Friday, June 5, 2009

U.S. Custom House, New Orleans, LA

The U.S. Custom House in New Orleans is one of the oldest and most important federal buildings in the southern United States and one of the major works of architecture commissioned by the federal government in the nineteenth century. This monumental granite building was begun in 1848 and built over a period of 33 years. The grand Marble Hall in the center of the building is one of the finest Greek Revival interiors in the United States.

Located a few blocks from the Mississippi River, the great waterway that enabled New Orleans to become an important port city, the U.S. Custom House was planned in the 1840s in response to increasing trade through the Mississippi Valley. The building was also designed to accommodate other Federal offices, most notably the main post office and federal courts.

The partially completed building was first occupied in 1856 when the U.S. Customs Service moved into the first floor. The post office followed in November 1860, and the building served as the city's main post office through the remainder of the nineteenth century. Although construction was suspended during the Civil War, the building was occupied briefly by Confederate forces and then by the Union Army after New Orleans was occupied in 1862. It was also used to house captured Confederate soldiers, reportedly up to 2,000 men at one time.

The impressive exterior of the U.S. Custom House retains its original design, which includes modified Greek and Egyptian Revival elements. The immense four-story building occupies the full trapezoidal downtown city block bounded by Canal, North Peters, Iberville, and Decatur Streets. Due to the shape of the lot, the corner of the building at Canal and North Peters Streets is rounded. The majority of the building is constructed of brick sheathed in gray granite from Quincy, Massachusetts; however, the entablature material is cast iron.

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