Historic Structures

Louisiana State Bank Building, New Orleans Louisiana

Date added: November 5, 2013 Categories: Louisiana Bank

It is on the north corner of Royal and Conti Streets, which was once the financial center of the Old City. The Bank of Louisiana, 1826, was diagonally opposite, while the Banque de la Louisiane, 1804, the first bank established in the Mississippi Valley, was just down Royal Street in the same block.

The Louisiana State Bank was Incorporated with a capital of $2,000,000 by an Act of the State legislature in 1818 to endure until December 31, 1870. It was the first bank established after its admission to statehood.

A careful search of the notarial records reveals that the property on which the bank was erected was acquired by Pierre Cenas; the rear portions from Miss Victoire Griffon, February 21, 1793 and the front portion from Guilliana Guigman, January 25, 1796. The entire property was acquired from Cenas by Mrs. Stephen Zacharie, December 19, 1819, from whom the State Bank of Louisiana acquired it July 20, 1820.

Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe arrived in New Orleans on January 9, 1819, to complete the water works which had been left unfinished on the death of his son, H. S, B. Latrohe, September 3, 1817, He no doubt received the commission to design the bank (design accepted August 10th 1820) after his arrival in the city, not as a result of the competition but on the basis of his splendid reputation as an architect, established through his work on the National Capitol, and numerous other noteworthy buildings in the vicinity of Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. He died a few days later, on September 3rd 1820.

Norman's NEW ORLEANS AHD ENVIRONS, 1845, gives the date of erection as 1822, the architects, Latrobe and Benjamin Fox. The total cost is given as $55,000.00. Benjamin Fox is listed in the early City Directories as a builder and it was probably he who erected the building after Latrobe's death.

Latrobe was extremely interested in the old buildings of New Orleans. It is difficult to say how much he was influenced by the architecture of the Old City in his design, or how much his design influenced later buildings. There are in this vicinity, however, numerous examples of similar compositions; with high ground floor and entresol, and a much lower second story with wrought iron balcony across the facade at that level. The arrangement of living quarters above the business room is typical of New Orleans, as is also the courtyard with slave quarters. Latrobe's design is much more classic in feeling than most New Orleans buildings of that date, and closely resembles in character and detail his work in Washington and elsewhere.

A large circular domed banking room, the principal feature, occupies the center of a square, the corners of which are utilized as storage space. The principal entranoe from Royal Street is through a domed vestibule, on either side of which are offices, with cloister vaulted ceilings.

Directly across the banking room from the entrance a vaulted passage gives access to the semi-circular directors1 room, the large windows of which open to the rear court or carriage yard, to the right of this passage is the bank vault and at the left a small door opens into the stair hall, from which a long, winding stair of forty-two risers ascends to the second floor apartment. The principal entrance to this stair hall is from Conti Street.

The treatment of all the rooms of the first floor is extremely simple. Smooth white plaster is applied directly to the solid brickwork of the walls, arches and domes, all of which are devoid of ornament save for a simple rosette at the center of the large vaulted dome of the banking room. This room is lighted by large triple windows in deep vaulted recesses at each side.

The plan of the second floor is that of a typical residence of the period. There is a spacious hall down the center with rooms on either side. The dining room occupies the semi-circular space above the directors' room.

The principal facade on Royal Street is composed symmetrically about the large doorway. Smaller openings flank the central feature. Strong horizontal emphasis is provided at the second floor level by projecting cornice and a fine wrought iron balcony in the center of which is a monogram panel with the initials "L. B. S." Three French windows with blinds open onto this balcony. The composition is surmounted by a large semi-circular head brick dormer which rises above the main cornice and parapet, The hipped slate roof behind the parapet is not visible except from some distance from the building

The entrance doorway is very well proportioned, the double wood panelled doors being separated from the side-lights by two Ionic columns. There is. a semi-ciroular iron barred transom. The panelling in the doors has been somewhat changed and glass inserted in several of the panels. The side-lights have been replaced with wood panels.

A photograph made by Morgan IVhitney about 1900 shows the doorway before these alterations. The windows at either side of the doorway have also been changed. They were originally somewhat similar to the large triple windows on the Conti Street side with heavy shutters, but were changed into show windows when the building was remodelled in 1910 by Diboll, Owen and Goldstein, Several changes in the interior were also made at this time, new openings being cut in the walls of the banking room.

The Conti Street elevation is marked at the center by a slightly projecting bay with a large triple window with semi-circular iron barred transom on the first floor. On the second floor a triple French door opens onto a wrought iron balcony This bay is surmounted by a dormer similar to the one on the Royal Street elevation. Several new windows cut into this facade have somewhat spoiled it.

The rear elevation which faces the carriage yard is unique, having a large semi-circular bay in the center, with a wrought iron balcony following its curve at the second floor level. Across the yard is the carriage house and slave quarters, a two-story building.

The yard is closed off from the street by a brick wall which curves downward from the buildings to a cypress gate in the center, a typical composition for this- sort of a courtyard arrangement. There are two gate-posts surmounted by ornamental balls of white marble. These balls recall similar ones of cast iron which are placed on the parapet of the main building at each corner and beside each dormer.

The building is most substantially constructed with massive brick walls, which are finished on the outside with an ochre colored stucco, marked off very faintly to represent stone coursing. The woodwork is all of cypress and is painted dark green.

All arches, vaults and domes of the first floor are of solid brickwork rendering the building as nearly fire-proof as it is possible to make it.

The roof construction is very odd and inexplicable. There are in fact two separate and distinct roofs, one above the other, the first an almost flat one and the other the hipped roof that is visible on the building, The inner roof is sheathed but there is no roofing on it. The outer roof is covered with slate with terra ootta hip and ridge tiles. The sides and roofs of the dormers are also of slate.