Thursday, April 30, 2009

Urban Exploration

UW-Madison geographer Chris Limburg recently sent notice about compelling photographs of a neglected Spanish colonial mansion in California. The photographs were taken by urban explorer Jonathan Haeber, who has been trying to document abandoned structures along the West Coast. Haeber's Bearings group has been the subject of international news stories on contemporary urban explorers, a fanzine-originated phenonomen that has grown in popularity along with interactive web technologies.   One of my favorite New Orleans urban decay images was uploaded last year by flickr user vectorsnob.  

Image above:  Bearings/Jonathan Haeber.  "H" from Holy Land USA, Neon Sign.  Waterbury, CT.  Posted 8 April 2009 at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

First Lady's New Orleans Visit

In the summer of 1970, First Lady Patricia Nixon (1916-1993) visited a hurricane-damaged New Orleans. Architectural historian Samuel Wilson, Jr. (1911-1993) hosted her August tour of St. Mary's Assumption Church. She was a captive audience and took notes, including the following:

Cornerstone laid Ap. 25, 1858

$68,500 cost over three years. 1858-1860

Tower 190' high

Within two weeks of her tour, Mrs. Nixon sent Wilson a thank you letter, and carefully folded inside the card were her handwritten notes itemizing the structure's architectural features. The church has been attributed to Albert Diettel (1824-1896)* and was eventually restored after Hurricane Betsy (1965) by Nolan, Norman & Nolan and Koch & Wilson. Structural assessment of the building conducted by architect-engineer Alvin Fromherz revealed that the side walls' foundations were comprised of shell mortar poured concrete (lime mortar of clam shells and river sand). **

The church reopened to the public 15 August 1975.

Image above: Betsy Swanson, photographer. Mrs. Richard M. Nixon with Samuel Wilson, Jr., St. Mary's Assumption Church, 901 Josephine Street, 14 August 1970. Box 52, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

*Samuel Wilson had felt that similarities between St. Mary's and the churches Sts. Peter and Paul (Diettel and Howard, 1860) and St. John the Baptist (Diettel designer, Thomas Mulligan builder; 1869) suggested Diettel's presence. See Samuel Wilson, Jr., "The Church of St. Mary's Assumption" (January 1966) p. 2, typescript. Box 47, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University Libraries.

**Ibid., p. 12.

Most Endangered Places 2009

Today the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced its 2009 list of the 11 Most Endangered Places.  The  list includes:

Ames Shovel Shop, Easton, MA

Cast-Iron Architecture, Galveston, TX

Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, CA

Dorchester Academy, Midway, GA

Human Services Center, Yankton, SD

Lāna‘i City, HI

Enola Gay Hangar, Wendover Airfield, UT

Memorial Bridge, Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, ME

Miami Marine Stadium, Virginia Key, FL

Mount Taylor, near Grants, NM

Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL

Image above: Frank Lloyd Wright, Unity Temple, Plate LXIIIa from the Wasmuth Portfolio.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Walker Evans's Alabama: Then and Now

Government photographer Walker Evans has been mentioned in earlier posts, as the Southeastern Architectural Archives retains some of his New Orleans images.  The New York Times recently published Evans's photographs of sites in Alabama, contrasted with contemporary photographs by Gary Tramontina. For more, click here.

Image above: Walker Evans, photographer.  Roadside Stand near Birmingham, 1936.  Collection: UBS Art Gallery.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MAM Urban Photography Challenge

The Milwaukee Art Museum After Dark is co-sponsoring a photo competition called Exposure: Urban Photography Challenge.  The judges are seeking photographs that fit with the "street art" theme of the non-profit Hip Hop/Graffiti organization True Skool.  Competition deadline is 01 May 2009.  Additional guidelines may be found here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obituary: J.G. Ballard

British science fiction writer J.G. Ballard (1930-2009), known for his dystopian novels and short stories, passed away on April 19th.   Although he once described himself as "a man of complete and serene ordinariness," his works have been considered some of the most imaginative and prescient of the twentieth century.  Read John Clute's Indy obit here.

Ballard's stories frequently explore landscape and cities of the near future:  The Wind from Nowhere (1961); The Drowned World (1962); The Drought (1964); Concrete Island (1974); and The High Rise (1975).  These titles and many more may be found in Tulane's University's Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.

Image above:  Cover, J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World, Penguin pbk edition, 1965.  To see more Penguin SF covers, click here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Visual Literacy Now

Visual literacy initiatives have grown in popularity, and moved beyond the Arts and Design Colleges. A particulary noteworthy international and interdisciplinary collaboration is Participating faculty include engineers, designers, computer scientists and physicists. Online tutorial modules are available for business and engineering students.

Above is a plan of London's Soho District (1845) that demonstrates what University of Lugano Communication Science professor Riccardo Mazza calls Graphics for Explorative Analysis:

"Graphics are also a mean for finding and identifying structures and properties in a given data set (Card, et al, 1999). The special properties of visual perception of data may facilitate the finding of relationships, trends, revealing hidden patterns, or as Bertin (1981, p. 16) says, 'it is the visual means of resolving logical problems.' To illustrate. . . [on this map] black dots represent individual deaths from cholera and "x" marks the position of the water pumps. The map allowed Dr. John Snow to observe that most of the deaths . . . were concentrated around the Broad Street water pumps, which was discovered to be the source of diffusion of cholera in the area (Tufte, 1983)." [Visual Literacy Demo Tutorial: Visualization for Engineering and Communication. Viewed 20.04.2009 at].

