Today in New Orleans History

January 13

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Danny Barker is Born in New Orleans

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/DannyAndBlueLuBarkerBySyndey_Byrd.jpgA plaque is affixed on the exterior wall of the brick two-story wrought iron-clad building at 1027 Chartres Street between St. Philip Street and Ursulines Avenue.  It reads:

Birthplace of Danny Barker

January 13, 1909

African-America Creole guitar and banjo player, songwriter, composer, singer, author, historian, teacher, storyteller, humorist, actor, painter.  Jazz Hall of Fame member.  Recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts Music Master Award and numerous other honors.  Played on more than 1,000 records of Jazz, Swing, Blues, Bebop, and Traditional.  Husband of legendary singer Blue Lu Barker.

Daniel "Danny" Moses Barker was born on January 13, 1909, in New Orleans. Born into a musical family, his interest in jazz came early. His grandfather, Isidore Barbarin, had been a member of the great Onward Brass Band. Clarinetist Barney Bigard, who played with Duke Ellington, gave Danny lessons in clarinet. His uncle, the great jazz drummer Paul Barbarin, also taught him how to play the drums. Nonetheless, when it came to playing music, Danny settled on the banjo and guitar as his favorite instruments.

In 1930, he married Louise Dupont, who sang blues and was better known as "Blue Lu" Barker. The couple moved to New York that year where he led the life of a jazz musician; working the clubs and doing session work. While there, he worked with great musicians like Red Allen, Sidney Bechet and the legendary "Jelly Roll" Morton .

In 1938, he recorded with Decca Records. Along with his wife Blue Lu, he wrote her best known hit, "Don't You Feel My Leg" a risqué tune recorded as "Don't You Make Me High". Also in that year, he joined Benny Carter's Big Band. The following year, he became rhythm guitarist for Cab Calloway's Big Band and played and recorded with Calloway until the late 1940s. Following his break with Calloway, he became a freelance rhythm man recording in New York with other great New Orleans transplants such as Sidney Bechet.

By the mid 1960's, he and his wife decided to return to New Orleans and keep the traditions associated with jazz music alive by lecturing on traditional jazz history. He founded the Fairview Baptist Church Band to continue the marching band tradition. Young musicians like trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and drummer Herlin Riley were members of the Fairview band. Barker continued performing and sharing his love and knowledge of jazz music until his death on March 13, 1994 [at the age of 85].  (From the New Orleans Public Library)  Photograph by Syndey Byrd.

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Born in New Orleans on October 30, 1884 Fannie Heaslip Lea, daughter of James J. Lea and Margaret Heaslip  attended public schools, graduated from H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College with a B.A. in 1904, and did graduate work in English at Tulane.    Until her marriage in 1911, she wrote feature articles for New Orleans daily newspapers and short stories for magazines such as Harper's, a short story, Little Anna and the Gentleman Adventurer, in the 1910 The Century Magazine and Woman's Home Companion. After moving to Honolulu with here husband Hamilton Pope Agee, her first novel Quicksands, was published.S he divorced in 1926 and moved to New York, publishing 19 novels and more than 100 stories, poems, and essays in various newspapers and journals, until her death on January 13 1955.  Lea wrote several plays. Her first, Round-About, was produced in 1929 by the New York Theatre Assembly. Her papers are housed in the University of Oregon Library in Eugene, Oregon.

