Southeastern Architectural Archive

Southeastern Architectural Archive

The Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University is New Orleans’ major repository for architectural records. Formed out of collections of the University’s School of Architecture, the Archive acquired drawings and office records of many important New Orleans firms during the 1970s and 1980s.

Recent acquisitions have greatly expanded the archives’ core collections particularly for mid- to late twentieth century practice. The Archive has cataloged records of 120 firms, and its collections also include 25,000 photographs and photographic negatives; large holdings of eighteenth and nineteenth century surveys and maps of New Orleans; Sanborn atlases for Louisiana and Mississippi; records of New Orleans preservation organizations and of the American Institute of Architects New Orleans chapter; and an architectural reference library including significant holdings in landscape and garden design and trade catalogs.

Under a new administrative structure, the Archive has this past year established an exhibitions program, reorganized collections, implemented web-site access, and began production of the first published catalog of its holdings. The Archive has established close ties to the teaching program of the University’s School of Architecture and now has a national internship program focusing on curatorial practice and exhibition research and preparation. In 1997 the Archive will move to a renovated facility on the Tulane University campus including new exhibition galleries.

Opening the new space will be an exhibition of eighteenth and nineteenth century drawings from the collections of the New Orleans Notarial Archives. Created to advertise judicially-ordered auction sales of property in accord with civil procedure, the drawings were executed by architects and other skilled renderers. The drawings are large, from 30 x 40 in. to over 6 ft. by 25 inches, and beautifully rendered in color wash to attract bidders and assure fair market value property transacted.

The notarial drawings typically include building elevations and site plans with landscape details, and document all early building types found in New Orleans, its faubourgs, and the agricultural regions of the Lower Mississippi River; Creole cottages and townhomes; Greek revival and Italianate suburban houses; American townhouses; shotgun cottages and other builders’ buildings; plantation houses and dependent buildings. Also documented are structures characteristic of the early urban fabric which now rarely survive: markets; street railway lines and depots; stables; poultry-houses and other agricultural buildings; storehouses and sheds; cisterns and wells.

For their large size and a scale of 1 inch to 23 feet the drawings are finely detailed. Carefully rendered textures of wall surfaces, masonry bonds and roofing material are common, and their fine coloring provides rare evidence of period house colors. On many levels the drawings are a mine of evidence for the early architectural and urban history of New Orleans.

The Southeastern Architectural Archive is recognized for collections of the nineteenth century New Orleans architects James Gallier, Sr. (1798-1866), James Gallier, Jr. (1827-1868) and Thomas Sully (1855-1937). A recently cataloged archive collection of another important nineteenth century New Orleans architect, James Freret (1838-1897), is the basis for an exhibition which will survey Freret’s work from the late 1860s to 1897, when he was commissioned for many of the important institutional, commercial and residential projects in New Orleans. Freret is interesting for his training – early among the Americans – at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the early 1860s. The exhibition draws from the Archive’s collection of sketchbooks, over 300 drawings, firm photographs and manuscripts.

Also in preparation the exhibition New Orleans in 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal for Emperor Napoleon III, opening early 1998, will feature 126 views of New Orleans recently discovered in the collections of the Napoleon Museum, Arenenberg, Switzerland. The photographer Lilienthal (Frankfurt 1829 – New Orleans 1894) opened a studio in New Orleans by 1857, and introduced locally the use of new photographic processes and lenses appropriate for architectural subjects.

The Lilienthal views are a comprehensive topographic survey of the city immediately following the Civil War. An emphasis in the survey on new construction, public works, water supply, parks and squares, streets and street lighting parallel many subjects of the great contemporaries — Baldus, Marville, and the Haussmann photographers — who documented the Paris of Napoleon III. The photographs were commissioned for Napoleon III by the city of New Orleans to promote the city to French business enterprise, and to illustrate for European commercial clients that the recent war had little effect on the built fabric of the city. Presented to Napoleon III and exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867, the photographs also celebrated the Emperor’s interest in photography and the dominant French culture of nineteenth century New Orleans.

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