Up, up and away: The World Trade Center and New Orleans’ high-rise boom
For most of New Orleans’ history, the area’s soft, subsidence-prone soil made developers think twice about even considering skyscrapers. That squeamishness came to an end in the mid-1960s, first with the 29-story 225 Baronne building in 1965 and, two years later, with the 33-story International Trade Mart, a stunning modernist structure that dominates the foot of Canal Street. The upward-bound building boom was on, fueled by the prosperous oil market that continued until the mid-1980s.
The International Trade Mart, which was renamed the World Trade Center in 1968, has been vacant since 2010. Plans are afoot to redevelop the building, which the city of New Orleans owns, into apartments and a luxury hotel in the Four Seasons chain, but they have been stalled by litigation filed by Stuart “Neil” Fisher, a Florida businessman. After losing at the Civil District Court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, he has appealed to the state Supreme Court.
- The World Trade Center was designed by Edward Durell Stone, whose other buildings include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington; the Museum of Modern Art and Radio City Music Hall, both in New York City; the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India; and Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
- The trade center’s cruciform style is designed to represent the four points of the compass, a nod to New Orleans’ role in international commerce.
- The building’s name was changed to the World Trade Center in 1968 after the merger of two trade-related groups, International Trade Mart and International House. The trade organization has since moved to nearly Canal Place.
- The building housed consulates, trade groups, the Plimsoll Club and a revolving cocktail lounge called Top of the Mart, which offered a stunning view of the city at night. It took an hour for it to do a complete revolution.
- The Plimsoll Club, on the 30th floor, was the scene of daytime meetings and fancy nighttime parties with breathtaking views. It has been in Canal Place since 2010.
- The club takes its name from the Plimsoll line, a marking on a ship’s hull consisting of a circle and a series of lines that indicate the maximum depth to which that vessel can be loaded. It is named for Samuel Plimsoll, a 19th-century member of the British Parliament who was concerned with the loss of ships and crews to overloading.
- The World Trade Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
- In the 2011 film “The Mechanic,” The World Trade Center figures prominently in a scene in which actors Jason Statham and Ben Foster rappel down the side of the building. The rub? Though shot locally, the scene is set in Chicago.
- The local building boom has topped out (so far) with the 51-story One Shell Square, which is 697 feet tall, and the 53-story Place St. Charles, which stands at 645 feet.
- Before he went into politics, Donald Trump in 2005 announced plans for a 70-story, $400 million Trump Tower, a combination of hotel space and condominiums that would rise at Camp and Poydras streets. But the financial collapse of 2008 killed momentum for the project, and the property was sold at auction for $5.44 million in 2011 to Jim Huger, CEO of Premium Parking. The site is a parking lot.
The New Orleans skyline has changed radically since the early 1960s, when the 23-story, tower-topped Hibernia Bank Building, standing 355 tall, dominated the skyline. In the ensuing half-century, two dominant modernist buildings, the World Trade Center and The Rivergate, stood side by side. Although The Rivergate is gone, the World Trade Center stands as a reminder of what that style of architecture can achieve. It’s also the source of plenty of memories for New Orleanians who topped off evenings with a drink (or two or three) at the Top of the Mart, which provided an atmosphere of big-city swank far above New Orleans.