Lafayette Square

image description
Looking from the Henry Clay statue towards Gallier Hall.

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Leung, Vicky. "Looking from the Henry Clay Statue Towards Gallier Hall. " Dec. 2012.

Planned in 1788, Lafayette Square is named after Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de LaFayette: a French aristocrat and general who fought on the American side of the American Revolution. Lafayette Square is located between Saint Charles Avenue and Camp Street and intersected by Lafayette Street.

The Neighborhood

Lafayette Square is located in what is now known as the Central Business District, and was originally a plantation owned by Bertrand Gravier which divided in 1788 into Faubourg Ste. Marie, New Orleans’ first suburb. It is the second oldest park in New Orleans, after Jackson Square, that was planned for the people of the neighborhood, or “faubourg”. Lafayette Square was originally named Ville Gravier after the plantation owner Bertrand Gravier until Lafayette’s visit to the city in 1825. [1]

When city hall moved in 1852 to Gallier Hall, which is across the street from Lafayette Square, major hotels, banks and business followed suit. With so much activity centered on the square, it became the center of a newspaper hub in the 1850’s with its peak from 1890-1910, with 16 newspaper offices in the area. [2] However, when city hall moved its operations to Poydras Street in 1959, the area experienced a decline. Since Katrina, this area saw resurgence with start-up companies such as the co-working space ‘Launch Pad’, fostering start-ups companies that opened in 2009, a return to its residential origin, art galleries, museums and hotels. [3]

Adjacent to Lafayette Square, on South Maetri Place was the former site of the First Presbyterian Church built in 1857; however, a 1915 hurricane destroyed the church. The grounds are now the site of the US Appeals Court offices.

Historical Uses

Lafayette Square, with its close proximity to Gallier Hall, is a natural choice for many public events. A particularly notable public event was the grand celebration held at the square in observation of the 1864 Independence Day. The bands City Band led by Charles Jaeger, the Port Hudson Post Band led by John Laflin, and the Drum Corps 1st United States Infantry led by Drum Major Chase D. Boyer played throughout the day starting at 9 am. This day “thousands” were able to sit down and listen to the speakers and the bands. Six public prayers and speeches were given that day. [4]

Landscape Architecture

Lafayette Square was designed by Charles Laveau Trudeau, also known as Don Calos Trudeau. It was originally built with an iron fence surrounding the park but it was taken down to be reused for World War I machinery. Although the pavement for the pathways through the park has changed over time, the pathways are still the same as it was originally designed.

Statues and Sculptures

There are three statues in Lafayette Square: visages of Henry Clay, John McDonogh, and Benjamin Franklin.

The statue of Henry Clay sits in the middle of the park, and was originally erected in 1856 on Canal Street. It was later moved to Lafayette Square in 1900 due to heavy Canal Street traffic.

The a bust of John McDonogh is on the St. Charles Avenue side of the park, facing the street. Upon the death of John McDonogh, he willed his entire inheritance to the public school systems of Baltimore and New Orleans, allowing for the expansion of New Orleans’ system. Thus, it makes sense that McDonogh’s bust bears the inscription dedication “to John McDonogh from the public school children of New Orleans 1892-1898.” In addition to McDonogh’s bust are a sculpted boy and girl placing flowers at its base, in honor of his death wish to have flowers placed at his gravesite. The annual tradition of placing flowers at McDonogh’s statue was practiced by many of McDonogh’s New Orleans beneficiary schools. Today only one school in Gretna places flowers at McDonogh’s gravesite, which is also located in Gretna. [5] [6]

The statue of Benjamin Franklin sits on the Camp Street side of the park facing the Mississippi River, and was placed in its current location in 1926. Originally it sat in the middle of the park on a marble pedestal until it was moved to make room for the statue of Henry Clay. The dedication plaque states that the statue is “dedicated to the people of New Orleans by Henry Wadsworth Gustine of Chicago, Illinois.” [7] [8]

