The 1921 building that took New Orleans to new heights
Hibernia National Bank, headquartered in New Orleans, was founded in 1870. At the turn of the 20th century, the bank made plans to build a grand downtown building. Upon its completion in 1921, the Renaissance-style building was not only the tallest building in New Orleans, it was the tallest building in the state, affording those inside a clear view of the river and the French Quarter. Decked out with Corinthian columns and topped with a now-iconic cupola, the bank made an impressive addition to the city’s skyline.
Capital One acquired Hibernia National Bank in 2006, and employees vacated most of the building. The retail bank on the ground floor remained in operation, but for several years, the fate of the building was uncertain. However, HRI Properties began renovation of the building in 2011. Much of it has since been converted to luxury apartments.
- Perhaps the most recognizable feature of the building is the cupola on top. On holidays, it is illuminated in different colors in celebration. It once served a more practical purpose, however: When the building was built, the cupola was lit as a navigational beacon for ships plying the Mississippi River.
- The 23-story Hibernia Bank building is 335 feet tall. It was the tallest building in the state until the Louisiana State Capitol was built in Baton Rouge in 1932. It wasn’t until 1965 and the construction of the skyscraper at 225 Baronne — followed two years later by the the World Trade Center building — that the bank building was outreached in New Orleans.
- When WDSU went on the air in 1948 as the city’s first TV station, it needed a place to install its aerial, the taller the better. The chosen spot: atop the Hibernia building.
- When the Hibernia building was built, 3,153 wooden piles were driven 52 feet into the ground, where they reached a layer of prehistoric oyster shells stable enough to support the weight of the building. The building was constructed with a steel frame and is built of limestone.
- HRI Properties made use of federal historic rehabilitation tax credits to help finance the $63 million conversion to apartments. These tax credits have contributed to a great deal of investment in downtown New Orleans, and it is estimated that $1.49 billion worth of projects have been approved – though not necessarily used – over the past 10 years in the city.
- When the building was completed in 1921, the bank published a brochure touting its features. The flyer informed visitors that the “Renaissance style” building had seven high-speed elevators that took passengers from the ground floor to the top of the tower in “only a half-minute.”
- Of course, the new bank needed a new vault, and the door to that vault arrived in New Orleans in May 1921. It weighed 24 tons. It took eight pairs of mules to haul the door, built by the Mosler Safe Co., from the river to the building.
- When Capital One acquired Hibernia National Bank, it had 207 locations in Louisiana and 109 in Texas, making it the largest bank in Louisiana. According to Forbes magazine, it was among the world’s 2,000 largest companies and one of America’s top 1,000 companies by annual revenue.
The New Orleans skyline has completely transformed over the past 100 years, but for 46 years, the Hibernia Bank Building towered over the rest of the city. Though it is no longer the tallest of the buildings downtown, its impressive construction and distinct cupola contribute to the diverse architecture of New Orleans’ CBD. It might no longer guide ships down the Mississippi, but the building — and its illuminated cupola — still attracts residents to move downtown, a reminder of our city’s capacity for evolution and rebirth.