Monday, May 24, 2010

Beautifying New Orleans

Article by General Allison Owen (1869-1951), as it appeared in the Official 1935 Flower Show Book:

"In 1903, an attempt was made to co-ordinate the care of Parks and Boulevards of New Orleans, through the formation of a federation of Parks and Avenue Commissions, which was known as the Central Commission of Parks and Avenues. This was followed in 1909, by a call to form a Tree Society and out of these grew the Parking Commission ordinance and the setting up by Mayor Martin Behrman of the first Board composed of Dr. Joseph Holt, President; Allison Owen, Vice-President and Secretary; J.C. Matthews, Treasurer; and Wil. H. Douglas, and Gus Oertling, Members.

The question of procuring a nursery site was brought up and a tact of land was secured on December 6, 1909, on Broad Street, bounded by White, Melpomene and Clio Streets, a total of eight acres. A professional superintendent and several laborers were employed in clearing all undergrowth and trees and by February 14, 1910, the ground were ready for planting.

In March 1912, the newly organized Parking Commission's first planting was begun. One hundred and seventy elm trees being planted on Orleans Street. From 1912 to 1918 the Parking Commission had under its jurisdiction a number of parks and avenues and thousands of trees. The work of this Commission grew so rapidly and the everlasting demands for trees by the public, was so insistent that it necessitated a larger nursery site than the present one.

On November 12, 1919, a 68 acre tract of land was purchased for $40,000.00, located on Gentilly Road near St. Anthony Street, which is the present nursery site of the Parkway Commission.

During the past four years a total of 19,997 trees of unusual types and beauty were planted on the streets and parks, which brings the total in all to 90,000 trees planted since its organization, not counting the thousands of ornamental and decorative plants and shrubs that were planted.

Palm gardens were planted on South Claiborne Avenue, also on Jefferson Davis Parkway, which were admired and praised by hundreds of New Orleans plant lovers and this planting also makes our City look tropical in every respect.

Melpomene Street, from Dryades to South Claiborne Avenue has been planted with large Magnolia trees, which in itself forms a beautiful scene.

On West End Boulevard, from Florida Avenue to Robert E. Lee Boulevard, a stretch of two miles, has been planted to Crepe Myrtles much to the delight of the residents of that section, also, the lawn is well kept throughout the year.

The planting of Weeping Willow trees with Oleanders alternating has been accomplished on the banks of the New Basin Canal, from the Black Bridge to West End.

South Claiborne Avenue, from Canal to the New Basin Canal, has been planted to a double Avenue of Magnolia trees, to be known as the only planting of its kind in the country.

Large oak trees that were dug up in St. Bernard Parish are planted on Canal Boulevard, from Florida Avenue to Robert E. Lee Boulevard, also Nashville Avenue has been planted with these large oak trees, from Loyola to South Claiborne Avenue, alternating with Parkinsonia trees.

In addition to the replanting of shrubbery at West End Park, there is also the beautiful rose garden with its 5,700 rose bushes in different varieties and its artistically arranged rose arbors. This garden is visited by a great majority of tourists that enter New Orleans. The Center Avenue of the park has been planted to large Magnolia trees. An Azalea garden has been started in the park, which is the admiration of many, and which will be enlarged from time to time until it becomes one of the most attractive features of our parks. Two large lily ponds were built near the entrance of the park, with fountains throwing their spray upon different varieties of water lilies. In the summer the electric fountain is in operation, three times a week, and is a great source of pleasure to those that frequent this park, especially the visitors.

Lafayette Square and Elks Place, which parks are located in the commercial section of the City, are being planted with thousands of azalea bushes of different types."

Greater New Orleans Spring Flower Show. New Orleans: New Orleans Horticultural Society, Inc., 1935, p. 9. From the Garden Library of the New Orleans Town Gardeners, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Plough's New Orleans Necropolis Plan

In the summer of 1837, New Orleans surgeon and dentist A.L. Plough developed a necropolis plan, which he placed on display in his Canal Street office. He hoped that the city's recent cholera epidemic would prompt the citizenry to adopt his new "sepulture" system:

"I call upon every individual, from the Executive of the State to the most humble citizen -- for this concerns every one, the poor as well as the rich -- and in fact all who possess the slightest glow of humanity, every citizen who has the pride and spirit of a man, and who regards the future prosperity of our beloved and growing city, its moral and physical condition, its reputation at home or abroad, should lend its countenance or support to the accomplishment of an object so desirable. I therefore sincerely hope that this call will not be in vain."

Although Plough had the support of New Orleans' leading architects (advertisement above), his plan failed to garner the support of the city's leading newspaper, The Picayune. An unidentified editorialist dismissed the surgeon's plan as altogether "too grand and expensive."

Image above from The Picayune (22 September 1837), p. 1.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Book a Day

Justin McGuirk reported for today's Guardian:

"In Britain we're sceptical of the idea of the architect as intellectual. Most people probably aren't aware that there's a whole realm of architecture that doesn't involve erecting buildings. But from Vitruvius in the 1st century BC and Alberti and Palladio in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier in the 1920s, architects have always produced books, not just to publicise their work but to lay down the latest architectural rules.