To read more on visualization/nomenclature/academics of, click here for the group's recommended reading list.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Roosevelt

As the historic Roosevelt Hotel prepares to reopen in June 2009, it seemed fitting to resurrect an old courtesy letter from Roy Bartlett to one of Tulane University's librarians in response to a request to accommodate participants in the 1942 Convention of the Southwest and Southeast Library Associations.

The letter, the first page of which is reproduced above, further itemizes the hotel's rates and modernizations. At the time, a single room with a bath carried charges of $3.50, $4.00 and $5.00 per day. The Roosevelt claimed to have acted as the headquarters for 95% of the conventions hosted in New Orleans until 1941 and 90% of the conventions scheduled for 1942.

The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains the Roosevelt's 1941 portfolio, which includes photographs of the exhibits space, typical single and double rooms, lobby and bar.

The new Roosevelt is requesting stories of its past. If you have personal narratives about the hotel, especially its Sazerac Bar, click here.

Image above: Letter from Roy Bartlett to R.J. Usher, dated 1 August 1941. Miscellaneous Photographs Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lost New Orleans Tiffany Windows

This spring, there are twenty authentic Tiffany windows on Tulane University's campus.  Normally, there are thirteen such windows, but the Woldenberg Art Center's In Company with Angels: Seven Rediscovered Tiffany Windows  introduces seven apocalyptic angels to the mix.  

There used to be three more publicly viewable Tiffanys in New Orleans, but they disappeared in the 1950s.  The windows are well documented and historic photographs have survived of the seasonal subjects:  Spring, Summer and Winter.   They were part of the building program for the Thomas Sully-designed Richard Milliken Memorial Hospital for Children, the gift of Mrs. D.A. Milliken in memory of her husband, who died in 1896 of injuries sustained after being hit by a St. Charles Avenue streetcar.  

When the structure was dedicated 4 May 1899 with Louisiana' governor Foster and New Orleans mayor Flower presiding, a Daily Picayune reporter was present to record the event.  The following day, the paper published a lengthy summary of the dedication ceremony, including this description of the Tiffanys:

"In the rear of the rotunda are the handsome windows erected by Mrs. Milliken.  William Morris' idea of the window through which might at all times be seen the several seasons is realized as the Winter, Spring and Summer, in those to the memory of Richard Allen Milliken and his daughter, Fanny Allen Milliken.  Through the central window appears a Spring landscape, green leaves and flowers and blue distance. On the one side is Summer, gay with lotos [sic] blossoms and tropical foliage, while on the other Winter shows snow-covered hills, bare branches and evergreen pines. . . The gradation of color that runs through the three windows, from the rose-pink of the large, open lotos [sic] flowers, to the cold white and gray of the wintery landscape, is very delicately managed, and in the latter window there is a suggestion of the return of the flush of summer, which aids effectively in carrying out the ideas.  The work does the greatest credit to the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, of New York, by whom it was designed and executed. The third window will serve in time to commemorate the donor, Mrs. D.A. Milliken."

The windows disappeared in June 1952, when the Richard Milliken Memorial Hospital was razed.  The Daily Picayune article gives their dimensions as 4' x 10' each.

Historic issues of The Daily Picayune (1861-1899) are available through the subscription database Nineteenth-Century U.S. Newspapers.  The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains plans of the Milliken Memorial Hospital for Children in its Thomas Sully Office Records Collection.  Historic photographs of the hospital may be found at Tulane's Rudolph Matas Library in downtown New Orleans.  Charles L. Franck photographs of the structure's demolition may be found in the Historic New Orleans Collection and online via the LOUISiana Digital Library.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Architects' Travels

Architects' travels have been the subjects of earlier posts. Many of the collections in the Southeastern Architectural Archive include not only photographs of individual and firm projects, but also images of architects' tourist destinations.

Studio photographers such as the Alinari Brothers (Italy), Bonfils (Greece/Near East), Francis Frith (Egypt/Great Britain) and Sebah and Joaillier (Turkey) capitalized on travelers' desires to return home with visual mementoes. Often such images were produced as collodion wet plate or albumen prints on paper. They were inexpensive and portable, and could be purchased invididually or in sets. The latter could include wet collodion positives produced as lantern slides for public presentations.

The Toledano, Wogan and Bernard Office Records housed in the Southeastern Architectural Archive include studio photographs by Alinari, F. Frith & Co., the French photographer "N.D.", Ernesto Richter, Edizioni Brogi, and Anderson's Photos. Here, an unidentified photographer has captured a picturesque scene of nineteenth-century Troyes with its shoemaker's shop on the right.

Image above: Unknown photographer. Troyes, France. Undated print from collodion wet plate negative. Box 54. Toledano, Wogan and Bernard Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Cartography & Urban Society: Call for Papers

The history of cartography commission of the Comité Français de Cartographie (CFC) is planning a one-day colloquium on the following theme:

CARTOGRAPHY AND URBAN SOCIETY (from the19th century to the present)
Friday, 4 December 2009, University of Paris  

The morning will be devoted to historical work, the afternoon to investigating current representations of the city. 
As is customary, CFC contributors are teachers and researchers, but all students or professionals producing maps and /or Geographic Information System (GIS) products are welcome to submit proposals.  The deadline for submission of abstracts (in French or English) is 22 May 2009.  

For more information, contact:  

Gilles-Antoine Langlois ( or Marianne Guérois (