New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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1915 Storm

The overwhelming impact of the September 29, 1915 storm on the city of New Orleans is well displayed by the front page of the Times-Picayune on the following morning.

Mayor Martin Behrman's brief report to the City Council on the 1915 event includes sentiments that no doubt have been expressed many times during the 277 year history of the Crescent City.

The Mayor's hoped-for loan to pay for the rehabilitation of public property damaged by the 1915 storm was quickly realized as several of the city's key economic powers committed to share the burden.

Though undated, an Alexander Allison photo of the flooded river batture very likely was a common New Orleans sight in 1915 and in other years of hurricane and other flood disaster.

The 1915 hurricane left 275 dead in its wake along the Gulf Coast. Eight of the New Orleans victims are recorded on just one page of the Orleans Parish Coroner's Record Book Journal for 1915.

Numerous church buildings suffered from the assault of September 29, 1915. Among them was St. Anna's Episcopal on Esplanade Ave., shown here in an enlargement made from the October 1 edition of the Times-Picayune. The architect's report on the damage to the building suggests that the church proper was salvageable--indeed it was renovated and reopened for services in 1916. A new church, built in 1952, stands on the site today.

The Sewerage and Water Board's special report on the 1915 hurricane documents much of the damage suffered by the city and recounts the Board's efforts to combat the storm and its attendant rainfall. On page 17 of this report the Board noted:

The fact that a single 15-day period has given two rainfalls of over 7 inches, and a third of over 4 1/2 inches ... only renders the more remote the probability of a repetition of any of these things in the early future ... there is no reason why this city and its surrounding country should not continue, even more successfully than heretofore, the developments in all directions which have been so well advanced and which for the most part have been but little injured.
Over 25,000 New Orleans buildings suffered structural damage during the 1915 storm. Much of this destruction is documented in a series of letters such as this one received by the City Engineer's Office in the weeks following September 29.

Among the municipal buildings destroyed in 1915 were three fire houses, all of which were replaced in the years following the disaster. One of the three, at 231 South Broad, was built in 1917 and is pictured here as it appeared in 1933. The structure is now being used as a satellite prison by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office.

One of nineteenth century New Orleans' most famous and most important buildings, James Gallier's French Opera House, was so severely damaged by the 1915 storm that the Opera Association was forced into receivership, as evidenced by the court record of which this document is a part. The Opera House is pictured here in a photo taken by Charles L. Franck sometime between the storm and the 1919 fire that sealed the building's fate forever. Today the Bourbon and Toulouse site of the old building is occupied by the Best Western Inn on Bourbon Street.

With many of its structures already over a century old in 1915, the Vieux Carre was especially vulnerable to the September 29 storm. An example was the row at 416-422 Chartres Street. Built as three separate stores in 1834, all suffered severe damage in 1915, as documented in this communication. One of the three, at 416-418, was replaced in 1917 by a new building which now houses K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen.

A particularly interesting "hurricane story" surrounds the old Dryades Street Library at 1924 St. Philip Street. Originally scheduled for formal dedication on October 6, 1915, the building suffered considerable damage on September 29. Fortunately, the contractors were able to make the necessary repairs quickly enough that the opening was postponed for one week only. The Dryades branch, designed to serve as the sole library facility for the city's African-American community, remained in use for just short of fifty years until it was severely damaged by Hurricane Betsy. Today the old building is owned by the Dryades Street YMCA which recently managed to renovate the structure and reopen it for use in "Y" programs.