The Old St. Louis Hotel

The historic building, that was once the St. Louis Hotel has been called many different names since it was commissioned in 1835. The famed architect J. N. DePouilly, a Frenchman who settled in New Orleans a few years prior, designed the building. It was originally named the “City Exchange” and served not only as a place of accommodation but also as a major place for businessmen to meet. A fire destroyed the building shortly after construction was completed. Its local popularity caused the Citizens Bank to fund an immediate reconstruction that cost $600,000. The new owners saw the value in keeping the architecture and style of the original building. However, they took the opportunity to install fire-resistant materials in order to prevent a repeat of history. After being rebuilt in 1841 the St. Louis Hotel became the hub of business, leisure and culture for Creole society. The St. Louis Hotel was centrally located in the “Vieux Carré”, or what i known as the French Quarter today. The map below shows the St. Louis Hotel, as the “Old State House”, in relation to the famous landmarks of Canal St. and Jackson Square.

St Louis Hotel Robinsons Atlas
Courtesy of Robinson’s Atlas

Business and trade was one of the main facets of the St. Louis Hotel. Richard Campanella explains, “auctions of every conceivable form of property, including enslaved human beings, were conducted beneath the 88-foot-high dome surrounded by towering Tuscan columns, like a scene out of ancient times”1. The outside of that same dome is one of the building’s features that made it so distinguishable and memorable.

The Old Slave Block in the St. Louis Hotel, where "auctions of every conceivable property, including enslaved human beings, were conducted".
The Old Slave Block in the St. Louis Hotel, where “auctions of every conceivable property, including enslaved human beings, were conducted”. Courtesy of The Library of Congress
slaves-sale-rotunda
‘Sale of estates, pictures and slaves in the Rotunda, New Orleans.’ Illustration by W H Brooke FSA, engraved by J M Starling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Civil War drastically changed the course of history for the St. Louis Hotel. The once glamorous, five-story hotel functioned as a military hospital after the city of New Orleans fell to the Union army in 1862.  Hundreds of wounded soldiers were treated and kept at the hotel throughout the Civil War.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
WP Kellogg
Portrait of William Pitt Kellogg, Governor of Louisiana. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The St. Louis Hotel solidified its place in American history during the Reconstruction Era. The gubernatorial election of 1872 was wrought with fraud and in the end the federal courts decided in Republican candidate, William Pitt Kellogg’s, favor. Professor Nystrom explains that many “white Louisianans… believe that President Grant had used the judiciary to sustain an unpopular Republican government in the Reconstruction South”2. The results of this election transformed New Orleans into a hotbed of Reconstruction fueled tension. In January 1873 the “Fusionists”, the party who ran against Kellogg in the election, established their own shadow state government in New Orleans. They attempted to perform a military coup by forming a militia and attacking the Metropolitan Police force. The so-called “Battle of Cabildo” showcased the obvious advantages of the Metropolitan Police force. The Metropolitans used their training experience and weapons to easily diffuse the situation against an unorganized mob of Fusionists. However, the Republicans and Metropolitans failed to punish the leaders of the coup, which ultimately leads to The Battle of Liberty Place.

The movement embodied by Democratic rebels was forced to evolve rather than disappear, due to the lack of consequences handed down by Kellogg, the Republicans, and the Metropolitans. This evolution gave birth to the White League. By July 5th, 1874 the same leader who organized the failed Cabildo coup, Frederick Nash Ogden, had raised an “army” of over 1,500 men. Meanwhile, the state of Louisiana’s capitol had been moved from Baton Rouge to the Mechanic’s Institute in New Orleans, and then to the St. Louis Hotel. Therefore, during 1874 the St. Louis Hotel acts as Louisiana’s statehouse, the headquarters for Kellogg’s Republican government, and a central location during The Battle of Liberty Place.

The fighting took place primarily on Canal St. between the Metropolitan Police and the White League, with General Longstreet commanding the reserves at the statehouse. Within minutes it was clear that the White League had learnt from its previous mistakes during the Cabildo coup. The League showed its power, unity, and improved organization by executing specific battle tactics, as opposed to the prior massacres and riots. The Battle of Liberty Place did not last long before the Metropolitans, led by Superintendent Badger, were forced to disperse and flee to their homes or the Customs House. Governor Kellogg remained inside the Customs House for the entirety of the battle, while the city fell and the troops inside the former St. Louis Hotel were forced by the League to give up their weapons and disband. The White League’s victory was symbolically significant, however, it only lasted three days until the federal government sent troops who recaptured the city and handed control back over to Kellogg. The battle resulted in a huge shift in power, which was officially realized in the next gubernatorial election. It effectively started the beginning of the end of Reconstruction in New Orleans.

After the battle, The St. Louis Hotel remained the state house and home of legislative meetings until the state capitol was moved back to Baton Rouge in 1882. The building was left in such a terrible condition that attempts to reopen the hotel failed and after the Great Storm of 1915 the hotel was sold at auction and demolished. The location is now home to the Royal Omni Hotel New Orleans, which shares a similar architectural style to the original St. Louis Hotel.

St Louis Demolished
Photo of the St. Louis Hotel being demolished in 1917. Courtesy of Charles L. Franck
St Louis Article
Headline of a Times Picayune article headline published on June 21, 1903.

 

 


Footnotes:

  1. Campanella, Richard. “The St. Louis and the St. Charles: New Orleans’ Legacy of Showcase Exchange Hotels.” Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans April (2015): 16-17.
  2. Nystrom, Justin A. “The Battle of Liberty Place.” KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 3 Jan 2011. Web 12 Dec. 2015.

References:

  1. http://www.orleanscivilclerk.com/robinson/atlas/robinson6.html
  2. Huber, Leonard Victor. New Orleans: A Pictorial History. New Orleans: Pelican, LA. Print.
  3. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994011961/PP/
  4. http://www.nls.uk/exhibitions/treasures/american-civil-war/slaves-advert/st-louis-hotel
  5. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Louisiana/New_Orleans/_Texts/KENHNO/43*.html
  6. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003000697/PP/
  7. Times-Picayune, published as The Daily Picayune. (New Orleans, Louisiana)06-21-1903Page 18

 

 

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