Often these titles tend to be monographs. Light of text and glossy of photograph, they are hefty volumes, records of achievement – a chance for the architect to say "Look on my works, ye mighty, and leave them casually stacked on the coffee table". But Rem Koolhaas's books, produced with his Rotterdam-based practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture, are different, as a new show at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London's Bedford Square demonstrates. On a plinth in the middle of the room sit 400 volumes bound together in black folders. They look like endless meeting agendas, but they are the complete works of OMA from 1978 to 2010. If you stood this object on the floor, it would be as tall as two people, one stood on top of the other. No wonder the show is called OMA Book Machine. . . "

To read more, click here.

Image above: Architectural Association, as it appears in the 17 May 2010 Guardian.

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Orleans Architect William Surgi

William Surgi, architect. 918 N. Tonti Street. From Souvenir Sketchbook of the Fifth Ward, 1910.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Surgi family was associated with the New Orleans building trade. Eugene Surgi was an active architect from c. 1860 to c. 1906. He formed a partnership with Edmund Topp, practicing as Surgi and Topp, from 1892-1894. George Surgi advertised his private practice in New Orleans city directories in 1887, 1890, 1892-1893. William Surgi was featured in the Souvenir Sketch Book of the Fifth Ward 1910:

"William Surgi, the prominent architect and builder, has been a resident of the Second District all his life. During the five years that he has been established he has designed and erected many of the handsomest as well as substantial commercial structures in the Fifth Ward. In connection with his business he has a well-equipped factory for the turning out of doors, frames, windows and other building material. Mr. Surgi is a large property holder--he makes a specialty of the erection of modern, up-to-date homes, which are sold on the easy payment plan." (1)

Surgi designed, built, and operated his practice out of the shotgun double illustrated above. By 1914, this structure located at 918 N. Tonti was seized and sold at a sheriff's auction on 2 January. (2)

(1) Souvenir Sketch Book of the Fifth Ward (New Orleans: The Southern Manufacturer, 1910). Louisiana Research Collection, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

(2) "By the Civil Sheriff" The Daily Picayune (19 December 1913): p. 10.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Use and Re-Use

Under the direction of Spencer Fullerton Baird, the U.S. Fish Commission raised trout in Washington, D.C. area ponds. Fish commission employees trapped the fish in streams, and transported them by rail, then by horse-drawn carts from rural locations to the D.C. metropolitan area in milk canisters. The land that once housed fish ponds is now visited by some 25 million people annually, and its future use is currently being reconsidered by the National Park Service. Read the Draft National Mall Plan and Environmental Impact Statement here.

Image above: United States Fish Commission Ponds, undated. National Archives and Records Administration. As viewed 13 May 2010 at

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Paved with Good Intentions

In the early twentieth century, American and European cities sought economical, durable, hygienic, and noise-buffering materials for paving streets and pedestrian walkways. San Francisco was one of the first to introduce treated wood block pavers, which were laid on California Street in 1898. New York followed soon thereafter, its Metropolitan Street Railway Company experimenting with treated wood paving along Hudson Street in 1902. British and French civil engineers adopted the new material for paving the heavily trafficked Regent Street and the Champs-Élysées (image above).

What was this new wonder paver? Creosoted wood block. The Southern Pine Association (SPA) produced creosoted yellow pine block pavements and sold them internationally:

"The claim for Creosoted Yellow Pine Block Pavement is that it is the most durable, the most economically maintained, the least noisy, the most sanitary, and the least injurious to horses, of any pavement in existence."(1)

In New Orleans, headquarters to the SPA, creosoted wood blocks were used for the Gas Light Company's courtyard paving as early as 1878. R.E. Slade, the company manager, provided a testimonial for SPA's 1915 advertising brochure:

"First, the Yellow Pine Blocks in question were laid in either 1878 or 1879; second, the pavement has never been repaired for wear, but the blocks have been taken up and relaid in numerous spots owing to the changes in the piping which ran underneath them."(2)

Creosote, a coal tar product, had largely been used to treat wood for railroad ties and plank roads. Its adoption for block pavers was predicated on a belief that it was easier to maintain, noiseless, more durable than granite and that it had antiseptic properties due to its high percentage of phenol and naphthalene. An earlier experiment, using wood creosote (rather than coal tar) as a preservative, was invented in Boston by Samuel Nicolson. Read about his experiments here.

One wonders, where it all went? Time Out Chicago has documented some extant wood pavers near Lincoln Park. The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area was once considered the largest user in the nation, noted for its creosoted yellow pine-paved expanses on Cathedral Hill. . .

Sylvester Labrot, Sr. was a New Orleans industrialist who owned a large creosote works. When he died in February 1935, he left a vast fortune of some $87 million to his two sons, Sylvester Jr. and William.

Picture above: Southern Pine Association. What the Cities Say about Creosoted Wood Block Pavements: The Opinions of Civil Engineers, Paving Experts, Street Commissioners & Citizens' Leagues with a Comment by the United States Government. New Orleans, [1915].

(1) p. [3] of above cited publication.
(2) p. 9 of the same.