Monday, August 4, 2008


The New Orleans World Trade Center (formerly International Trade Mart) is located at the foot of Canal Street, once the premier commercial thoroughfare of the city.* Positioning the new International Trade Mart (ITM) on this site was part of a major redevelopment that began in the postwar period.

In 1946 Robert Moses, the "master builder" of New York City, published his Arterial Plan for New Orleans. This included the now infamous plan for the nearly built Riverfront Expressway, a "four-lane elevated highway over the railroad tracks" from Elysian Fields Avenue to Calliope. The plan was designed to alleviate congestion and ease our traffic woes, and ironically claimed it would protect the Vieux Carre from erosion due to traffic. Preservationists argued that this elevated waterfront expressway would effectively cut off the Vieux Carre from the River on which the city was founded.

By the completion of the ITM Building in 1967, the Riverfront Expressway controversy was in high swing. The new tower (the tallest building in New Orleans until it was surpassed by the Plaza Tower in 1969) became emblematic of this fear of change and a vision of what a New New Orleans might look like. The ITM was designed by the New York architect
Edward Durell Stone, best known for the design of the Rockefeller Center. It was capped by a revolving lounge, the , which featured red velvet furniture and a spectacular view of the city and its environs.**

Today the New Orleans World Trade Center is under restoration and interior conversion by architect
Frederic Schwartz FAIA, one of the principal designers of the THINK World Cultural Center in New York. Recently, Schwartz addressed the New York City Landmarks Commission in defense of the O'Toole Building by New Orleans architect Albert Ledner.

* This site is a significant point of demarcation in the New Orleanian mental compass. North, South, East and West are blurry distinctions in a city better navigated by Uptown, Downtown, Riverside and Lakeside. Uptown and Downtown historically refer to the upper and lower sides of Canal Street that separate the Spanish / French / Creole Quarter form the American Sector. But you knew that.

** The Top of the Mart was closed in the summer of 2001 and all that fabulous furniture liquidized. The revolving lounge had been purchased by Randy Gerber, who planned to transform it from the 1960s to the new millenium. He pulled out shortly after the terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center. The nightclub was eventually re-opened as Club 360.

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