Have New Orleanians been mispronouncing this building’s name for generations?
When is a casino not a casino? Apparently when it’s the City Park Casino, which, its name notwithstanding, never has been home to any form of gambling. The Spanish Mission Style building opened in 1913 as a cantina — a refreshment stand — and while the word “casino” was once used to describe a place of public amusement, oft-repeated park lore holds that the local way of pronunciation transformed “cantina” into “casino.” As the story goes, the name stuck and has endured for generations.
Two transformations have livened up the Casino building since its construction. Morning Call opened a coffee stand on the ground floor in November 2012, serving jambalaya and red beans and rice as well as café au lait and beignets. The second floor, known as Parkview Terrace after a 1999 renovation, is a party and meeting venue with terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows providing, as the name suggests, sweeping views of the park.
- The Casino, designed by the architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth, opened on July 1, 1913. Its cost: $36,000, the equivalent of nearly $885,500 today.
- Because the Casino was built before anyone had heard of air conditioning, it was designed to maximize whatever cool air might be available, with a projecting arcade to protect the interior from direct summer sunlight, as well as plenty of windows and folding doors to capture breezes wafting in from the lagoon.
- When the Casino replaced the park’s comparatively modest snack pavilion, potential concessionaires were dazzled by the lure of big profits. The Louisiana Coca-Cola Bottling Co. won the lease, defeating George J. Cajoleas, who had operated the refreshment stand. But he stayed on as manager and remained when Coca-Cola pulled out in 1919.
- Cajoleas, a Greek immigrant who never learned to read or write English, was a shrewd businessman and political operative who operated a French Quarter liquor business on the side.
- Although Cajoleas had spent $4,000 (the equivalent of about $55,000 today) for equipment for the Casino operation, his wife sued for nonsupport, and it turned out that Joseph Bernard, the park superintendent, had received $500 in 1925 for a car in return for his help in making a bid to renew the Casino lease. Bernard testified that he had been providing such assistance for 28 years.
- The park board ruled that the car had to go, and Cajoleas left two years later, retiring to run the Broadview Restaurant at North Broad Street and Grand Route St. John.
- The Casino’s official name since 2000 has been the Timken Center, but no one calls it by that name. According to Sally Reeves, co-author of a history of the park, it honors John Timken, who gave an island on the West Bank bearing his name to the park in the late 1980s. The park sold it, Reeves said, and used to money to renovate the Casino.
From “Calliope” and “Burgundy” to “mynez” and “ersters,” New Orleanians are known for inventing their own special pronunciation for any number of words. As enjoyable as the Casino is as a City Park oasis, the story behind its name highlights the linguistic quirkiness of the local vernacular. Yeah, we tawk funny. You got a problem with dat?