Mayor Martin Behrman passed away on January 12, 1926, at 7:00 A.M., at the age of sixty-one, at his home in Algiers, being survived by his widow, a son Stanley Behrman and a daughter Helen May Behrman, wife of Nathaniel W. Bond. His body lay in state at the City Hall viewed by twenty thousand grief stricken people. Nothing in words could visualize the immensity of the intensity of New Orleans’ last farewell to the man who was just beginning a fifth term as its chief executive. Only once before in the City’s history was there anything to compare with it – the funeral of the beloved Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Religious rites were held at the St. Louis Cathedral, on January 13, 1926 at 10:30 A.M., under a white canopy, in a sea of cut flowers, Martin Behrman was laid to rest in Metairie Cemetery.  (From the New Orleans Public Library)

Valena Cecelia MacArthur Jones, an educator, was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi on August 3, 1872. She graduated from Straight College in 1892. Upon graduation from college, she was made principal of the Bay St. Louis Negro School. She left that position in 1897 to teach in New Orleans Public Schools. During the four years she taught in New Orleans Public Schools, she was voted the most popular colored teacher in the city. Miss MacArthur quit teaching to marry Rev. Robert R. Jones in 1901. Mrs. Jones helped her husband edit the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a paper put out by the African Methodist Episcopalian Church. Mrs. Valena C. Jones died January 13, 1917, at New Orleans and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. (From the New Orleans Public Library)

Beverly Chew, merchant, government official. Born, Virginia, February 6, 1773. Married Maria Theodora Duer of New York (d. 1837). Several children, including a daughter Catherine and a son Beverly Chew Jr. (b. 1810). By 1801 had made his way to Louisiana and became the partner of Richard Relf (q.v.), a well-known New Orleans merchant. The firm of Chew and Relf was also associated for a decade with Daniel Clark, Jr. (q.v.), a prominent member of the city's business community. Clark made Chew and Relf the executors of his will and after his death in 1813 the partners found themselves at the center of a great controversy involving Clark's daughter Myra. Myra Clark Gaines (q.v.) sued Chew and Relf, and others, in order to establish her legitimacy and thus gain access to her father's considerable estate. The case dragged on for more than half a century, long after the death of the two executors. Despite the notoriety he gained in the Myra Clark Gaines case, Beverly Chew was an important figure in his own right. The firm of Chew and Relf prospered until the War of 1812 disrupted commerce at which point the partners were forced into bankruptcy. After taking time out during the war to serve as a sergeant in Captain Beale's Company of Riflemen in the Louisiana militia, Chew entered the New Orleans customhouse where he was serving as a customs collector by 1817. Chew's hostility to the Lafitte brothers (q.v.) of Barataria became legendary while he was in that post. At some point in his career Chew also became postmaster of New Orleans. Chew had a long career in banking. President, United States Branch Bank, 1804, and again in 1830; instrumental in organization, 1832, and served as cashier of New Orleans Canal and Banking Co.; president, New Orleans Savings Bank, a branch of the Canal Bank. Retired as cashier of Canal Bank, 1844. Episcopalian; served more than twenty years as vestryman. Died, New Orleans, January 13, 1851; interred Girod Street Cemetery.  Source:

The Jackson Avenue streetcar ran its route from January 13, 1835 through May 19, 1947, beginning before the St. Charles line first began operation.  It was replaced with a trolley bus and later diesel bus service.

Nicolas-Ignace de Beaubois (October 15, 1689 – January 13, 1770) was a French Jesuit priest and missionary who joined the Canadian mission in Quebec in 1719. Beaubois spent a training period in Quebec and began his spreading of religious doctrine among the Illinois Indians in 1721. On 2 Feb. 1723, at Kaskaskia, Illinois he took the vows of a Jesuit. Because of the expansion of the Mississippi valley missions, the Jesuits had made the area a distinct mission district within the diocese of Quebec and Beaubois became the superior. He immediately went to France to populate and strengthen the new jurisdiction. The Compagnie des Indes was responsible for funding the parishes and missions in the Missio Ludovisiana district and he was successful in negotiating appropriate funding for future operations. He obtained authorization for the Jesuits to open a house in New Orleans and to have a plantation near the city for supplementing their operation. Beaubois also arranged to have Ursuline nuns funded to establish a girls’ school in New Orleans. This became the first girls' school in the Mississippi valley.

Official  Rivergate "Wall-breaking" Ceremony
Friday, January 13, 1995
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

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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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