Today in New Orleans History

May 11

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Cabildo Fire
May 11, 1988

On May 11, 1988 a fire destroyed the third floor of the Cabildo, one of the principal buildings of the Louisiana State Museum. In the following years, the architects of the New Orleans firm Koch and Wilson, along with construction crews, labored over this national historic landmark's restoration. Although the Cabildo fire was tragic, it did present opportunities for an archaeological dig in the courtyard directly behind the historic landmark.
The 7-alarm fire destroyed the third floor of the building, originally constructed between 1795 and 1799, and known as the spot where the Louisiana Purchase documents were signed.  Centuries of history were displayed by the Louisiana State Museum, which owns and operates the building to this day.

Investigators later determined that welding torches being used by workers on the roof caused the blaze, which gripped the city and historic French Quarter for hours on the afternoon of May 11, 1988.

There was a very real concern, voiced by legendary fire Supt. William McCrossen in the WWL-TV story above, that the fire would spread to nearby St. Louis Cathedral.  While that didn’t happen, flames tore through the building’s third floor and caused smoke and water damage to floors underneath.  Some unmistakable images from that day remain, including flames pouring out of the building's cupola and firefighters and other first responders carrying priceless artifacts out of the building by hand.

It would be nearly six years before the Cabildo would reopen, after a massive renovation totaling more than $8 million. Much of that money was raised by the public.

The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire (1788). The Cabildo was rebuilt between 1795-99 as the home of the Spanish municipal government in New Orleans, and the mansard roof was later added, in French style. The building took its name from the governing body who met there — the "Illustrious Cabildo," or city council. The Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies in 1803, and continued to be used by the New Orleans city council until the mid-1850s.

The building's main hall, the Sala Capitular ("Meeting Room"), was originally utilized as a courtroom. The Spanish used the courtroom from 1799–1803, and from 1803-1812 it was used by the Louisiana territorial superior court. After the American Civil War, it was the home of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1868-1910. The Sala Capitular was the site of several landmark court cases, including Plessy v. Ferguson.

In 1895 it was in a state of decay and proposed for demolition; artist William Woodward led a successful campaign to have the historic building preserved and restored.

In 1911 the Cabildo became the home of the Louisiana State Museum. The museum displays exhibits about the history of Louisiana from its settlement up through the Reconstruction era, and the heritage of the ethnic groups that live there. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

In 2005, the Cabildo survived Hurricane Katrina, which passed 30 miles (48 km) east of downtown, with relatively minor damage. Days after Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana State Police used the business offices of the Cabildo to set up what was called Troop N. The "N" was a designate for New Orleans. From the Cabildo, Louisiana State Troopers patrolled the streets of the city along with other state police agencies from New Mexico and New York.  (WIKI)

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Born on October 16, 1928 in New Orleans, Leonard Joseph "Lenny" Yochim made his professional baseball debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 18, 1951.  He played in parts of two seasons for the Pirates in 1951 and 1954, and later served in the organization for almost four decades.  A left-handed  screwball specialist, he threw a good curve ball as well, but a sore arm limited him to pitch in only 28.1 innings. He pitched in two games in 1951 and ten in 1954, ending his major league career with a 1-2 record and a 7.62 ERA in 12 games (three as a starter). His professional career highlight came on December 8, 1955, when he became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in a professional game in Venezuela while pitching for the Caracas Lions club. Helped by catcher Earl Battey, Yochim accomplished the feat in the Caracas 3–0 victory over Magallanes. Ramón Monzant was credited with the loss.  Following his playing career, Yochim rejoined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1966 to become a member of their baseball operations department. He served as an area scout, national crosschecker and major-league scout for the Pirates before moving into the front office in 1994. Yochim also worked as a senior adviser for player personnel from 1994 through 2004, when he decided not to return for another season.  He died in New Orleans on May 11, 2013.

The Coliseum streetcar  (originally Canal and Coliseum and Upper Magazine) (September 1, 1881 – May 11, 1929) – Known as the "Snake Line" because it curved all over the place in uptown New Orleans. Originally operating on Coliseum Street from Canal to Louisiana, it was extended piece by piece over the years, first on Magazine to the present Audubon Park, then through the park to Broadway and then across to Carrollton Ave., where it connected to the loop on Oak and Willow Streets from Carrollton to the Orleans-Jefferson parish line. Beginning in 1913, however, the Magazine Line took over all trackage on Magazine Street, and a shorter Coliseum Line ended near Audubon Park

Basin Street's name was changed to North Saratoga on May 11, 1921 (Ordinance #6426, CCS).  North Saratoga was changed back to Basin in 1945 (Ordinance #16137, CCS).  Basin beyond Toulouse changed to Orleans on September 1, 1960 (Ordinance #1995, MCS).  Orleans between Toulouse and North Claiborne was changed to Basin in 1972 (Ordinance #5016, MCS). (NOPL)

The gas-lit ornate cast-iron Belknap Fountain (left of center) was built in 1870 by Jackson Ogden Belknap who used it primarily as an advertising stand on the neutral ground of Canal Street. Note the NOCRR streetcar as mentioned on page 33. (HNOC) The Daily Picayune reported on May 11, 1895 that the “Manager of the Traction Company presented the Iron Pavilion which would be moved to the front entrance of the park and painted the appropriate colors” – seen here inside the Alexander Street entrance. (LDL) #046 #047 cp

