To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

A “FR ENC H C H AT EAU S T Y L E OF A RC HITECTUR E: ” Thomas Sully’s Long-Forgotten Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Building BY RICHARD CAMPANELLA, TULANE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW ORLEANS was a city of middlemen. Here, financiers, agents, factors, traders, merchants and lawyers stewarded the flow of commodities between hinterland and foreland, and each profession had legions of supporters and enablers. Great wealth accumulated in the process, but so did risk — which created an opportunity for yet another profession: actuaries.   Low-profile as it was, the New Orleans-based insurance industry played a key role in the economic development of the region, pooling the risk and protecting the value of everything from cotton bales to speculative railroads to fire-prone buildings. Some companies even insured slaves. City directories throughout the 1800s listed scores of actuaries, and, like banks, insurance firms looked to archi- tects to project a sense of legacy and permanence for their enterprises — the very things claimholders wish to be assured of before paying their premiums.   One such example was the Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Building, designed by Thomas Sully and erected in 1895 at 201 Carondelet Street. The “L&L&G Building” lasted all of one gen- eration, but while it stood, it was one of the most eye-catching edifices in the city.   Described at the time as “being put together on the French chateau style of architecture,” the building’s spon- sors were nonetheless purely British. Liverpool & London & Globe began in England as three separate compa- nies. The first was the Globe Insurance Company, founded in 1803 to cover fire and life policies in the Cornhill and Pall Mall districts of London; the second was the Liverpool Fire and Life Insur- ance Company, founded in 1836; and the third was the London Edinburgh and Dublin Life Insurance Company, established in 1839.   Liverpool and London merged in 1846, and five years later the company opened an office in New Orleans, with- in steps of the region’s chief financial houses at Carondelet and Common. “This old established, wealthy firm,” read its announcement in The Daily Picayune on November 7, 1851, “is now prepared to insure against Fire Risks in New Orleans on the most advantageous terms.” Capitalized at $10 million, L&L arrived at a fortuitous time and place: only 10 months earlier, on the same block, the St. Charles Hotel, among the most splendid lodges in the nation, came crashing down in a terrible blaze. (Owners rebuilt in 1853 in the same spot, this time with fire insurance.)   Liverpool and London merged with Globe in 1864, and in 1866 the Gardner's New Orleans Directory listed the enter- 14  PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org prise as “Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company, office corner Caron- delet and Common. Capital in gold, $18,000,000. A. Foster Elliot, Agent.” Over the next 30 years, as a modern American downtown arose all around, L&L&G would outgrow its plain, four-story antebellum row buildings. An insurance firm with the wherewithal of L&L&G had to keep up its architectural appearances, and among the best-suited architects to do that in circa-1890s New Orleans was Thomas Sully.   Born in what is now Gulfport, Mississippi in 1855, Sully honed his design skills not through formal academic training but through apprenticeships and autodi- dacticism. After working in Texas and New York in the 1870s, Sully settled in New Orleans in 1881 and launched an architectural practice, just as the region’s postbellum malaise gave way to economic rigor. Sully became remarkably busy, his success stemming from his willingness to collaborate with notable designers; his adoption of new technologies such as steel frames, concrete pilings, elevators and electricity; and his alacritous em- brace of late-Victorian fashions, from Neoclassical to Renaissance Revival to Tudor, Queen Anne, and Romanesque. One gets the impression that Sully never declined a prospective client nor rejected a fashionable style; he designed numerous uptown mansions for promi- nent families, including his own, and took on varied projects ranging from banks to yachts to orphanages.   Sully’s biggest commissions came at the height of the Gilded Age, when he designed three major steel-frame build- ings within a block of each other. They were the Hennen (Maritime) Building at 201 Carondelet (completed 1895), the third St. Charles Hotel at 201 St. Charles (1896, completed two years af- ter the second lodge burned, as did the first), and the dazzling new Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Building precisely in between, at 201 Carondelet.   Demolition of the corner sections of the antebellum L&L&G Building took place in early 1894, shortly after the January conflagration at the adjacent hotel, while insurance agents continued working in their Common Street units. Sully’s site, rather small and parallelo- gram in shape, was then prepared for the insertion of 359 fifty-foot yellow pine pilings upon which the steel and iron frame would rest, much like Sully had designed for the Hennen Building. The steel structure would allow the edifice to rise higher and stand sturdier than one with load-bearing walls, while also earning the stamp of “fire-proof ” — ap- pealing to a company specializing in fire insurance. “The new building, [costing] OCTOBER 2017