The Sweet History of New Orleans & One11
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the founding father of New Orleans, first stepped foot on the alluvial land that formed a batture along the Mississippi River in 1717 and proposed that this land become the capitol of the French colony in the area. By spring of 1718, permission was granted, and he named the new city “La Nouvelle Orleans” in honor of the French Duke of Orleans. This batture was the same land that would later become the Sugar District in the nineteenth century lasting through the 1930s.
Story of Sugar – the White Gold
In the mid to late 18th century, the cultivation of sugarcane was so intertwined with New Orleans that most of the land of what is now considered present-day downtown consisted of sugarcane plantations and what is now considered Uptown through the mid-nineteenth century. Sugar became the city’s largest export out of New Orleans after Creole planter Jean Etienne de Boré successfully replicated technology for granulating sugar, key for exportation. In the early 19th century, New Orleans benefited from the reduction of exports from the French colony of Saint-Domingue after a slave insurrection impacted the colony’s production. Thousands of refugees landed in New Orleans and contributed their expertise in sugar agronomy and refining.
Sugar quickly evolved to become the “white gold” currency that largely remained in the city in each stage of the business cycle, from crop to refining to trade. Because of the new crop and the ability to granulate the sugar on-site, the city’s wealth and population nearly tripled in just 20 years and downtown plantation lands were urbanized. As demand for sugar increased, so did the number of sugarcane plantations. The area known as the “sugar bowl” expanded from New Orleans up along the river to Baton Rouge and beyond. But by 1832, refineries were established to outsource the refining process at scale for plantations using the newest technology, such as steam-operated engines and coal.
The Sugar Landing Era 1830-70
The warehouses and wharves on the Mississippi River’s batture and levee were renovated to keep up with the demand of the daily market transactions from the sugarcane being delivered by steamboats. This landing stretched from Canal to Toulouse Streets and was monopolized by the sugar industry for the next century. The levee was buzzing with merchants, vendors, buyers and brokers as it was the unofficial gathering spot for brokers and buyers. The fast expansion of the city in the early 1800s from the Mississippi River’s fresh batture, allowed for the development of New Levee Street, renamed North and South Peters Street in 1856, which served as the commercial corridor for the sugar brokers.
Over time, deteriorated wharves, lack of storage warehouses and the Civil War crippled the industry. Sugar production dropped by 98% as plantations were destroyed.
However, with a new tariff on sugar imports, the sugar industry was able to slowly bounce back; and by 1893, production was back at prewar levels. The advent of the railroad facilitated centralized processing of sugar and solidified the separation of agriculture and manufacturing on the plantation. Additionally, the construction of sugar and molasses storage sheds along the railroad tracks was the first significant improvement project of the sugar landing era. The port was modernized as the railroad ran through the sugar landing batture. The city sold lots on the land to private entities that benefitted from a strategic location on the sugar landing. After the Civil War, the unorganized operations on the sugar landing would evolve to become a bona fide district that brought together both the industrial and professional sides of the sugar industry.
The Sugar District 1870-1930
During the antebellum era, all sugar processing was done at the plantations and storage warehouses were limited. The private lots sold by the city eventually were developed for the construction of refineries, warehouses and ancillary businesses, such as brokers, importers, suppliers and wholesalers.
In 1883, members of the Louisiana Planters Association advocated for a Sugar Exchange that would establish standards related to the trade, such as sales, deliveries and contracts. The Beaux Arts Louisiana Sugar Exchange Building was designed by the notable local architect James Freret and would be dedicated the following year. It became the commercial hub of the newly organized Sugar District between Bienville and Conti Streets.
American Sugar Refining Company 1891
By the late nineteenth century, the appetite for refined white sugar was increasing over raw brown sugar. The demand called for the construction of the two largest refineries, The Planters Refinery and the Louisiana Sugar Refinery. Both were built in the Sugar District, and their size and tall defining smokestacks dramatically changed the skyline of the city. Eventually, the two competitors were purchased by the newly incorporated American Sugar Refining Company in 1891.
Once again, the sugar trade in New Orleans began to decline as the demand for more space for land pushed development outside of the city. American Sugar Refining Company began construction of a much larger and modern Chalmette Sugar Refinery in Arabi, just outside of New Orleans. Beginning in 1912 and lasting for nearly two decades, sugarcane production was impacted by disease and extreme weather events, such as drought and early frosts. Costs increased while production decreased. As a final straw, Congress passed a bill in 1913 that reduced and eventually eliminated duties on sugar imports by 1916. The number of sugar businesses in the Sugar District were declining.
The former Planter’s and Louisiana Sugar refineries were sold and demolished by 1920. By 1937, the American Sugar Refining Company continued to operate from their office the Sugar District, but their warehouses were converted to general storage.
111 Iberville: From Warehouse to Office
In 1946, a city ordinance excluded the blocks that formed the Sugar District from the French Quarter. As a result, the buildings were outside the preservation jurisdiction of the Vieux Carre Commission and were mostly eventually demolished. Parking facilities, brewing and bottling companies took over much of the land.
The seven-story white brick building built in 1884 by American Sugar Refining Company, now home to ONE11 Hotel, is one of the few restored remnants of the Sugar District that remains today. It sat vacant until it was converted to an office building with a first-floor restaurant in 1971. The 111 Iberville project was converted by the new owners Curtis & Davis Architects into office space for their firm and for lease. The ground floor was home to Victoria Station, a restaurant chain that featured old rail cars parked on the side of the building.
History Meets Present – the New One11 Hotel
The French Quarter experienced a new wave of development in hotels beginning in the 1940s through the 1960s. Preservationists successfully pushed for a hotel moratorium that was put into effect in the French Quarter in 1969. Today, the over-a-century-old building has been revitalized as ONE11 Hotel with all the modern comforts while celebrating the building’s rich history. The brand new, fully-renovated ONE11 is making history again as the first hotel in half a century to open in the French Quarter.