All around the Curbediverse, we're celebrating the great architects and styles of our unique cities. What better way to champion New Orleans than with a bio of James Gallier from Curbed NOLA contributor Art Bueno?
Last year's Luna Fete, a sophisticated video mapping project, brought Gallier Hall's neoclassical facade to animated, colorful life. The celebrated building was architect James Gallier's last major project in a star-crossed career that spanned Dublin, London, and New York before reaching its apex here in New Orleans. Though only a handful of buildings of his still stand, his legacy among New Orleans architects is permanent.
Gallier's beginnings did not belie his later success. He had little formal training in architecture and left London for New York City to escape bankruptcy. After a formative but creatively stifling couple of years there, he moved again to New Orleans in 1834 and Frenchified his surname, which was previously Gallagher. Despite jettisoning that particular piece of Irish heritage, Gallier still sought out his ethnic brethren as clients in the Irish community of Faubourg St. Mary, now known as the Central Business District. Though much of the commissioned work of this period of Gallier's no longer exists, he unquestionably dominated the landscape, having built the St. Charles, a 350-room hotel and one of the most famous building of nineteenth-century New Orleans.
A few of his projects still exist and are part of New Orleans life, such as the sanctuary of St. Patrick's Church on Camp Street, a Gothic Revival building he finalized. An Italianate house Gallier completed for a wealthy doctor lives on as headquarters of the notoriously secretive Boston Club. And the Pontalba Buildings, those iconic structures in Jackson Square, bear Gallier's mark as well.
After Gallier built the City Hall for the Third Municipality (now known simply as Gallier Hall) he retired due to failing eyesight. 16 years later, Gallier died on a ship sunk by a hurricane off the Georgia coast. His son, James Gallier Jr., who had inherited his father's practice, added to the family name with his own works, including Leeds-Iron Foundry and Gallier House. Today, the Gallier neoclassical style takes its place among the many signature pieces of artistry that form New Orleans.