for over 100 years.
A 1949 donation followed by an endowment established in 1950 by the Martinez family in honor of their grandfather, New Orleans composer and musician Theodore von La Hache, created the La Hache Music Library, the first public music library in the South. Within a year, the collection of classical, semiclassical, New Orleans jazz, foreign language instruction and more grew to over 4,000 records, with a circulation of almost 47,000, proving it be wildly popular and successful.
The La Hache collection continued to grow over the years. A donation of 2,000 jazz albums came in 1952 from Dr. Edmond Souchon, creating the largest public jazz collection in the nation. Four hundred classical and rare opera records from the Rickert family followed in 1957.
In 1958, with the opening of the new Central Library near City Hall, the collection was moved from the Latter Library branch and incorporated into a larger Art and Music Department. Like at Latter, soundproof listening rooms were available for in-house listening, or cardholders could borrow the records for at-home use.