Today in New Orleans History

April 27

Shushan Airport Milneburg Joys

Casino Lease for the Rivergate Signed
April 27, 1993
New Orleans Public Library photo of city officials and developer Christopher Hemeter signing the land-based casino lease on April 27, 1993. Hemeter presented a check for $15 million from Celebration Park Casino, Inc. to lease the Rivergate. Present were Councilmembers Dorothy Mae Taylor, Johnny Jackson, Jr. and Jim Singleton, Mayor Sidney J. Barthelemy, Chief Administrative Officer Leonard D. Simmons, Finance Director Paul Mitchell, and Liberty Bank executive Alden McDonald.
During the "revitalization" efforts of 1950s, the intersection of Canal Street at the river was considered a prime site.  A decade later, on November 12, 1964, C.H. Leavell & Co. submitted plans for "Rivergate" at number 4 Canal Street.
The Municipal Auditorium, dedicated on May 30, 1930, had become obsolete for convention-exhibition purposes. The modern center for such activities was to face the Mississippi River, relate to the recently completed International Trade Mart Tower, and tie these two elements together by means of a spacious pedestrian plaza.  The designated site, six city blocks, was bounded by Canal, Poydras, South Peters Street, and what is now Convention Center Boulevard. The 1964 photo on the right shows the streetcar turn at the foot of Canal Street, the Liberty Monument, and the three and four-story buildings dating from mid nineteenth-century which would be demolished to make way for the Rivergate.  Left of center is a partially demolished warehouse dating from c. 1905. (Photo by Rolland Golden; printed by Robert S. Brantley, Historic New Orleans Collection.)
The Rivergate was originally called the International Exhibition Facility. It was to be a key element with International House, the International Trade Mart, and the hotels in downtown New Orleans as the necessary units required to qualify the City as a World Trade Center. The concept of the World Trade Center was conceived at the International House by Dr. Paul Fabry and was the first such institution in what has now become a great worldwide organization.  
The proposed construction of an elevated expressway along the riverfront threatened to thwart the site plan of the Rivergate and would have separated the building from the river and from the International Trade Mart office building. The decision was made to funnel this section of the expressway into an underground tunnel at an estimated additional cost of $1.5 million.  Meanwhile, the plans for the Rivergate were being seriously delayed, awaiting a final decision regarding the actual construction of the expressway.  At this time the idea for the great covered porch materialized. The sheltered driveway not only made good sense as a way to deal with the possibility of tropical downpours during Rivergate events, but it also left open the option of constructing the tunnel at a later date while allowing construction of the building to proceed on schedule. In time the tunnel, 6 lanes wide and 30 feet high, was authorized, designed into the plan, and constructed. The Riverfront Expressway, however, was eventually defeated, and the tunnel remained, unused, during the life of the Rivergate.

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/RivergatePostcard.gifThe Rivergate was designed by the local firm Curtis and Davis (Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis Jr. (1917–1997) and Arthur Quentin Davis (1920–2011)  who had also designed the Thomy Lafon School (1954) and the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (1956) and would later design the Superdome.  The undulating forms of the Rivergate's thin barrel vaults were not whimsical but are the precise shape necessary to manage the unusually long spans required for the roof over the column free space below. The cantilevers all around contribute to the stability of the roof structure. The selection of six temple like bays utilized to the limit the spans between columns; the columns themselves are slender and graceful, suited to the task of support.  The Rivergate, while it stood in New Orleans, was looked upon by many as a significant example of outstanding national and international contemporary architecture and was compared to the recognized masterpieces of its period.  The most distinguishing feature of the Rivergate was the roof. The 95,500-sq. foot South Hall was covered by a swooping and sweeping dual curved roof. This reinforced concrete barrel-arched roof design was symbolic of the rolling Mississippi River which flows about 500 feet from the building. Engineering News Record referred to these "humpbacked" 1-1/2 catenary curve barrel arches 453 ft. long as having the profile of a whale. The Rivergate roof was perhaps the longest thin shell concrete roof span that had been constructed at that time. The 34,500-sq. foot North Hall, later called Penn Hall, in honor of its distinguished and successful manager, Herman Penn, was spanned by steel trusses 6' deep and covered with a flat roof.  

