House Book--Louisiana Division, Part III

Photographs

The Division's {Photograph Collection} contains numerous photographs of properties throughout New Orleans. Some of these are in the subject series of the {collection}, in the sections "Buildings--Residential," "Buildings--Commercial," "Buildings--Governmental," etc. Others are to be found in the special collections which the Library has obtained through gifts. Some of these groups date back into the latter part of the nineteenth century and include the work of such photographers as George Francois Mugnier, Alexander Allison, Charles Franck, and C. Milo Williams. A card index to the {collection} provides access {to some building views by name of structure or by street address}. Not all of the photographs, however, are indexed, so it is necessary to search, for example, through the various building files in hopes of finding a shot of your structure. Remember {that} it is possible that a photograph taken for one purpose may "accidentally" include a view of your building in the background.

The collection also includes several series of aerial photographs from the 1940s and from the {year 1960}. The reduction in these varies from one series to the next, but in general they do provide an overview of an area similar to the Sanborn maps with the advantage of being actual images of the buildings rather than merely "bird's-eye" view drawings. One interesting aerial shows, in some detail, many of the structures demolished for the construction of the Greater New Orleans Mississippi River Bridge.

Another group of photographs is made up of copies of the plans {previously housed} in the first 46 volumes of the Notarial Archives plan books. They are in black and white, while the originals are usually in color, but they are reduced in size and more readily copied.

Books

Many of the published books in the Louisiana Division will be helpful in researching the history of Crescent City buildings. The Friends of the Cabildo series on New Orleans architecture should be consulted by all, even if the site being researched lies outside of the geographical areas covered by the {eight} volumes. They provide many ideas on research methods through the examples included in the texts.

It is impossible to list all of the potentially useful books in this space. One of the most valuable is The book of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Louisiana, which contains 1892-vintage photographs of the residences and businesses of local entrepreneurs, from the Esplanade Street mansion of rice mill operator E.V. Reiss, to the more modest home of roofer Albert Brandin at 1225 Elysian Fields. Similar to this work is the 1908 Picayune, New Orleans volume. More recent works, such as the guides to New Orleans architecture by Samuel Wilson, Jr. and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, provide photographs and/or descriptions of many of the more notable examples of buildings throughout the city.

But there are numerous volumes that may be more or less accidentally of use to architectural research. These include guide books that contain photographs of different parts of New Orleans; programs of conventions and other events that often include advertisements portraying the structures that housed the advertisers; and school (and other) yearbooks that picture buildings associated with the school or other institution. The book collection is not open for browsing, however, so it is important to consult the Division staff for suggestions as to which volumes to check.

Also of potential value are several documents compiled by or for various municipal agencies and housed in the Archives collection. One such work is the "Architectural survey and ratings" volume of the New Orleans Housing and Neighborhood Preservation Study done by Curtis and Davis in 1974. This volume contains copies of photographs of most buildings along St. Charles Avenue, with approximate dates of construction, ratings, and other brief comments. Another important study, Bernard Lemann's 1969 Historic sites inventory for the Regional Planning Commission, provides brief descriptions and evaluations of historically significant structures throughout the city.


Newspapers

The collection of New Orleans newspapers in the Louisiana Division is the most complete available. It is almost entirely on microfilm and includes early papers such as the Moniteur, the Louisiana Gazette, and L'Ami des Lois, as well as a complete file of the Picayune from its beginning in 1837. In addition to the newspapers themselves, the Division also has extensive card indexes, one covering obituaries and biographies and the other covering people, places, and events in the news. A search of the second index--The Louisiana News Index--under the subject heading of historic houses, buildings, the name of the structure, or other appropriate topic may possibly yield articles on your building and its history. The Obituary Index can be used to locate information on the people who owned, lived in, or otherwise occupied the location in question.

Even without the index you can make profitable use of the newspapers. Issues just prior to the various sales of the property may contain advertisements with detailed descriptions. Notices of sales at public auction often prove to be particularly useful in this respect. There is also the possibility of finding some mention of the construction of your building if you have already narrowed down the range of construction dates sufficiently. Already mentioned above were the annual "Brick and Mortar" columns listing building permits issued in the city.

