Today in New Orleans History

December 4

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 LSU's First Mike the Tiger in his Cage
December 4, 1954

Photo from the New Orleans Public Library's Alexander Allison Collection

Mike I was nineteen years old when this photo was taken.  Mike VI now (sometimes) roars at LSU home football games.

From LSU:

Mike I (1936-1956)

In 1934, Athletic Department trainer Chellis "Mike" Chambers, Athletic Director T. P. Heard, Swimming Pool Manager and Intramural Swimming Coach William G. "Hickey" Higginbotham, and LSU law student Ed Laborde decided to bring a real tiger to LSU, then known as the "Old War Skule." They raised $750, collecting 25 cents from each student, and purchased a 200 pound, one-year-old tiger from the Little Rock Zoo. The cub was born on Oct. 10, 1935, and was originally named Sheik. His name was changed in honor of Chambers, the man most responsible for bringing him to LSU. Mike I arrived on campus on Oct. 21, 1936. Mike died on June 29, 1956, of complications associated with kidney disease. Following Mike's death, a fund was established to perpetuate his memory by mounting his pelt in a lifelike manner and displaying him at the university's Louisiana Museum of Natural History, where it remains to this day. 

More about the history of Mike through the years from LSU

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Joe Brown, born on May 18, 1926 in Baton Rouge, was  the undisputed Lightweight Championship of the World in 1956, a tiltle he held 11 times until losing to Carlos Ortiz in 1962. Known as the ‘Creole Clouter’ and Joe ‘Old Bones’ Brown, he was managed by Lou Viscusi and named The Ring's 'Fighter of the Year' for 1961. Brown was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. In his later years he was a trainer in New Orleans and died in New Orleans on December 4, 1997 at age 71.

Stanley Clisby Arthur, historian, orni¬thologist, naturalist, archivist. Born, Merced, Calif., 1880. Education: schools of California. Early career as journalist in San Francisco, Los Angeles, El Paso, Tex., New Orleans, and New York. Removed to Louisiana before 1915. Married Ella Bentley, a poet, writer, and confidential assistant to Elizabeth M. Gilmer (Dorothy Dix, q.v.). Children: Stanley Clisby, Jr. (d. 1931), John Stephen, and Linden Bent-ley. Served as Louisiana state ornithologist, 1915-1920; naturalist on the Seaman expedition into the interior of Labrador, 1919; director, Louisiana Conservation Department, Division of Wildlife, 1924-1928; regional director, Survey of Federal Archives, 1934-1940. Books include The Story of the Battle of New Orleans (1915), Old Fami-lies of Louisiana (1931), The Birds of Louisiana (1918), The Story of the West Florida Rebellion (1935), The Fur Animals of Louisiana (1931), Old New Orleans (1944), Louisiana Tours (1950), Audubon: An Intimate Life of the American Woodsman (1937), Jean Laffite: Gentleman Rover (1952), and New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em (1937). Died, New Orleans, December 4, 1963; interred Metairie Cemetery. G.R.C. Sources: New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 5, 1963; Louisiana Union Catalog.  From

Photos taken on December 4, 1954:
McDonogh 6, 4849 Chestnut Street
McDonogh 14, Jefferson Avenue

The Liberty ship Martin Behrman was launched at Delta Shipbuilding Company on December 4, 1944.

Many photos of the Algiers Naval Station taken on December 4, 1940.

On Tuesday, December 4, 1938 the Cleveland Rams beat the Pittsburg Pirates 7-0 in Municipal Stadium (City Park Stadium) with 7,500 in attendance. This was the first regular NFL season game ever played in New Orleans.

First NFL Regular Season Game in New Orleans
First NFL Regular Season Game in New Orleans

The French Opera House burned in the early morning hours of December 4, 1919. By dawn, the building was in ruins. The cause of the fire was never determined, although it was widely believed to have begun in the restaurant housed in the building. For years, New Orleanians cherished hopes of rebuilding the theater and resurrecting the elegant days of French opera, but in the 1960s a modern hotel (now the Inn on Bourbon) was erected on the site. Until the construction of the Theater of the Performing Arts in 1973, New Orleans was without a permanent home for opera. (From the New Orleans Public Library)  See Photos.

CSS PAMLICO, a side-wheel steamer purchased in New Orleans on July 10, 1861, was placed in commission of the Confederate navy on September 2 with Leutenant W. G. Dozier, CSN in command. She operated in the vicinity of New Orleans, clashing ineffectually with vessels of the Federal blockading squadron on December 4 and 7, 1861, and on March 25 and April 4, 1862. PAMLICO was burned by her officers on Lake Pontchartrain, when New Orleans fell to the Union.

