USA TODAY article sent in by Dean Burridge
Faubourg St. John neighbor Kenneth Gowland, like most architects, isn’t used to conducting building surveys in a boat. But when it came time to revive the historic Joy Theater in downtown New Orleans, there was just no other way.
Gowland recalls the scene when he first entered the theater last July to survey the building for restoration.
“At no point did anyone pump it out,” said Gowland, owner of MetroStudio in New Orleans. “(The Joy Theater) was filled with nasty, stagnate water.”
• STORY: Old movie theaters find new life
In 2005, the theater had been closed almost two years when Hurricane Katrina blew off much of its roof. The exposed, below-grade building collected large amounts of water as the storm devastated the city.
Gowland said the decision by four private developers to restore the theater reflects a growing realization that there are great business opportunities in the city’s historical core.
“The Joy is not the biggest or the oldest building on Canal Street, but it comes to everyone’s mind,” Gowland said. “This is where everyone in New Orleans saw Jaws.”
Six years after Katrina, the water was eventually pumped out as the entire building went through what Gowland called an “environmental remediation phase.”
“I think people are understanding that the value of a city is in its infrastructure,” he said.
Located on the main commercial thoroughfare in downtown New Orleans, Gowland said the Joy is the first theater in the area to breathe new life, with others beginning to follow.
“Renovation of the Saenger Theatre across the street is just now kicking off in earnest,” he said. “I think the Joy is a major catalyst.”
Although Gowland said he believes the theater’s revival is a sign of an improving downtown economy, he didn’t downplay its importance to the New Orleans community for nostalgic reasons.
According to Gowland, converting the former single-screen theater into a multiple-use facility was difficult because the original theater possessed little of the required technological and building infrastructure.
“It was like turning an apple into an orange,” he said. “There was no stage and we had to build a whole new balcony.”
A separate challenge was to ensure the building maintained its original historic facade, which was required to receive a historic tax credit to subsidize the $5 million renovation. This included replicating the marquee, the Joy Theater’s most distinguishing feature.
Gowland said he is pleased with the results.
“We ended up with a really unique multipurpose arts facility,” he said.
The theater reopened Dec. 29 with local Grammy winner Irma Thomas performing a set of her R&B and soul classics for the sold-out crowd.
Theater spokeswoman Sandie McNamara said the plan is to welcome more national acts in the coming months and provide space for film festivals, movie premieres and comedy shows.
James Pitot was the second Mayor of New Orleans but the first Mayor of incorporated New Orleans. He lived for a short time in the house now located at 1440 Moss Street. It is commonly known as the Pitot House. The house is presently occupied by the Louisiana Landmarks Society. You can learn more about the Louisiana Landmarks Society by visiting their website at http://louisianalandmarks.org or calling (504) 482-0312.
The Lafitte Corridor, as it is known today, is on top of the filled-in Carondelet Canal. As you will learn in the 1957 article by Pie Dufor noted below, James Pitot was instrumental in making the Corondelet Canal (now Lafitte Corridor) a reality.
Want to learn more about James Pitot? Please click on the photo of a painting of James Pitot obtained from http://trueknowledge.com
You may enjoy reading some of the original articles about James Pitot and other interesting historical items in the links at the bottom of this post.
TIMES PICAYUNE | October 13, 1957 | article by Pie Dufour
(referring to never dug Canal Street canal)
It all began in 1805 when a group of wealthy Orleanians, headed by James Pitot and Julien Poydras, obtained a charter from the Orleans Territory Legislature for the Orleans Navigation Company.
The plan was to dig the canal in the city commons – the disputed land outside the city – from the river to a point where it would make a right angle turn and continue to connect with the turning basin of the Carondelet canal, which is now the present parking lot of Municipal Auditorium. The Carondelet canal, dug by Baron de Carondelet in 1794, had become a neglected ditch which needed widening and deepening for navigational use.
