When New Orleans philanthropist Judah Touro died in 1854, he left $80,000 to establish the first almshouse for the city’s elderly poor. A three-story stone building with parapets and towers designed by William Freret Jr. was completed in 1862 in Bywater. Before it could be used for its purpose, Union Army troops took it over for their headquarters; a fire in a makeshift army oven destroyed the building in 1865.
While Mayor of New Orleans (1880-1882 and 1888-1892), Joseph Shakspeare wanted to build a new almshouse. A staunch opponent of gambling but unable to outlaw it, he instituted a gambling fee, directing the proceeds to an almshouse fund. The Shakspeare Almshouse was built at 5701 Danneel St., and opened for occupancy by 1883. The building was enlarged over the following decades, and when funding from Judah Touro’s original almshouse was folded in the establishment became known as the Touro-Shakspeare Almshouse in 1901.
In 1921, the city began considering relocating the almshouse. Automobile usage was increasing Uptown, and elderly residents were being injured after wandering into traffic. Higher property values also meant the city could sell the land and use the proceeds to build a larger, modern institution. In 1927, a 40-acre tract of land near the river in Algiers was purchased. The Danneel Street building was torn down and its iron fence was moved to the Orleans Club on St. Charles Avenue.
Construction of the new Touro-Shakspeare House started in 1932 at 2621 General Meyer Ave. It cost $228,000 to build and was completed in 1933. After being furnished, the first residents moved in in 1934, one of them declaring the new building the “finest thing I’ve seen.”
Upgrades and improvements were consistently made, and the house was at almost full occupancy for 70 years. The building suffered damages from Hurricane Katrina and the Touro-Shakspeare House never reopened. Over the past 15 years, the building has fallen into major disrepair. The City of New Orleans is actively looking for a new agency to take it over and restore it to its designated use as a home for the elderly.
The Touro-Shakspeare Home in Algiers, c 1970s. Designed by William Burk, the diamond-patterned brick building had two two-story wings containing dormitories, kitchens and dining rooms, infirmaries, a chapel and reading rooms. A sunporch faced the interior court and fountain and yards flanked the building on all sides. At the front of the building was a third story housing the superintendent’s offices.