CHAPTER 2

EARLY PROJECTS

MUNICIPAL COURT HOUSE, NEW ORLEANS, 1951
SCULPTURE FLAPS


We designed a Municipal Court House and Precinct Jail for deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, the reform mayor of New Orleans (1946-1961). The site was just down Rampart Street from Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church. We were faced with two problems: the footings were already in place when we started our work, and we needed to finish the plans in a matter of weeks. The solution was a four-story building facing Rampart Street with a curved blank wall sheathed in glazed tile.

We commissioned the sculptor Enrique Alferez to produce a sculpture for the wall of the new Court Building. The theme of the piece was the family--a man, woman, and child--made of cast and hammered concrete. It was a beautiful sculpture about six feet high and fit its place on the building.

The sculpture was installed late one afternoon some two weeks before the building was to be dedicated and remained covered with a canvas tarpaulin firmly tied in place. Newspaper reporters wrote articles about the "mystery" sculpture. Its secretive appearance piqued the interest of the citizens. The paper ran a contest offering a prize to the one who could guess what the sculpture might be.

The dedication took place on a Saturday afternoon. The mayor was there, and the police band played. The sculpture was unveiled; everyone seemed pleased with it.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Artist Enrique Alferez (1901-1999) and his "Family Group." Photo by Myles DeRussy,
The Times-Picayune
, 22 February 1951.

The following Monday morning, however, the switchboard at City Hall was jammed with callers complaining about the nude sculpture on the new building. The churchgoers on their way to Guadalupe Church that Sunday were horrified. The mayor, himself, called and ordered the art removed forthwith. Someone had suggested that the artist must place fig leaves on the figures. But Alferez, obviously enjoying the publicity, held a press conference at which he steadfastly refused to prostitute his art. A hubbub ensued with letters to the editor making suggestions about the artwork or what should replace it.

We were shocked and embarrassed. Amidst all the furor, the statue was stored in a warehouse. People clucked at how much it cost the city when the firemen and policemen needed raises and holes in the streets needed repairing. An auction was held. Lo and behold, the high bid for the piece was twice what the city had paid in the first place. It was bought by the owner of a cheap hotel on the corner of St. Charles and Common Streets for the cocktail lounge on the second floor. It has since disappeared, maybe in someone's backyard.

One of the suggestions to replace the Family Group was a statue of a woman marine. That would probably have been better than the aluminum map of the U.S. outlined in neon with a big red dot for New Orleans donated by the Kaiser Aluminum Plant. We felt our building had been ruined.

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