They don't call me Mr. Know-it-All for nothing. The word "casino" did not always mean a gambling establishment. And in the case of the casino in City Park, it never was.
Our wonderful City Park, all 1,500 acres of it, has been growing and getting better since the 1850s when the City of New Orleans acquired the land and began developing the park. And in 1891, the City Council passed an ordinance that transferred control of the park to the Board of Commissioners of the City Park Improvement Association. And improve they did! The association planted trees, created lakes, built roads, and constructed bandstands, including the epitome of concert facilities, the peristyleum, which was dedicated in 1908.
Next, the Board began the construction of a new building, a combined administrative center and refreshment stand. The style of the building was a Spanish Mission revival design. It was called the Casino because it looked rather like a Mexican "cantina," or a Spanish casino, a club. The building was the design of architects Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth, and the $36,000 headquarters and refreshment center opened in July 1913.
The building was designed with many windows and folding doors to let in cooling breezes in the days before air conditioning. And the views from the balconies, as you know, are spectacular. But the building has been a problem for the park almost from the beginning: Its galleries leaked. Every few years repairs were needed, especially after the big hurricanes of 1915, 1947 and 1965. To everyone's delight, however, the Casino was completely renovated in 1999 to make upstairs space for large gatherings and parties.
For years, various businesses handled the concessions, until 1980 when City Park turned over the management of Casino refreshments to the Friends of City Park, the auxiliary organization founded in 1979. The changes were wonderful. They gave us antique-style ice cream tables and chairs, scrubbed tile floors, new fixtures, and ceiling fans to remind us of the old days.
An important change came in 1992, when the park administration moved from the Old Casino to its new building. And today, the Casino, renamed the Timken Center, is even better. Its Shop in the Park and Parkview Cafe are delightful. For anyone who has not been to the Casino lately, do yourself a favor. And tell them Old Blake sent you.
While talking to an 84-year-old friend of mine, he mentioned his old uncle used to build the floats for Proteus, Momus and Comus. The name of the company was Soulie and Crassons. Do you know of this company, and if so, where can I get some info on it?
George Soulie, born in Paris in 1844, made an enormous difference in the design and production of Carnival floats. His family made creations from plaster and papier-mache for festivals in France, but after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he moved to New Orleans.
Before Soulie arrived, all of the papier-mache figures, decors, and masks for Mardi Gras were made in Paris and sent to New Orleans. However, Soulie's local reputation was made when he turned the designs of Charles Briton into the first pageant constructed entirely in New Orleans -- Comus' parade of 1873, "The Missing Links." Working from the secret dens of the krewes, Soulie produced pageants that were moving works of art.
His career lasted more than 40 years until his death in 1919. His son Henry succeeded him and formed a partnership in 1923 with Harry Crassons. Until the early 1950s, this pair continued to build floats for the old-line krewes.
To find out more about the floats and float builders before 1950, you should read Mardi Gras Treasures: Float Designs of the Golden Age. Part of a series, this beautiful book is by our own Carnival historian and artistic genius, acclaimed designer of Mardi Gras parades and Carnival balls, Henri Schindler.