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SPOTLIGHT | streetscapes BY Richard Campanella REVITALIZING THE UPPER FLOORS OF LOWER CANAL STREET: it has been a dream of urbanists ever since those storehouse stories went dark decades ago. Recent efforts by the City Planning Commis- sion and an upcoming project by the Preservation Resource Center and the Downtown Development District now aim to make it happen — be it for residency, office space, commerce or short-term rentals. No better block speaks to how the upper stories of New Orleans’ premier downtown commercial artery used to be occupied than the keystone 700 block of Canal between Royal and Bourbon, arguably the city’s three most famous streets. Canal Street dazzled the eye in the late 19th century. As the region’s showcase retail emporium, the 171-foot-wide boulevard boasted mag- nificent window displays of world imports, glowed with early electri- cal lighting and bustled with streetcars and fancy hackney cabs, not to mention ferries and steamboats docking at its riverfront foot. The street’s name and capacious width came from an 1807 Act of Congress which reserved a 60-foot right-of-way in a street grid to be surveyed into the former commons between the old fortifications and present-day Common Street. The corridor would host a navigation channel to be dug connecting the Carondelet Canal turning basin on Basin Street with the Mississippi River. After the grid was laid out in 1810, creating today’s Canal Street, authorities had second thoughts about the channel due to technical concerns regarding the lock. Gratefully, the project was abandoned; a navigation canal here would have cleaved the city in half and could have been disastrous. Yet the name stuck, and we still call it Canal Street today. While its early years saw predominantly residential land use, Canal Street transformed to mostly retail as New Orleans grew and down- town bustled with economic rigor. A walk up the grand artery 150 years ago would have presented a literal and visual cacophony. Build- ings, while consistently ornate, varied widely in style, and their façades jutted intermittently into the streetscape. Awnings and verandahs of different sizes, loud with advertisements, jockeyed for attention amid protruding signs and hanging flags, all below a parade of pediments, finials, turrets, cupolas and domes. The Canal Street panoply of archi- tecture was diverse, intricate and busy to the point of delirious. One particular block, however, would have stood out for its singular and integral design: a row of identical storehouses unified by perhaps the most splendid cast-iron gallery ever seen in New Orleans. It was known as Touro Row, and it occupied every inch of Canal from Royal to Bourbon. Touro Row honored Judah Touro (1775-1854), the famed merchant- turned-philanthropist and benefactor of New Orleans’ Jewish com- munity, among others. Touro had invested in and around this area throughout the 1840s, buying up properties as they came on the mar- ket. In 1847, he acquired a key parcel at the corner of Bourbon, which was occupied by the Ionic-style Episcopalian Christ Church, designed by architects Gallier and Dakin and completed 10 years earlier. The Episcopalians having departed for Uptown, Touro converted the im- posing temple into a shul for his Dispersed of Judah congregation, and adjoined it with a Hebrew school as well as his own residence in the former church rectory. All along, through his Jewish Benevolent Association, Touro had been replacing older buildings farther down the block with identical units of three-bay Greek Revival storehouses designed and built by Thomas Murray, presumably with the goal of filling the entire block. Four stories in the front, two in the rear, more than 100 feet in depth, and with internal iron shutters for fire control, the buildings were state- of-the-art. Murray in 1851 had also erected six similar buildings for Touro on the lake side of what is now 300 St. Charles Ave. Canal and Bourbon by this time had been steadily shifting to more commerce and congestion, and, finding the din incompatible with study and worship, the Jewish congregation soon followed the Epis- copalians’ footsteps and also relocated Uptown. The synagogue was razed, making room for three more storehouses at the corner of Bour- bon Street, completed in October 1855. TOP: Touro Row in the 1880s. Detail of photo by George Francois Mugnier. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum 14 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org DECEMBER 2018