George Frederick Castleden, painter, etcher. Born, Canterbury, England, December 4, 1861. Studied with Sir Thomas Sidney Cooper, Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, England. Removed to Canada, 1888, then to the United States, where he traveled as a scene painter, visiting New Orleans in 1911 and later moving to the city, ca. 1917. Known for paintings and illustrations of French Quarter courtyards. Exhibited in Canada, 1890s; Arts and Crafts Club, New Orleans, 1922, 1924, Palette and Pencil Club, New Orleans, 1926; New Orleans Art League, 1927, 1936. Awarded: Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, England, first prize for landscape painting; Territorial Exposition, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, first prize for landscape in oil, and for collections of oils and watercolors, 1896; Winnipeg, Canada, gold medal for etching, four first prizes and two second prizes, 1896; Exhibition of Canadian Artists, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, first prize. Died, Abingdon, Va., December, 1945; interred Harbledown, England.  Source:

At the December 4, 1795 meeting of the Cabildo, it was agreed that the hangman could not continue living at his present abode because it is the place where Royal Ensign Don Andres Almonaster has started construction of the Capitol Houses.

Groundbreaking for The Rivergate
December 4, 1964
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

Bridgedale in Metairie
December 4, 1925
This grainy December 4, 1925 advertisement, with a "picture taken yesterday", illustrates just how undeveloped many parts of East Jefferson Parish was at the time (and for decades afterward in many areas of the parish). The ad boasts that "one hundred persons in twenty-eight automobiles witnessed the formal opening".  What's not said is that the people where transported from town by the developers, a not-uncommon practice back in the day when Metairie was considered "out in the country".  What the visitors saw, after the long ride out, was an almost entirely undeveloped tract of land.  
The "Prominent State and Parish officials" all had a personal interest in the development of Bridgedale, as they were investors.  They were Secretary of State James Baily, Senator Jules G. Marine Bank Vice-President Fisher, J.A. Bandi, president of Johness Realty Allen H, Johness, vice-presidient of the same company James E. Emonds, M.P. Arnoult, and others well-known at the time.  Johness callled them "The strangest group of day laborers ever seen at work in or about New Orleans history"! Johness even had cameramen from the Harcol Film Company cranking away to capture this auspicious event on celluloid.
"Where great highways intersect, cities have always grown", stated the advertisement.  The Bridgedale area certainly did grow, as we know now, but the prophecy of the pitchmen never truly materialized.  The "PROMINENT HIGHWAYS" did not yet exist, nor did the bridge the development was named for.  Transcontinental Drive, which bordered the proposed subdivision, was a dirt road but plans were in store to turn it into a 100-foot roadway to be turned over the state which would run from the proposed Huey P. Long Bridge to the proposed Hammond Highway which would run along Jefferson Parish' lakeshore.  The "newly-voted" Kenner Highway (now Kenner Avenue) was largely abandoned when the Air-Line Highway was built.
A look at proceeding newspaper ads give us a good picture of how Bridgedale evolved.  During 1925 we see that streets were being constructed south of Airline between Transcontinental, Central Avenue, and Jefferson Highway.  The 704 acre tract "at the head of the proposed bridge" was at first divided into large squares and marketed not to individuals but to investors. Sixty-two lots were sold in November. 
"Bridgedale is being most artistically laid out and will eventually be one of the finest moderate priced home subdivision in the South" pitched the admen to  investors.  "Jefferson Parish is rapidly coming into its own, taking great strides in development that rival the best that has been seen in the entire South", they added. Johness Realty, with Securities Company, Inc., reported selling $350,000 worth of land.
By 1926, the ad-men touted Bridgedale' being "centrally located".  Central to where is a mystery, as not much else near it had been developed at the time.  Investors claimed 600 sales in three days.  In March, "Bring your picnic basket" was a ploy to attract potential buyers.  A private ad stated in December, "Will trade valuable lots in Bridgedale for automobile or what have you" for property near the "New Airline Road (highway).  
In 1927 a chunk of  Bridgedale  property was sold $40 per front foot. In April -- "Must sell in Bridgedale fronting Clearview Parkway.  Ready to build within 6 months. $300.  The same month someone advertised free campsites with water and other conveniences.  The most amusing ad, from a modern perspective, stated "Will sell half of my square on Clearview Parkway at sacrifice or trade for revenue producing property". The pitchmen reported that 500 people bought $1.3 million dollars worth of Bridgedale land.
During the 1930s modern bungalows were being built and marketed.  A bargain could be had in September -- "Fronts Airline Hwy. near Bridgedale.  $25 front foot, 600 feet deep. Oak Trees.  High Sandy Soil".
In May 1946, offered "Wonderful chance for someone to have a country home and business combined -- grocery store and single residence" on Queen Street. Despite some development in the area, Bridgedale was still largely unpopulated.  In October 1946 a "Poor Man's Chance" was offered -- "Small cottage on large lot on Main Street in Bridgedale.  Also milk cow".  
By 1951 Bridgedale school was under construction, attesting to the fact that the subdivision had grown substantially. St. Edward the Confessor parish was established on June 1, 1964 and the temporary chuch opened, in what is now the school cafeteria, in 1965.  St. Edward's school opened on September 1, 1965.  The 1970s brought a boom in Bridgedale construction with the development of homes between Transcontinental, Clearview, West Metairie, and the I-10.  And the rest is history.

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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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