It’s not the biggest theater in New Orleans. It’s not the most modern, either.
But from 1875 to the early 1890s, the venerable theater on St. Charles Street between Canal and Poydras streets was the center of the universe for the nation’s Dreamers.
It is the Music Institute at 414 St. Charles Ave., and it’s where the Louisiana State Lottery Corporation is located – an old, corrupt enterprise known as the “Golden Octopus” for its way into families’ pockets from the coast. coast — staged as a regular spectacle where the winning numbers were drawn.
“Not many institutions can claim a record for more happiness, misery, joy, madness, greed or charity than the famous lottery at the age of twenty-five,” wrote the Times-Picayune in a 1920 article reflecting on the lottery’s legacy. . “Its patrons and patrons extended over the continent. In Montreal and Seattle men and women bought tickets as feverishly as they did on St. Charles Street and at every cigar shop in New Orleans, or from the weeping ticket-sellers in the street.”
An important spectacle
The drawing of winning numbers is shown by the majority of ticket holders who will not be witnesses in person; The theater has only 1,800 seats. But nevertheless it is an electric pottery.
In the early years of the history of the lottery, the drawing was held in various theaters around the city or in the three-story office building of the lottery in St. Charles, on the site of the present-day United Fruit building, where lottery organizers built a hall to host them. Daily drawings of small stakes.
But for the more lucrative “golden” drawings – with a grand prize of $100,000 or more – they need a proper big stage. For that, they chose the nearby Academy of Music.
It will be years where dreams are built — and destroyed.
“There will be gasps as the entire audience leans forward in tension, and gasps as the winner is announced,” The Times-Picayune wrote.
Made of brick with Moorish-influenced elements, the three-story theater building was built in 1853 by George C. Lawrason for the David Bidwell Theater.
Start with the circus
In its first season, the Amphitheater, as it was originally known, mainly turned to the circus man Dan Rice, who, in addition to booking traditional shows on the theater’s moving stage, also organized equestrian shows.
The following year, Bidwell converted it into a proper gallery. “The sawdust was swept away and the stage was remodeled, the name of the Amphitheater was changed to the Pelican Theatre, and the famous theater became the home of comedy,” wrote The Picayune.
In 1856, coincidentally with Bidwell’s taking on a new partner, it was renamed the Academy of Music, which – in addition to the second-floor museum of curiosities and natural wonders – also had a new gas-powered air conditioning system.
In addition to being popular, it is located almost directly across the street from the lottery building. So, in December 1875, the Brass Lottery installed their large twin wheel painting in the theater for a grand Christmas drawing. 2,580 prizes were awarded that day, including a grand prize of $100,000.
It is an actor’s fever dream.
Both wheels are hollow and made of glass. A larger one, 5 feet long, filled with 100,000 sheets of paper, rolled up. The small wheel is filled with additional scrolls, each with a prize number written on it.
When it’s time to collect the numbers, the wheel spins around and around the giant men as a band. In an effort to give it all an air of credibility, two former generals of the Federation – PGT Beauregard and Jubal A. Early – were hired to oversee this matter.
“The theaters would be filled to the brim on these occasions, with the rich and noble, dressed in fine clothes, making a gala feast on the occasion,” wrote The Picayune. “Near the roof, the poor patrons gathered, openly exposed to the strained doubts and greed that society has hidden under the formal form.”
Then, the spinning wheel is stopped and two blind boys from the local orphanage. was taken out. At the signal, each person put his hand into one wheel and block the slip.
Those ticket holders holding the same number as on the first ticket will receive the prize specified on the second ticket.
The drawing will continue for several hours, until the prize wheel is exhausted, at which time the winning numbers are broadcast across the country.
Amazingly enough, the Louisiana lottery was also very corrupt. By the time the constitution of 1893 began in 1893, public opinion had risen and stopped.
A brief reply
The Music Institute building, renovated in 1893, will continue to host shows in the new century, even after receiving a new owner and a new name, the Audubon Theater, around 1901.
Then, on February 11, 1903, a fire broke out shortly after 19:00 in the theater. The old will be gone with the last look.
“The last curtain of the old music institute fell last night in a great red fire,” wrote The Picayune in the next morning’s edition, “and now there are only embers and puffed brick walls and black splinters.”
After sitting empty for two years, what remains of the building – as well as the nearby Phoenix House restaurant – was eliminated in the end. In their place, the German-themed Rathskeller restaurant opened in 1905, which was a popular night spot for years – until it became a victim of Prohibition in 1921.
Today, the site is occupied by the InterContinental New Orleans Hotel.
Source: The Times-Picayune Archive; “Jewell’s Crescent City Illustrated;” “History of New Orleans,” by John Kendall.
Know a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at [email protected]
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