It was under construction from 1964 to 1968,  at a cost of $25 million. By 1994, this building was estimated to be worth $300 million.  The Rivergate had pedestrian entrances on Canal and Poydras Streets and Convention Center Boulevard. The South Peters Street elevation was dedicated to entrance and exit openings for the two-level subsurface 800-automobile parking garage, a long loading dock with two access doors 20' x 20' to the first floor, and freight elevators.

The caption for the postcard (above) reads: The RIVERGATE, which covers six city squares, located where famed Canal Street meets the Mississippi River, is one of the most uniquely constructed convention-exhibition halls in the country. Boasting 130,000 square feet of clear, unobstructed space, with no posts or pillars; it is capable of seating more than 16,000 persons for an assembly or meeting with 733 - 10' x 10' exhibit spaces, or a combination of both. This 13 1/2 million dollar ($13,500,000) structure will be one of the nation's newest and finest facilities". 

Ground breaking ceremonies on December 4, 1964 were followed by the driving of piles and a deep excavation to provide space for the parking garage, mechanical and electrical equipment, stairs and escalators to move people from subsurface levels up to the first floor, and the tunnel 60' x 750' ($1.3 million).

Although the Rivergate was conceived and designed as a convention-exhibition facility, it was also used as the venue for Mardi Gras balls, high school graduations, and the lying in state of New Orleans native Mahalia Jackson in 1972).  But like the Municipal Auditorium, the Rivergate became obsolete in its usefulness as a convention and exhibition center.  The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was being planned  in 1978.  As of 2006, it has about 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space, covering almost 11 blocks, and over 3 million square feet of total space.  It is the 5th-largest facility of its kind in the United States and would dwarf the old Rivergate.

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/RivergateResuseCasino.gifIn June 1992, Louisiana House Bill 2010 (Act 384 of the 1992 Regular Session) authorized a land-based casino in New Orleans.  The legislation specifically defined the location of the land-based casino -- the Rivergate site at the foot of Canal Street. The law did not require the Rivergate to be torn down, and it did not require a new casino to be built.

The City of New Orleans then altered the zoning ordinances to allow construction of a casino at the Rivergate site.  The city issued a call for casino proposals due on August 14, 1992 which required a $50,000 payment for the privilege of submitting a proposal, half of which was refundable to unsuccessful bidders.

On November 5, 1992, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and the City Council picked Christopher Hemmeter-Caesar's Palace (known as the Grand Palais group) to lease the city-owned Rivergate site for development of a casino.  The lease was signed on April 27, 1993.

Subsequently, the Casino Board awarded the casino operator's license to Harrah's Jazz, a partnership of Harrah's and the Jazzville group (all local investors).

On April 15, 1993, Mayor Barthelemy and the City Council finalized the selection of Hemmeter as the "developer" -- he later teamed with Caesar's World of Las Vegas to operate the casino in a renovated Rivergate but soon the Hemmeter-Caesar's group proposed its demolishion to make way for a new building called Grand Palais.  This plan would include a twenty-two-inch deep pond, called Celebration Lake which would run across the foot of Canal Street, ending at One Canal Place.  And there would be a sound and laser-light show and much more including a recreation of Bernard the colonnaded arcades at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  In the end, the only elements of the Grand Palais scheme that were constructed were the  "Casino Support Facility" -- a ten-leve, 2 1/2 block long parking garage) which replaced a group of nineteenth-century buildings at the corner of Poydras and South Peters Streets and the tunnel linking it to the casino.  But everything else fell through.

The official "wall-breaking" ceremony took place on Friday, January 13, 1995. On this occasion, a back hoe equipped with a claw toothed bucket and a "Harrah's" banner draped on its back climbed up the steps at the Canal-South Peters Streets entrance and began wrecking the underside of the cement plaster entrance canopy.