Captain Stephen Hoyt, officer of volunteers, whose home was in the western part of the United States, was appointed mayor in February 1864. Shortly after his inauguration he called on Dr. Hugh Kennedy and asked him to accept the mayoralty. He then returned to the West at the end of his term.  One of his most important public acts was to assist at the great negro mass meeting held in Congo Square on May 11, 1864, in honor of the adoption by the constitutional convention of the article abolishing slavery. Under Hoyt, the finances of the city were reduced to the lowest possible ebb. Public pauperism was widespread among the people.Hoyt, in relinquishing the mayoralty in March, 1865, said that there had not been a time during his entire administration when he would not have gladly retired, so impossible had he found the task of controlling the incompetency and dishonesty which existed in the city government. (NOPL)

Abdil Daily Crossman, a Whig Candidate, was elected the twelfth Mayor of New Orleans, April 6, 1846 and served three consecutive terms, until March 26, 1854.  He took office on May 11, 1846.  He opened a small hat shop on Canal Street, which in 1829 was considered “out of town.” He soon gained the confidence and respect of his neighbors and after holding many offices of trust and importance, was, elected to the State Legislature in 1844. About that time he was made chairman of the financial committee of the Municipal Council. As this Council was heavily in debt, Crossman set to work to reduce expenses and increase revenues with such success, that soon he put the credit of this body upon a secure basis. It was this proof of administrative talent which led to his nomination for Mayor. The outstanding episodes of Crossman’s long administration were the patriotic and military enterprises undertaken in this city in connection with the war with Mexico; the Sauve Crevasse; the Spanish riot in 1851 which culminated in the Spanish American War; the epidemics of yellow fever in 1852 and 1853; and the new City Charter which provided a single, efficient government, replacing the much discredited three-municipality system. During the war with Mexico, New Orleans was the chief military depot of operation. The streets were constantly filled with recruits on their way to join commands at various stations in the West. Benevolence was a conspicuous trait of Crossman’s character, and it is recorded that his kindness to the soldiers returning from the war was extended in a highly creditable and satisfactory manner. Another notable event occurred on May 15, 1847 when, in honor of victories in Mexico, the entire city was illuminated. The new City Hall at Lafayette and St. Charles Streets, designed by the noted architect, James Gallier, in 1846 and one of the few examples of pure Greek architecture in the United States was built during Mayor Crossman’s administration, at a cost of $120,000.  A new public school system was put into effect in 1847, the State providing funds for the education of children from the age of 6 to 10 years. After 1850 this system was greatly enlarged through the beneficence of John McDonogh who came to New Orleans from Baltimore at the age of 22 and established himself in the social and business life of the city. Today one of the outstanding public schools of New Orleans bears the name of Crossman. An old dilapidated two-story building was used as the customhouse in 1822. As this building was inadequate, the erection of a new building was planned and on November 22, 1847, R. A. Walker, secretary of the treasury adopted the plan of A. W. Wood. On February 22, 1849 the cornerstone was laid in the presence of Henry Clay who was visiting New Orleans at that time. Mayor Crossman was prominent in advocating the building of railroads, the construction of the Great Western, and the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern being begun during his administration. The Mayor was also an advocate for the establishment of a United States Naval Depot. Mayor Crossman continued to serve the city after retiring from office of Mayor in several capacities until the outbreak of the War between the States, but principally as a member of the City Council. He died on June 13, 1859 at the age of 57 at the residence of his friend Newton Richard Esq., No. 18 Burgundy Street, having suffered a paralytic stroke, and lies buried in Cypress Grove Cemetery. A granite monument marks his grave. (NOPL)

William Freret, elected tenth Mayor of New Orleans, served from May 11, 1840 to April 4, 1842.  His public-minded spirit prompted him to use his influence in supporting legislation which was being enacted in 1841 establishing a system of public schools in the city. The State Treasurer was obligated to pay annually a certain sum of money from each municipality to help support the schools. A Mr. Shaw, was brought from Massachusetts to become the first superintendent. Freret’s last act was to submit to the Municipal Council a message vetoing an ordinance ceding to the United States Government all rights and title to the piece of land on Esplanade Avenue and on which the Mint had been erected. He died on June 14, 1864 at the age of 60, survived by his widow, Fanny Salkeld, a native of Liverpool and three children, William, Frederick and Fanny. Another child had died when quite young. He is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery. (NOPL)

An ordinance of the Third Municipality Council passed on May 11, 1836 required the Wharfinger to keep a book in which was written the names and tonnages of all ships found in the limits of the Municipality.

On May 11, 1832, the Cabildo received a proposition from Mr. Sam Spotts to pave the City streets with shells.

Richard Clague artist. Born, Paris, France, May 11, 1821; son of Richard Clague and Justine Delphine de la Roche. Education: New Orleans, Geneva and Paris. Encouraged by family to pursue a career in art. Studied the techniques of landscape and animal painting under Jean-Charles Humbert; returned to New Orleans after his father's death in 1836 and studied under Léon Pomerède, a muralist, 1842-1843. Returned again to Paris in 1844; studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the neoclassicist Edouard Picotin in 1849; began teaching art in 1851. Travelled in Egypt as a draftsman on the expedition of Ferdinand de Lesseps down the Nile, November 1856-March 1857; returned to New Orleans to stay in 1857. Opened a studio with Paul Poincy (q.v.), painted portraits and landscapes and conducted art classes. Civil War service: joined the 10th Louisiana Infantry as a second lieutenant at Camp Moore, Tangipahoa Parish, La., July 22, 1861; resigned, February 12, 1862. Considered the preiminent landscape artist of the nineteenth-century South; founded the "Bayou School" of landscape painting, specializing in scenes of cabins, camps and boats on backgrounds of hazy swamps, streams, and moss-bedecked oaks. Formed a liaison with Pauline Touze, ca. 1849. Children: Marie (b. 1850), Pauline Amalie (b. 1853). Member, Roman Catholic church. Died, New Orleans, November 29, 1873; interred St. Louis Cemetery II. Source:

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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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