Did Frankie Laine perform at the Blue Room? When?
Frankie Laine performed at the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel, and he performed in the Blue Room after the Roosevelt became the Fairmont Hotel in 1965. He performed there so often I've lost count! I remember performances in February 1960, April and November of 1961, May of 1963, September 1977, and many others throughout the 1960s and '70s. In fact, Frankie Laine was so popular here that he was in demand in many venues all over town, and he was a regular performer with the New Orleans Summer Pops Orchestra. However, his career slowed down in the 1980s due to triple and quadruple bypasses.
Born Frank Paul LoVecchio on March 30, 1913, he has had an astonishing career that included radio, television and movies, and he produced more than 70 charted records and 21 gold records. The oldest child in a Sicilian family from Chicago, Frankie is internationally popular, especially in the United Kingdom. His song "I Believe," was No. 1 on the charts there in 1953 for 18 weeks -- a record not broken even by the Beatles. And in 1954 he gave a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II.
Frankie, whose career had taken off after he recorded "That's My Desire" in 1946, loved New Orleans, and New Orleans loved him. When he came to town, one of his of his favorite hangouts was the Pontchartrain Hotel.
He even recorded a song entitled "New Orleans." The lyrics went something like this: "If you've seen a quaint old Southern town / Just think of New Orleans / If you've never seen that town, boy it's a pity / There's nothing like my New Orleans. / It will remind you of old-fashioned lace / A glass of wine will greet your smiling face / And if you ever see a black-eyed gal like mine / Boy, you're right in New Orleans."
Today he lives in California, and I understand he is planning a performance in Branson, Mo., this September. But I know Frankie must be thinking about our "quaint old Southern town," and I believe that if the Blue Room were open, he'd be here.
I understand that the Luling Mansion on Leda Street was once used as the Jockey Club in New Orleans. What can you tell me about that?
Janis in Texas
The Luling Mansion was indeed used as a clubhouse for the Louisiana Jockey Club. Since the Fair Grounds Race Course was right next door, it seemed a logical purchase. The group bought the mansion for $60,000 in 1871.
The racetrack opened initially in 1852 and was called the Union Race Course. It closed in 1857 due to competition with the Metairie Race Course. However, it opened again as the Creole Race Course in 1859. The track was renamed the Fair Grounds Race Course, because it had been the site of agricultural and industrial fairs, but it closed one more time due to competition with Metairie.
Then in 1871, the younger members of the Metairie group broke away and formed the Louisiana Jockey Club. This group of prominent citizens opened the Fair Grounds Race Course on April 13, 1872. That same year, the Metairie Race Course was converted to Metairie Cemetery.
The house on Leda Street was erected in 1865 for Florence A. Luling, a wealthy New Orleans cotton factor. Luling, a man of German origin, had purchased the 80-acre site in 1864 and engaged the firm of Gallier and Esterbrook to design the Italianate villa that originally had two semi-detached wings. The grounds originally extended to Esplanade Avenue.
However, the family did not live there for long. Personal tragedy and reversals in the cotton factoring business during Reconstruction caused Luling to sell his house and a large tract of land on which it stood and move to England. And the elegant 22-room Luling home became the perfect clubhouse for the wealthy young racing aficionados.
The building was designated by the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission in 1977.