Much of the concrete debris was hauled to West End at Lake Pontchartrain to be used as fill for enlargement of a park off Breakwater Drive. Although only reinforced concrete was supposed to be dumped there, other debris was included. The nature of the debris stirred environmentalists and their protests stopped the dumping at the West End site.

On October 28, 1999, Harrah's Casino was completed at the foot of Canal Street, three years behind schedule. 

From THE RIVERGATE (1968 - 1995) Architecture And Politics -- No Strangers In Pair-A-Dice

You Can Support this Site by Clicking on & Shopping from this Amazon Link -- and it won't cost you a penny more:
Shushan Airport Milneburg Joys

To receive an update for each day in New Orleans history,  join our facebook page - Today in New Orleans History

The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947 as a daytime companion to the overnight Panama Limited. EMD E7 diesel locomotives pulled new lightweight Pullman Company coaches. The 921-mile route, which the City of New Orleans covered in 15 hours 55 minutes, was the longest daytime schedule in the United States.

Camille Nickerson, academic, concert pianist, singer. Born, New Orleans, March 30, 1887; daughter of William Joseph and Aurelie (duConge) Nickerson. Education: Oberlin (B. A., M. A.); Juilliard; Columbia Teachers College. Teaching career included Nickerson School of Music (father's school), New Orleans, 1916-1926; Howard University, 1926-1962; professor emeritus, School of Music, Howard University, 1962-1982. Concert appearances as pianist and organist in the South, 1916-1920; lecturer, recitals in Creole folksongs of Louisiana, 1941-1960; recitals in Europe; published arrangements of Creole songs. Founded B-Sharp Music Club, New Orleans, 1917; established Junior Department of Music, Howard University; organized Musicians Guild of Washington, D. C., with branch in Baltimore; chairman, Department of Music, Howard University, 1926-1962; president, National Association of Negro Musicians, 1935-1937; participant, Nickerson's Ladies' Orchestra, New Orleans, first female orchestra in Crescent City; collector, Louisiana Creole folksongs. Member, Pi Kappa Lamda; National Association of Negro Musicians; AAUP; advisory board, Fides Settlement Neighborhood House; Howard University Faculty Women's Club, president, 1953-1959. Died, Washington, D. C., April 27, 1982. C.T. Sources: Who's Who of American Women, 2nd ed. (1961); The Black Perspective in Music (1982), p. 230.  From

On April 27, 1944, the Liberty ship William Wheelwright was launched by Delta Shipbuilding Company.

Walter C. Flower, was the 44th mayor of New Orleans (from April 27, 1896 – May 7, 1900). In 1896 he made his entry into politics and was elected to head the reform ticket of the Citizens’ League in that memorable campaign against municipal corruption on April 27, 1895. He rode into office on the wave of a great upheaval and the record of his administration will be one of the brightest spots in the history of New Orleans. Four years of important and constructive work did much to better the conditions in the city, such as pure water, improved sewerage and drainage. While in office he was offered the presidency of a bank at a large salary, but declined as he felt that resigning would in a measure be a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the people. The administration under Mayor Flower was all that could be desired. He was possessed of great executive ability as was evinced by the prosperity and improved conditions of the city, due to his able and conservative discharge of his public duties. Mayor Flower died at his country home in Covington on October 11, 1900 at the age of fifty. He is buried in Metairie Cemetery. (NOPL)

Al Hirt Passes Away
April 27, 1999


Born in New Orleans on November 7, 1922, Alois Maxwell Hirt, son of NOPD officer Alois Sr. and Linda Goupe, grew up at 1643 Mandeville Street. He began earning musical awards for his trumpeting acumen while a student at Jesuit and Fortier. He played in the Junior Police Band with the children of Alcide Nunez, and by the age of 16, was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain. During this time, he was hired to play at the Fair Grounds, beginning a six-decade connection to horse racing.

In 1940, he studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with Dr. Frank Simon (a former soloist with the John Philip Sousa Orchestra). Hirt is pictured on the right at age 18 in an advertisement for Werlein's on December 18, 1940.

