John B. Ghisalberti was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1847, and worked as a mess boy aboard a steamer that ran between New Orleans and Genoa for five years before deciding at age 17 to make New Orleans his home. He started his business career dealing in seafood, but then moved into candy manufacturing; at his death he was the director of the Washington Ice Company.
His brother, Angelo, followed him to New Orleans in the 1880s and together, they built the Ghisalberti Apartment House in 1904. When John died in 1919, in his apartment at the Ghisalberti, his shares went to his brother. When Angelo died in 1926, the building was inherited to Mrs. Rosita Pittaglia, widow of both the brothers.
When the Ghisalberti Apartments first opened in April of 1905, they were lauded as beautiful, with hot and cold water running to the private bathrooms, janitorial services, a staffed elevator and steam heat to warm the apartments. The building was full of people who filled the society pages, such as the Popps – philanthropists who funded the bandstand and fountain at City Park and gardens at Audubon Zoo.
The ground-level floor was reserved for commercial enterprises. The Ghisalberti Brothers confectionary and ice cream shop operated there until 1920, when Katz and Besthoff (K&B) moved in, opening its third drugstore in New Orleans.
In the mid-1960s, K&B demolished the apartment building and replaced it with a modern two-story, 15,000-square-foot building. When it opened in September of 1967, it was the city’s largest drugstore, with the city’s largest soda fountain (complete with a newfangled “pizza oven”). A modern photo department, which processed film for all the K&B stores and offered photography classes, occupied the second floor.
In 1998, Rite Aid took over the store, where it operated until 2018, when 11 Rite Aids in New Orleans closed after a buyout. The building remains empty, but there are plans for the property to be redeveloped into new buildings that are reminiscent of its past as a mix of residential and commercial use.
The Ghisalberti Apartment House was built in 1904 by the Ghisalberti brothers at 3401 St. Charles Ave., on the corner of Louisiana Avenue. The five-story brick Italianate building was one of the first apartment buildings in New Orleans.