There were also two sculptures in Lafayette Square placed there by ‘Sculpture for New Orleans’. This organization is a non-profit group that places public art sculptures throughout New Orleans with the goal “to bring national and international attention to the visual arts and artists of post-Katrina New Orleans.” [9] The piece “230.5° Arc x 5” by Bernar Venet is installed on the Camp Street side of the park. Several other pieces in Venet’s Arcs series are also installed on the academic quad of Tulane University’s Uptown Campus. These sculptures were scheduled to be on display from August 2011 to August 2013. [10] A piece by Houston artist Tara Conley, entitled “Bunny,” is installed on the Downtown side of the park. It is approximately six feet tall and entirely made of cast bronze. Installed in 2010, there are no current plans to move the sculpture. [11] A Louise Bourgeois sculpture called “Eye Benches IV” was installed on the Camp Street side of the park in February 2007. The pair of disembodied eyes allowed park visitors to sit on the benches built in on the back side of the eyes. The eyes were initially valued at $800,000 when they were installed and loaned to the City of New Orleans for an indefinite amount of time. When Louise Bourgeois passed away in May 2010, it was revealed that the sculpture is now valued at $2.7 million – the most expensive piece of art that Sculpture for New Orleans has curated. Unfortunately the eyes were vandalized in August 2010 by the removal of the bronze irises, allegedly for scrap metal. The sculpture was moved back to New York soon after the incident. [12]

Current Uses

Lafayette Square is currently maintained by both the New Orleans Parks and Recreation Department, and the more location-specific Lafayette Square Conservancy. The Lafayette Square Conservancy is a non-profit group of volunteers founded after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild the park. [13]

Currently, Lafayette Square is the site of free annual outdoor concert series ‘Wednesday at the Square’ hosted by the Young Leadership Council, and hosted the similar ‘Harvest the Music Festival’ in the fall hosted by the Second Harvest Food Bank, but this festival stopped after its 2013 iteration. [14] [15] . It is also used for other weekend food and music festivals held annually around town such as the ‘Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival’ in October, and is the main staging are for the ‘Jazz Half Marathon’. [16] [17]

Works Cited

  • “Lafayette Square.” The Historical Marker Database. Last modified: July 19, 2009.
  • Campanella, Richard. Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day. Gretna: Pelican Pub. Co., 2002.
  • City Of New Orleans. “Plaque: Lafayette Square Historic District .” New Orleans, n.d.
  • The Era Steam Book and Job Office. “City Celebration of the Anniversary of the National Independence at Lafayette Square.” New Orleans: The Era Steam Book and Job Office, July 4, 1864.
  • Unknown. “Photograph: Children Marching to Lafayette Square.” New Orleans , May 7, 1937.
  • Moore, Frank B. “Photograph: John McDonogh Monument.” New Orleans, n.d.
  • Mendes, John Tibule. “Photograph: Base Pedestal in Lafayette Square.” 1920.
  • Moore, Frank B. “Photograph:Lafayette Square.” New Orleans, n.d.
  • Sculpture for New Orleans. Sculpture for New Orleans . n.d. (accessed December 13, 2012).
  • New Orleans Downtown. “Monumental Sculpture Exhibition of Works by World-Renowned Artist Bernar Venet on View i New Orleans Historic Lafayette Square and Tulane Campus August 2011-August 2013.” New Orleans Downtown. August 30, 2011. (accessed August 13, 2012).
  • Conley, Tara. Sculptures. n.d. (accessed December 13, 2012).
  • MacCash, Doug. “Multi-million dollar Lafayette Square eye sculpture vandalized.” August 11, 2010. (accessed December 13, 2013).
  • “About LSC: Lafayette Square Conservancy.” Lafayette Square Conservancy. 2012.
  • “Event Details.” YLC Wednesday at the Square. Last modified 2015.
  • Spera, Keith. “Second Harvest Cancels Its Free Harvest the Music Fall Concert Series.” The Times-Picayune. (Greater New Orleans, LA), Jun. 20, 2014.
  • “2015 Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival.” The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc. Last modified 2015.
  • “Race Information.” Jazz Half Marathon. Last modified 2015.

This page was last modified on 07 May 2015, at 04:00