After a stint as a bugler in the United States Army during World War II, Hirt performed with various Swing big bands, including those of Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ina Ray Hutton. In 1950, he became first trumpet and soloist with Horace Heidt's Orchestra.

Upon his return to New Orleans, he worked with various Dixieland groups and lead his own bands including Al Hirt's Dixieland Band -- of which Pete Fountain was a member until taking a job in the late 1950s to be on the cast of the Lawrence Welk Show. During the early 50s, he was on staff as the orchestra leader for WWL. During the 50s and 60s he was a regular at Pier 600 on Bourbon at St. Louis Street. In 1962 Hirt opened his own club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, which he ran until 1983.

His fame was growing and he was sometimes called "Gabriel of the South".  In 1958 he and Fountain appeared together on the Lawrence Welk show. On August 12, 1960, Al Hirt and his Swingin' Dixie's were featured at Jazz Fest. On February 26, 1961 he and his band played on the Dinah Shore Show.  He was now being called "King of Trumpets". 

Twenty two of his albums were on the Billboard charts in the 1950s and 1960s.  The albums Honey In The Horn and Cotton Candy were both in the Top 10 best sellers for 1964, the same year Hirt scored a hit single with his cover of Allen Toussaint's "Java" (Billboard No. 4), and later won a Grammy Award for the same recording. Both Honey in the Horn and "Java" sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs. He recorded the theme for the 1960s TV show "The Green Hornet", which re-gained public attention in 2003 when it was used in the film Kill Bill.

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1967September12AlHirtAndGumbo.gif "Jumbo" and Gumbo

In 1967 Hirt became one of 18 minority owners (Hirt had 2.5%) of our brand new NFL expansion team, the New Orleans Saints. He is pictured (left) on September 12 1967 playing to Gumbo, the Saints' mascot, at a Jung Hotel luncheon for coaches and players before the kickoff of the first season.  Gumbo had been a gift to the team by the Louisiana Restaurant Association.  Hirt was the musical director for the Saints and played the National Anthem at the first season game, five days later on on September 17.  Hirt became a fixture at Saints games,playing his horn for fans as often as possible. Gumbo's descendant, Gumbo IV was fired in November 1985, now replaced by a human dressed in a St. Bernard costume.  The photograph is by J.W. Guillot/Times-Picayune archives.

On February 7, 1970, while riding in the Bacchus parade, he was struck by a hurled brick, rock, or cement chunk (sources vary) which left him bleeding profusely and the needing 12 (or 16, sources vary) stitches across the entire underside of his upper lip. He was taken from the float, rushed to Baptist Hospital, treated, and then attended the krewe's ball at the Rivergate the same evening.  He was forced to cancel two upcoming performing commitments and await the healing process to know if he would ever be able to play the trumpet again as he did in the past.  His career was seriously threatened and the public was outraged, calling for the end this sort of violence that had occured at many other parades during that Carnival season. The story made national news.  This incident was parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit from their second season Mardi Gras special, the "Let's Hit Al Hirt in the Mouth with a Brick Contest"

During the 70s, Ellis L. Marsalis played in Al Hirt's band.  Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Lois Prima, and many other luminaries played at his club at 501 Bourbon.  In 1987, Hirt played a solo rendition of "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II at the University of New Orleans. He had performed for six presidents and Princess Grace of Monaco, recorded 50 albums, had his own national television show, and had the honor of reigning over "Al Hirt Day" in his hometown before dying on April 27, 1999 at the age of 76 in New Orleans. Al Hirt was buried in Metairie Cemetery.  He was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in November 2009.

To receive an update for each day in New Orleans history,  join our facebook page - Today in New Orleans History

If you have enjoyed these daily updates, you might also enjoy these books by Catherine Campanella:



You Can Support this Site by Clicking on & Shopping from the Amazon Ad/Link below -- and it won't cost you a penny more:

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).

Shushan Airport
To receive an update for each day in New Orleans history,  join our facebook page - Today in New Orleans History.