The block has its share of plaques with details of people long gone, businesses and residences with deep family, literary, and civic histories, and of course, astonishing architecture. Because of that, it seems an ideal block to dive into the long history of the city, as well as to analyze the current uses to see what New Orleans and particularly the French Quarter, is about now.
The block has around 14 buildings, depending on how one assesses complexes such as the Le Petit building now operating as 2 separate businesses, and the wraparound buildings on the Royal corner which have Royal Street addresses but also have side entrances and addresses on St. Peter.
There are 11 addresses on the downtown side and 8 on the uptown side of the street.
First on the list: The Arsenal
615 St. Peter (secondary address: 614 Pirates Alley.)
This forbidding building (“one example of the beautifully austere Classical Revival and Gothic Revival”), with its dusty gates and grimy plaques, is often missed by pedestrians and even when spied, is often assumed to just be a side entrance to the Cabildo Museum that fronts the square.
This property always belonged to the City of New Orleans. The site was occupied as early as 1728 by a French guardhouse and prison which was destroyed by fire on 21 Mar 1788 (the Good Friday fire). It was rebuilt by the Spanish and again destroyed by fire on Dec 8, 1793. It was AGAIN rebuilt in connection with the Cabildo in 1795 (by Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba’s father) and was used as a prison or “calaboose” until 1837. On 25 Feb 1836, Governor S. B. White, of Louisiana, approved an Act of the Legislature authorizing:
“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 new arsenal building, designed by Dakin and Dakin Architects, was used from 1846 until the Civil War by the Orleans Artillery and as a state Arsenal. Donated to Louisiana State Museum on January 1, 1908.
From the original 1830s building contract:
“The front door on St. Peter Street will be made four inches thick in double thickness and the outside lined with iron or zinc, and the whole bolted together with strong iron bolts with neat fancy oast heads of two-inch projection, and hung in two folds with six trap hinges three feet six inches long, each end fastened on the inside with a strong iron bar and face bolts in the most substantial manner. The front windows will be made as represented by the elevation with sashes one and three-quarters inches thick, hung in boxed frames with lines and weights, and glazed with long cylinder glass. There will be an iron screen or guard in front of each window, as represented by the drawings with frames or margins three inches wide by three-quarters inch thick, filled with network or diagonal bars one and a quarter by three-eights inches rabated together at every intersection, and the whole secured to the wall or front of the sash frame in the most substantial manner. The small …. of the center window will be made of wood, and the lintel between the door and the window of bricks. The attic or friese windows will be made with glased (sic) sashes hung to swing on the inside of the wall, properly fastened, and the front of the openings will be filled with such ornaments as are shown by the drawings, neatly carved in wood. **In the centre tablet above the cornice will be placed the arms of the State of Louisiana, made of cements, or some other suitable and durable material in the most tasty manner and style. All the other ornaments of the front and the . . . and entablature and blocking or attio above the cornices will be rough formed with bricks and stone work and finished with cement in imitation of white marble.”
This is information on the plaque that is to the right of the door.
•Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas, “The Arsenal“, [New Orleans, Louisiana], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/LA-02-OR9.
Great NOLa.com article about this bldg: