Historic Structures

The Arsenal, New Orleans Louisiana

Date added: November 5, 2013 Categories: Louisiana Military Facility

On February 25, 1836, S, B. White, Governor of Louisiana, approved an Act of the Legislature entitled:
"AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE GOVERNOR TO PURCHASE ARMS FOR THE USE OF THE STATE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES"
which among other things enacted:
"That the Civil Engineer shall draw a plan and estimate of an Armory, to be built on a lot of ground belonging to the City of New Orleans on the site of the old prison, near the principals and that said building shall be at least two stories high and so constructed as to contain twenty pieces of artillery, and ten thousand stands of arms; and that the sum of twenty thousand dollars be appropriated for that purpose. Said building to be commenced as soon as the City Council of New Orleans, or a majority thereof, shall have notified the Governor of the State, of their consent to transfer to the State the property of the ground necessary for the aforesaid building."
The transfer of the property was effected by a resolution of the City Council December 18, 1837. As a result of these two acts, the arsenal now standing on St. Peter Street directly behind the Oabildo was erected.

There is also included in the records of this Survey a photostat of an old drawing of a building taken from the Notarial Archives, which bears such a remarkable resemblance to the elevation of the Arsenal as to make it practically certain that both designs were the work of the same Architect. This old drawing bears the dates of April 9, 1836 and May 24, 1836 and is signed by the Mayor and Council but not by the Architect. An examination of the Council Records of the dates indicated revealed that the plan was for a building intended to house the pumps and apparatus of the Company of Pumper No.4. The erection of this fire station was authorized on the land situated on Levee Street, between Bienville and Conti under the joint direction of the City Surveyor and a committee of the fire company, provided the cost was not over $7,500.00. It is not known if the building was ever built. Its design, however, undoubtedly formed the basis for the design of the Arsenal which was authorized the same year. James Harrison Dakin of the firm of Dakin and Dakin was the architect and builder, his brother Charles Bingley Dakin, the other member of the firm having died before the building was erected. The contract by which Dakin and Dakin agreed to construct the building for $19,500, receiving an additional $500.00 for the plans, was signed before Felix Grima, N. P., July 1, 1839,

The site selected for the Arsenal was one of some importance historically, being occupied as early as 1728 by a French guard house and prison which was destroyed by the fire of March 31, 1788. It was rebuilt by the Spanish and again destroyed by fire December 8, 1793. It was again rebuilt in connection with the Cabildo by Don Almonaster y Roxas in 1795 and was used as a prison or "calaboose" until 1837 when it was demolished on completion of the prison on Orleans Street, which has also since been demolished.

The principal facade on St. Peter Street is an excellent composition, boldly designed, a striking contrast in light and shade. The simple massive pilasters and deep reveals of the windows give the building a decided military character. These four heavy pilasters are of stuccoed brick resting on a gray granite base. They extend up almost the full height of the building's three stories and support a simple emblature pierced with three deep-set attic windows in the frieze. The architrave is defined simply by a dentil course below these windows, while the cornice above them consists only of a heavy ledge projecting out a foot and a half. Above this is a three foot parapet which practically conceals the hipped slate roof.

The principal entrance to the building between the two center pilasters is closed by great iron-sheathed, nail-studded doors. The space above the doors is occupied by three double hung windows separated from each other by two heavy wood mullions. There are two enormous double hung windows between the pilasters at each side of the central bay. A wrought iron grill is hung in front of each of the principal windows.

Behind the main building is a small courtyard separating it from the small three-story portion which fronts on Orleans Alley. This portion of the building is divided into two small rooms by an inside passage which connects the court to the alley on the ground floor. The two upper stories are each divided into two rooms and are reached by an outside stair in the courtyard.

The elevation in Orleans Alley is not particularly noteworthy except for a very well designed, off-center balcony at the second floor level. There is an ornamental panel in the cast iron at the center consisting of crossed cannons surmounted by a torch. Below this is a pile of cannon balls and a wrought iron monogram "L. L.", initials of the Louisiana Legion, which first occupied the building as an armory.

From 1846 until the time of the War Between the States it was used by the Orleans Artillery, and in 1860 was also headquarters of General P. G. T. Beauregard, Adjutant General of Louisiana. During the war it was used as a base for military supplies until the capture of New Orleans in 1862, when it became a military prison and Federal Headquarters. From 1871 it was used as the arsenal for the Metropolitan Police who were routed by the White League in the celebrated battle of September 14, 1874, which put an end to "carpet bag rule" in Louisiana. It was subsequently used by the re-organized Orleans Artillery and as a State Arsenal until March 15, 1914 when the building was transferred to the Louisiana State Museum by the Adjutant General of Louisiana.

The Arsenal was re-conditioned as the war relic department of the museum, being dedicated as a "Battle Abbey" on January 9, 1915, as a feature of the centennial celebration of the Battle of New Orleans.