MAIN LIBRARY Site Introduction
Main Library Site | Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital
Pythian Temple | Duncan Plaza
Charity Hospital | Rampart Street

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The Criminal Court Building was the most significant of the several structures that occupied the present-day site of the New Orleans Public Library's Main Library. Built between 1892-1894, the Courthouse was described by the Times-Picayune as having "an imposing and handsome appearance. It is faced with pressed brick and trimmed with stone and terra cotta molded into such form and style as to entirely avoid monotony. It is, in fact, the only modern public building which New Orleans possesses." But the construction project was plagued by corruption and questionable building practices, to the extent that the New Orleans Item later stated, "’Bribery Hall’ is a large red building, occupying the entire square bounded by Tulane avenue, Basin, Gravier, and Franklin streets." Although the building dominated the neighborhood, it does not appear to have ever been popular with the citizens of New Orleans.

The Criminal District Court moved into a new building at the corner of Tulane and Broad in 1931, but the old structure remained standing for another eighteen years. Its eventual demolition paved the way for construction of the new Main Library as one piece of the city’s new Civic Center development. Interestingly, this was not the first time that Criminal District Court's relocation affected the Library. When the Court moved into the building at Saratoga and Tulane in 1894, it left its old quarters, St. Patrick's Hall, vacant. Mayor John Fitzpatrick shortly thereafter proposed, and the City Council subsequently approved, a plan to convert the building into the first home of the newly established New Orleans Public Library!

Most of the Basin Street frontage of square 303 (bounded by Basin, Gravier, Franklin, and Common) was taken up by the T. S. Waterman Soda Water Manufactory. Benedict Simon’s 1871 lithograph gives us a street view of the establishment.

Rare Vertical File -- Views, Buildings, #3

Ordinance #6050 (Council Series), passed on February 12, 1892, authorized the Comptroller to advertise for bids for the design of city buildings in square 303 to house the Criminal Court, the Parish Prison (with 350 cells), Police Headquarters, the First Precinct Police Station, and the Recorder’s Court. A contract for the design and construction of the project was soon awarded to M. A. Orlopp, Jr. There was a good deal of governmental corruption involved in the subsequent building of the structure, which itself proved to be poorly built and deficient in numerous ways. Little wonder that the new court house and jail were replaced within forty years of their completion. Here is the Criminal Court Building when it was almost brand new.

Art Work of New Orleans. (Chicago: W.H. Parish Publishing Co.), 1895

This odd letterhead was in use just a few years after the Criminal Court Building opened. The drawing of the building looks similar to the actual structure but obviously isn’t quite right! And, of course, it was across Tulane Avenue from Elk Place.

Rare Vertical File -- Letterheads -- Organizations, #45

This ca. 1908 postcard shows Elk Place looking towards the Criminal Court Building. It also shows some of the buildings that were on the future site of the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital.

Postcard Collection -- N. O. Streets, #43

A “close-up” postcard view of the Criminal Court Building, with a bare glimpse of the corner of Tulane and Elk Place included. The City had been interested in the Common and Basin area for public purposes as early as 1888 when it began renting a building on Basin Street from John H. Wilberding for use by the First Recorder’s Court. In November 1891, ordinance #5785 (Council Series) authorized the purchase of seven lots in the square bounded by Tulane, Franklin, Basin, and Gravier Streets from five owners (including Wilberding) for a total of $68,500.

Postcard Collection -- New Orleans Municipal Government, #I-31

This 1948 view up Elk Place from Canal Street shows the Pythian Temple/Industries Building, Criminal Court Building, and the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital all together at a time just before major change came to the scene. Note that foundation work appears to be underway for a new addition to the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital.

Charles Franck Collection -- Streets

The Criminal District Court, Parish Prison, and other government agencies moved from the corner of Tulane and Saratoga to the new Criminal Court Building at Tulane and Broad in 1931. The old building, however, continued in use for another eighteen years. The sign visible in this late 1940s photograph shows that the City’s Municipal Courts occupied the building, but it also housed such varied entities as a New Orleans Police Department substation and the Louisiana Sunshine Club.

Louisiana Photograph Collection, General Interest Collection -- Buildings, Government, #175

Demolition of the old criminal courts building was underway in the latter part of 1949.

Municipal Government Photograph Collection,
Department of Property Management, City Hall/Civic Center, #11

Introduction | Main Library Site | Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital | Pythian Temple | Duncan Plaza
Charity Hospital | Rampart Street
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