But the dispute over the commons had to be settled first. The City of New Orleans claimed the commons and so did the government. Finally, on March 3, 1807, Congress conferred the title to the commons on the city, “provided that the corporation shall reserve for the purpose and covey gratuitously for the public benefit, to the company authorized by the Legislature of the Territory… as much of the said commons as shall be necessary to continue the Canal of Carondelet from the present basin to the Mississippi, and shall not dispose of, for the purpose of building thereon, any lot within 60 feet of the space reserved for a canal, which shall forever remain open as a public highway…”
In May, 1808, the canal company president, James Pitot, wrote a long letter to President Thomas Jefferson. The letter, in part, reads:
“We, the Orleans Navigation Company, with the most profound sentiments of respect, beg leave to approach you, to tender our grateful thanks for the munificent grant made us by government, of the lands necessary to the continuing of the canal Carondelet to the River Mississippi through the city commons; and also for the assurances conveyed to us by the Honorable Daniel Clark, that, when the canal shall be so continued, government will defray the expenses of the lock necessary to unite it with the river… Our capital is limited… to the sum of $200,000 divided into 2000 shares of $100 each… We beg leave to state to you that we have not the smallest hope of filling up the subscription among the immediate inhabitants of this territory. We find the greatest difficulty in procuring payment of the installments called for: and in many instances have been compelled to resort to the force of laws. It is a melancholy truth that nothing but the unwearied exertions of the directors has prevented the whole undertaking from falling to the ground. ”
That’s exactly what it did and the (Canal St.) canal was never dug, but the maps of the day called the space “Route of the Projected Canal.” And as the area built up on both sides of the route of the undug canal, what was more natural for the street with the double roadways to be named Promenade du Canal and then Canal Street?
TIMES PICAYUNE | March 8, 1925 | article by Stella Lazard
James Pitot was highlighted in the March 8, 1925 issue of the Times Picayune that featured the Mayors of New Orleans.
James Pitot built one of the first cotton presses in New Orleans. It stood at the corner of Toulouse and Burgundy streets. He is spoken of as a gentleman of “respectability and talent.” On June 2, 1804, he was elected second Mayor of New Orleans.
His career is signalized by the incorporation of the city municipal council, and the taking of the first steps toward the substitution of an elective magistry for the appointive one.
Pitot took special interest in the police; he enforced an ordinance subsequently created, with Pierre Achille Rivery at its head, under the title of “commissioner general of police in the city and suburbs of New Orleans.” The wretched pay received by its members attracted only the riff-raff, and this ordinanace provided for the employment of mulattoes to fill the ranks and stipulated the officers must be white men.
The utter inefficiency of this organization occasioned general complaint, and in 1804 was supplemented by a patrol of citizens, drawn from the militia and under the command of Colonel Belle Chasse. It received no pay.
In 1805, Pitot made a further reform by reconstituting the “gendarmes” as a mounted corps. The mayor was made chief of the corps in a resolution of May 6, 1803.
The new system worked fairly well and the militia patrol became popular chiefly because it made considerable demands upon the leisure of the citizens.
During Pitot’s mayoralty Congress divided, March 25, 1804, the province of Louisiana in two parts, the upper being annexed to the Indiana territory, and the lower part, which corresponds in boundaries to what is now the state of Louisiana, was erected into the territory of Orleans. New Orleans was made the port of entry and delivery.
On October 1, 1804, the new government went into operation. Claiborne was retained as governor. He too the oath before Mayor Pitot and then delivered an oration in English, afterward
translated into flowery French. Governor Claiborne in his voluminous correspondence never lets his pen run over hte name of Pitot without a commendation of him.
In early March the territorial council furnished the city with a charter. With the adoption of its nineteen sections, determining the area of municipalities, the real history of New Orleans as distinguished from the remainder of the province is said to have begun. The language used in this comprehensive document is the style incorporated by many officials today in their address and is a type clear and comprehensive.
Pitot resigned his office in July, 1805. In his message of resignation he said:
My own affairs not allowing me to fulfill the functions of mayor, I send the governor my resignation. Appreciating all the marks of kindness and of confidence which I have received at your hands. I beg you to accept my acknowledgment. Give me your esteem and believe me deeply grateful.
(Signed) JAMES PITOT
1804, July 261804july26-CommercialAdvertiser – James Pitot Appointed Mayor
1805, July 241805july24-OrleansGazette – Pitot Resigns As Mayor
1807, October 291807oct29-OrleansGazette – James Pitot Sells Slave
Congress granted the land in 1814.
1925***1925mar8-TIMES_PICAYUNE-JamesPitot-article retyped by Charlie London for easier reading
1925***1925mar8-TIMES_PICAYUNE-MayorsOfNewOrleans – original article as seen in the March 8, 1925 issue of the Times Picayune
1957***1957oct13-TimesPicayune-article-by-Pie_Dufor- article retyped by Charlie London for easier reading
1957***1957oct13-TIMES_PICAYUNE-CanalStbutNoCanal – original article as seen in the October 13, 1957 issue of the Times Picayune