Honoring the History of a 144-Year-Old Building During our 50th Anniversary Year
Katie Morton

 

It’s hard to believe, but St. George’s beautiful three-story main building was almost torn down to make room for a bank. Yes, it’s true-- a drive-thru bank. Can you imagine?

What we now call Porteous Hall was originally McDonogh #6 Public School. It was designed by architect William Freret and constructed in 1876 at a cost of $16,900. The building was intended to be a school for young African-American children per the will of benefactor John McDonogh, who valued education for all students no matter their race or socio-economic status and donated substantial funding to the cities of New Orleans and Baltimore for the construction of schools. McDonogh #6 Public School remained open for 48 years with space for 450 students in ten classrooms.

Top: McDonogh #6 photographed in the 1890s; the portico and staircase to the 2nd floor were not added until 1924. Bottom: McDonogh #6 students attend class in a third floor corner classroom in 1912. Photo credits are not available; however, we would like to credit Nancy Brister's website "Old New Orleans - The Past Whispers" (http://old-new-orleans.com/NO_McDonogh6.html) for sharing these images with the public.

Other occupants of the McDonogh #6 building included the Joseph Kohn High School of Commerce for Girls and the Conservative Congregation of New Orleans; the building was either left unoccupied or used as a warehouse between 1949 and 1961 prior to its purchase by the Conservative Congregation in 1961.

The Conservative Congregation used McDonogh #6 as their synagogue and classroom space but desired to move to Metairie in 1976. Hibernia National Bank expressed interest in the property as a solution to their small neighboring location at Magazine and General Pershing Streets and submitted a formal offer. Their plan to purchase the building included a drive-thru bank design that would have required the demolition of the then one-hundred year-old historical building. Though their bid was accepted by the Conservative Congregation, another hurdle remained: a rezoning request for the City Council.

It was at this time that St. George’s Episcopal School made a verbal offer of the same purchase amount as Hibernia Bank, expressing that the school would not only keep the existing building, but also pour substantial funding into its renovation.

Preservationists and neighbors, including the Bouligny Improvement Association, weighed in, expressing both their dismay that the McDonogh building would be torn down and their support for the small but promising St. George’s Episcopal School. Ultimately, before the City Council could make their final vote and recommendation, Hibernia pulled their bid due to the negative publicity and the possibility of a new location for their project.

St. George’s Episcopal School is privileged to have had the advocacy and support of Louise Martin, John Ferguson, Douglas Koy Porteous, the Vickery Family, and City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson. Without these individuals and others, the school’s history--not to mention the location-- would be very different.


For an in-depth report regarding the building's history, architecture and importance, please read the form below, prepared by Louise B. Martin and John C. Ferguson and filed with the City of New Orleans' Civil District Court in support of the preservation of the property.

The following newspaper articles, researched and delivered to us by St. George’s parent Christine Harvey, tell the tale of the purchase in greater detail, including editorials and coverage of City Council's involvement in the process. They are a fascinating read and glimpse into both the history of our school and the recent history of this special building we are fortunate to call ours!

 

 

  • 50th Anniversary
  • Historic Preservation
  • History
  • Porteous Hall