In addition to the newspapers, there are several magazines that might prove to be useful. One, Architectural Art and Its Allies, was published monthly in New Orleans during the period 1905-1912, at first by the Louisiana Architectural Association and later by the Louisiana Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Among the features of this journal are photographs and, in some cases, reproductions of elevation and/or plan drawings of local buildings, both residential and nonresidential. Among the projects represented by detailed plans are the Whitney Central Bank on St. Charles and the Post Office on Camp St. Besides the photographs and drawings, this journal also carried news about construction projects along with advertisements for area builders and architects. A card index (keyed to name of builder or building rather than to address) to this valuable source is also available.

Another useful publication is Preservation in Print (earlier known as Preservation Press) published monthly by the Preservation Resource Center. It includes articles on individual buildings and on historic areas of New Orleans. Preservation in Print also has news of local preservation activity, including many seminars and other functions of interest to the researcher and/or restorer.


Other Sources


The records available at the Courthouse along with those at the Louisiana Division should enable you to complete an accurate history of your building. There are several other area repositories, however, that hold additional documents that might prove to be useful in adding to your history or in filling in missing details. This note will not attempt to cover the holdings of these repositories in any detail, it only seeks to identify them and provide some idea of the areas of strength at each.

The Historic New Orleans Collection, 533 Royal St., holds the original Vieux Carre Survey, of which the Louisiana Division has microfilm copies. The Collection, moreover, is in the process of completing and updating the information included in the original survey. In addition, they have been working on other areas of architectural history, such as indexing building contracts, compiling information on local building professionals, etc. Their map collection is outstanding and it also has numerous original building plans. A group of surveyors' field note books (1843-1910) is also of special interest.

Tulane University's Howard-Tilton Memorial Library houses the Southeastern Architectural Archive, a repository for building records from around the region. Included are original plans from various local architectural firms, such as Curtis and Davis; Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth; and Benson and Riehl, as well as from such noted individuals as Henry Howard, Thomas Sully, and the James Galliers. The Library's Special Collections division holds many photographs of New Orleans, as well as many rare books, including the type that may picture structures in various parts of the city throughout the years. Tulane also owns copies of a local periodical, the Building Review, which more or less continued the type of information that had been published in Architectural Art and Its Allies. The Building Review was published ca. 1911-1923.

Louisiana State Museum, Louisiana Historical Center (in the U.S. Mint building at 400 Esplanade Ave.) also has a fine photograph and map collection, along with old books of local interest. The Historical Center holds recrods of the Historic American Buildings Survey and is also repository for the Colonial French and Spanish records for Louisiana. The latter collection contains court proceedings similar to those available in the City Archives for the later period, including, for example, inventories of the contents of eighteenth century buildings.

All of the valuable resources in the city aside, you should always keep in mind the possibility that the record that you need to complete your research may simply not be available. Many documents were lost or otherwise strayed from the official repositories that one would expect to find them in. Some record series were not recognized as being of any permanent value and were thus discarded by the original agency without ever being considered for archival retention.

Thus while local libraries have a large and valuable body of real estate records, it is by no means complete. For this reason it may be important to take stylistic details and construction methods into consideration in the effort to research your building. The Old House Journal (housed in the Library's Periodical reference division) is a practical publication devoted to helping individuals go about the task of renovating or restoring older structures, its articles often include reference to past construction methods which might be relevant to your own physical situation.

Area libraries have many other works on styles and construction methods. The Library's Periodicals, Arts and Recreation Division, for example, has a copy of Asher Benjamin's Builder's Guide (1838) one of the important works in the popularlization of the Greek Revival style in America. And in the Louisiana Division's collection is a catalog of Roberts and Company, a New Orleans purveyor of the popular "gingerbread" moldings of the Victorian period.

It is even possible to have your building researched for you. For a reasonable fee, the Preservation Resource Center provides such a service, taking style into consideration along with archival research. To do the research yourself, however, can be exciting and rewarding and can make you feel much closer to your physical surroundings.


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