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

A C U R I O S I T Y O N CA R O N D E L E T AT CA N A L : The Pickwick Turret, 1884–1948 BY RICHARD CAMPANELLA, TULANE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE FORTS AND CASTLES ASIDE, turrets are usually ornamental, inspired by the same architectural muse that put follies in gardens and serpents on downspouts. But turrets have the power to catch the eye and bring distinction to buildings, and that’s not trivial — particularly for institutional and commercial structures in busy, bus- tling cityscapes.   Canal Street in downtown New Orleans formed just such an environment, from the 1840s to the 1960s, and there, like elsewhere, architects devised strategies to draw eyes to clients’ investments. Touro Row (1852), for example, had a cast-iron verandah shading the entire block between Royal and Bour- bon streets. Godchaux’s Department Store (1899) had a stained-glass entrance canopy and a landmark corner cupola, while the Chess, Checkers, and Whist Club (1892) had two cupolas and a line of finials. Particularly striking was the ornate dome atop the Mer- cier Building, which, like D.H. Holmes de- partment store, also sported a steeply pitched Second Empire mansard roof. And just about every storehouse along Canal, from whole- salers to retailers, donned some mix of pro- truding signs, painted ads, jovial caricatures, or oversized baubles (hats, clocks, etc.) indi- cating the wares inside.   Then there was the Pickwick turret, an iconic novelty standing for over 60 years at the heart of the downtown commercial dis- trict. While later generations would associ- ate the cylindrical feature at the corner of Carondelet and Canal streets with Fellman’s or Feibleman’s clothing store, it was originally designed for the exclusive Pickwick Club. “Pickwickians” were influential businessmen who, in 1857, had launched the Mistick Krewe of Comus and forever changed New Orleans Mardi Gras by intro- ducing majestic tableau-based parades to what was previously an informal street fête. Personal associations among members went beyond Carnival and into civic, economic and social affairs, even after their later split from the Krewe of Comus.   By 1880, the Pickwickians operated their clubhouse in the upper floors of a building on Canal and Exchange Alley. Seeking a bigger space in a better location, they leased a French-owned 64-by-128-foot parcel at the prominent corner of Canal and Carondelet, within steps of three other private clubhouses: the Boston Club, the Louisiana (later Harmony) Club, and Chess, Checkers, and Whist. In May 1882, Pickwick president James G. Clark issued a call for architects to submit design proposals for the new Pickwick Club, and, after receiving 13 submissions, awarded the commission to the St. Louis firm of Hinsdale & Marble. Construc- tion would be done by contractor H. Gally at a cost of $132,000.   It’s hard to say what won over the Pickwickians in selecting Hinsdale & Mar- ble’s Queen Anne-style proposed design for the four-story mixed-use structure. The sketch included retail space for a tenant on the Canal-facing ground floor and a main clubhouse entrance on Carondelet, leading up a grand staircase to a drawing room, dining and meeting spaces, a library, game rooms, vari- 22  PRESERVATION IN PRINT • ous apartments and a grand assembly hall seating 400 people on the fourth floor, all served by the latest electrical elevators and dumbwaiters. Interiors were perfectly elegant, but the most striking feature, set amid a façade of attractive late-Victorian detailing, was the corner turret.   Higher than the main roof at over four stories tall, and paired with a smaller ver- sion farther up Carondelet, the Pickwick turret was technically a bartizan, mounted on corner walls and overhanging, as one might picture on a Medieval bastion or castle. Its base was supported by a corbel of three short, closely positioned Corin- thian marble columns set at grade level and adorned with winged gargoyles. The fact that this element was built first, plain- ly visible to pedestrians at eye level, is probably what led a Daily Picayune (June 16, 1883) journalist to comment on the “magnificence” of the “superb marble col- umns on the corners of the [club]house.”   Only as construction progressed did it become apparent that these “columns” would broaden into a turret of cylindri- cal rooms, floor above floor, each with three curved stained-glass double-hung windows. The apex of the turret, shaped as if turned on a lathe, was topped with a copper-roofed shallow-pitched saucer (umbrella) dome. Viewed from afar, the entire feature looked something like a cer- emonial fountain pen. It was delightful.   Perhaps the turret was the flair of a 25-year-old architect named Isaac J. Knapp, who came down from New York to collaborate with Hinsdale & Marble on the proj- ect. Knapp may have been responsible for most if not all of the design, given that he was selected for the honor of laying the first brick in a ceremony on January 4, 1883.   Completed by June 1884, the Pickwick Club for the next decade symbolized the Crescent City aristocracy, just as its pearl-white turret marked the absolute heart of downtown New Orleans. An apothecary rented the retail space on Ca- nal, and served a steady stream of customers, but only club members and guests could enter the private club entrance on Carondelet. During Mardi Gras, the Pickwick Club was the prime spot for parade-viewing, and the turret’s curved windows were the prime spot in the Pickwick Club.   Until, that is, one night in 1894, when a small fire ignited, probably in the electri- cal motor room on the ground floor. The drafty elevator shaft communicated the flames upward, and “the woodwork inside,” reported the Daily Picayune on March 16, “burned with such rapidity that the fourth floor finally gave way, and the flames shot through the roof.” By dawn, “one of the most famed and fashionable [clubs] in the south, [its building] a model of architectural advance and about the most beauti- ful on [Canal] Street,” was all but a shell upstairs, and a pile of wet ash down below.   But the turret, with its stout circular brick walls and few combustibles, stood strong.   Because the Pickwickians had leased the land at Carondelet Street, the club MAY 2018