Today in New Orleans History

April 11

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World's Fair "Gondola"
April 11, 1985

Mayor Ernest N. ("Dutch") Morial seems to be contemplating a 300 foot-high, four-minute, half-mile ride on April 11, 1985, over and across the river in a MART gondola lift car -- a trip which put fear in the hearts of many New Orleanians during the World's Fair which opened on Saturday, May 12, 1984 and ended on Sunday, November 11, 1984.
The Mississippi Aerial River Transit, or simply MART, was constructed for the Louisiana World Exposition (known to New Orleanians simply as "The World's Fair"). After the fair, this served as the second urban aerial lift and the first gondola lift commuter system in the United States. The system featured 53 separate cars, a 2,300 feet cross-river cable, twin steel towers that lifted the cable 200 feet into the air, two station houses, concrete pillars that anchored the cable, and two 358 feet steel towers. Each of the two main towers were supported with 12-inch steel piles driven 285 feet into the ground, with each tower weighing 200 short tons.  Its twin towers were the tallest constructed for a gondola lift, with the exception of the Emirates Airline in London, which is 50% taller.  The boarding station on the East Bank was located at the foot of Julia Street adjacent to what became the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center after the fair. The station on the West Bank was located along Teche Street adjacent to where Mardi Gras World in Algiers is located.

Plans for the gondola were initially approved by the city on May 6, 1982.  It was developed by the Mississippi Aerial River Transit-Perez Inc., or MART-Perez, which included noted local architect August Perez III. In 1983, the Banque de l'union européenne of Paris provided financing for the project through an $8 million loan. In foreshadowing the future problems the gondola would face, on its maiden crossing, after being blessed by Archbishop Philip Hannan, the ride would temporarily stall. The ride took four minutes to complete and crossed over 300 feet above the Mississippi River, and had a maximum capacity of 2,000 passengers per hour.

During the fair, this was billed as the signature ride of the exhibition; however, it drew only 1.7 million riders, half as many as projected. Built to showcase a form of non-polluting commuter transit, after the fair the system was open for use by commuters traveling from Algiers in the West Bank to the Warehouse District across the river. By April 1985, the system would shut down due to low ridership. Later in 1985, the Banque de l'union européenne would file suit against MART-Perez when they defaulted on the $8 million loan. As a result of nonpayment, in 1986, MART was ordered by a federal court to pay the bank $5 million, plus $1.2 million in interest and attorney fees. However, MART never made a payment, and as a result, the gondola was seized by the United States Marshals Service in June 1989. After the seizure, the system was put up for auction in August with New York City businessman Moey Segal placing the winning bid of $1.6 million.

Segal intended to deconstruct the system and relocate it to Corpus Christi, Texas. It was intended to transport tourists from the primary hotel area to the Texas State Aquarium across a ship channel.  Due to litigation, the proposal to move the system to Texas was dropped and Segal transferred its ownership to the 7349 Corp in 1990. Following the failed proposal to relocate the gondola, the system was the site of several, notable local events prior to its demolition. On January 21, 1993, Christopher Vincent base-jumped (jumped with a parachute) from the top of the East Bank tower twice. He completed the stunt for the first time at approximately 10:30 a.m. and again later that afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m. Each time he was successful in landing on the Mississippi River levee. On August 19, 1993, four Greenpeace activists were successful in hanging a banner from the system that stated "Break the circle of poison" in protesting the shipment of toxic pesticides through the Port of New Orleans.

By late January 1993, the United States Coast Guard demanded that the system be demolished if it were not being used. In November 1993, the New Orleans City Council approved the demolition of the system and its demolition was complete by February 1994. Prior to its demolition, several of the cars were sold off and reused elsewhere. Some of these reuses included fishing huts, a deer stand, and conversion to a bus-stop shelter. Most notably, The Olde N'Awlins Cookery briefly utilized five of the cars as restaurant booths.  (Text from WIKI.  New Orleans Public Library photograph by Baquet)

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Treme, the television drama series created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer. which follows the interconnected lives of a group of New Orleanians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, premiered on HBO on April 11, 2010

The 10,000-seat Zephyr Field baseball park in Metairie hosted its first regular season baseball game on April 11, 1997.  The hometeam New Orleans Zephyrs, defeated the Oklahoma City 89ers, 8-3.

Suffragette & Business Leader  Vira Boarman Whitehouse, born in New Orleans on September 16, 1875, was the owner of the Whitehouse Leather Company and an early proponent of birth control. She was the daughter of Robert Boarman and Cornelia Terrell, was educated in New Orleans, and attended Newcomb College.  She married James Norman de Rapelye Whitehouse, a New York stockbroker, on April 13, 1898. She was chairman in 1913 of the publicity council of the Empire State Campaign Committee and in 1916 of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party (NYSWSP). She was a leader in securing suffrage for New York women in November 1917. In 1918, she became director of the Swiss office of the Committee on Public Information. She reported her experiences in A Year as a Government Agent (1920).  In 1921 she bought the Buchan-Murphy Manufacturing Company, a leather business, renamed it the Whitehouse Leather Products Company, Inc., and reorganized it with herself as president. She managed the company for eight years, reducing the work week from 48 hours to 44 hours, among other changes.  In 1925 she was elected a member of the Democratic County Committee from Manhattan's 15th Assembly District.  In 1926 she became Chairman of the Independent Women's Committee for Judge Wagner.  She sold her leather company before the stock market crash of 1929. Mrs. Whitehouse died at her home in New York City on April 11, 1957.  (WIKI)

Photo of Walter T. Nobles, who worked in the New Orleans Inspector's Office as Chief Operator. He entered the Department on September 1, 1871, was elected Supernumary Clerk on June 19, 1889, promoted to Clerk on September 18, 1889 and became Chief Operator on April 11, 1894.

Jazz musician Nick LaRocca (Dominic James La Rocca) was born in New Orleans on April 11, 1889.  He died in his hometown on February 22, 1961.

The illustration “Federalists evacuating civilians from Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana in 1863 during the America Civil War”,  were published in the Illustrated London News (ILN) on April 11, 1863. (LP)

The state legislature, by act of April 11, 1853, created a Police Board, consisting of the Mayor and the Recorders of each municipal district. This body was to exercise appointment and dismissal powers over all police officers. Act #25 of 1856, however, repealed the 1853 legislation and, presumably, abolished the Police Board. (NOPL)

On April 11, 1803, French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand surprised U.S. minister to France, Robert Livingston, by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area (as Livingston's instructions covered). Livingston's assistant James Monroe, agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at any time (leaving them with no ability to obtain the desired New Orleans area), and that approval from President Thomas Jefferson might take months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately. By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory of 828,000 square miles (2,100,000 km2) for 60 million Francs (approximately $15 million).

The Peace of Utrecht agreement was signed on April 11, 1713, calling for France to cede Maritime provinces to Britain, including the French colony of Acadia (now Nova Scotia).  When Acadians refused to swear allegience to Britain they were deported -- many to southern Louisiana.

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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