It wasn’t the most important theater in New Orleans. It wasn’t probably the most trendy, both.
However from 1875 to the early Nineties, the venerable playhouse on St. Charles Avenue between Canal and Poydras streets was the middle of the universe for a nation’s price of dreamers.
It was the Academy of Music at 414 St. Charles Ave., and it was the place the Louisiana State Lottery Firm — the outdated, notoriously corrupt enterprise generally known as “the Golden Octopus” for its methodology of moving into the pocketbooks of households from coast to coast—staged a daily present at which profitable numbers had been drawn.
“Not many establishments can declare a file for extra pleasure, struggling, delight, insanity, greed or charity than the well-known lottery exercised in its twenty-five years of existence,” The Occasions-Picayune wrote in a 1920 article reflecting on the lottery’s legacy . “Its patrons and supporters stretched throughout the continent. In Montreal and Seattle women and men purchased tickets as feverishly as they did in St. Charles road and at each cigar retailer within the metropolis of New Orleans, or from the ticket peddlers who cried their wares on the streets.”
A significant present
The drawing of the profitable numbers was a present most ticketholders wouldn’t witness in particular person; the theater had room for just one,800 souls. Nevertheless it was nonetheless an electrifying little bit of stagecraft.
Early within the lottery’s historical past, drawings had been held in numerous theaters round city or within the lottery’s three-story workplace constructing on St. Charles, on the positioning of the present-day United Fruit Constructing, the place lottery organizers constructed out a corridor to host their small-stakes every day drawings.
However for the extra profitable “golden” drawings—with grand prizes of $100,000 or extra—they wanted a suitably grand stage. For that, they selected the close by Academy of Music.
It could for years be a spot the place goals had been made—and shattered.
“There could be a rustle as the entire viewers leaned ahead tensely, and a sigh because the winner was introduced,” The Occasions-Picayune wrote.
Fabricated from brick with Moorish-influenced components, the three-story theater constructing was inbuilt 1853 by George C. Lawrason for theater impresario David Bidwell.
Beginning with a circus
In its first season, The Amphitheater, because it was initially recognized, was largely turned over to circus man Dan Rice, who, along with reserving conventional reveals on the theater’s moveable stage, additionally hosted equestrian performances.
The subsequent yr, Bidwell remodeled it into a correct present corridor. “The sawdust was swept out and the stage transformed, the title Amphitheater modified to Pelican Theater, and the already standard playhouse turned the house of comedy,” The Picayune wrote.
In 1856, coinciding with Bidwell’s taking over of recent companions, it was rechristened the Academy of Music, which—along with a small second-story museum of curiosities and pure oddities—additionally boasted a flowery new steam-powered air-conditioning system.
Along with being standard, it was conveniently situated nearly immediately throughout the road from the lottery constructing. So, in December 1875, lottery brass put in their huge new twin-wheeled drawing contraption within the theater for a grand Christmas Day drawing. Some 2,580 prizes had been distributed that day, together with a $100,000 grand prize.
It was a showman’s fever dream.
Each wheels had been hole and made from glass. The bigger, measuring 5 toes throughout, was crammed with 100,000 numbered, rolled-up slips of paper. The smaller wheel was crammed with extra rolled-up slips, every with a prize quantity written on it.
When the time got here to select numbers, the wheels had been spun round and round by a person of imposing dimension as a band performed. In an try and lend all of it an air of credibility, two former Accomplice generals—PGT Beauregard and Jubal A. Early—had been employed to supervise the affair.
“The theater could be stuffed to the doorways on these events, with the rich and the elite, gorgeously garbed, making a gala pageant of the event,” The Picayune wrote. “Up close to the roof, the poorer patrons crowded, revealing extra frankly the tense suspense and coventousness that the social eclat hid beneath a veneer of kind.”
Then, the spinning wheels had been stopped and two blindfolded boys from a neighborhood orphanage had been led out. At a sign, every plunged a hand into one of many wheels and extracted a slip.
These ticketholders holding the identical quantity as that on the primary slip would win the prize indicated on the second slip.
The drawings would proceed for hours, till the prize wheel was exhausted, at which level the profitable numbers had been wired throughout the nation.
As dramatic because it was, that model of the Louisiana Lottery was additionally exceedingly corrupt. By the point its preliminary 25-year constitution was up in 1893, public opinion had soured and it was stopped.
A brief run
The Academy of Music constructing, transformed in 1893, would proceed internet hosting reveals into the brand new century, even after getting new homeowners and a brand new title, the Audubon Theatre, round 1901.
Then, on Feb. 11, 1903, a fireplace erupted backstage shortly earlier than 7 pm The outdated theater would exit with one final present.
“The final curtain of the outdated Academy of Music got here down final night time in a fantastic crimson blaze,” The Picayune wrote within the following morning’s editions, “and now there are solely embers and puffed brick partitions and black splinters.”
After sitting vacant for 2 years, the remnants of the constructing—in addition to these of the Phoenix Home restaurant subsequent door—had been lastly cleared away. Of their place, the German-themed Rathskeller restaurant opened in 1905, which was a well-liked nightspot for years—till it turned a sufferer of Prohibition in 1921.
Immediately, the positioning is occupied by the InterContinental New Orleans lodge.
sources: The Occasions-Picayune archive; “Jewell’s Crescent Metropolis Illustrated;” “Historical past of New Orleans,” by John Kendall.
Know of a New Orleans constructing price profiling on this column, or simply interested by one? Contact Mike Scott at email@example.com.
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