Peck Hall

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I have written about the Historical significance of Peck Hall a number of times here at Squandered Heritage. Now we have a new addendum to this post. The City Council has allowed the demolition of this building pursuant of the owner’s appeal regarding the HCDRC’s Denial ruling for demolition. See below for the complete history of Peck Hall which I obtained from the Louisiana Landmarks Commission archives.

Peck Hall

I am happy to report that Peck Hall has been spared the wrecking ball.

And hopefully it will be saved to serve once again.

Demolition

History of Gilbert Academy and Peck Hall, constructed 1911.

In 1863, the Colored Orphan’s Home was established in New Orleans by the Freedman’s Bureau to house the orphans of deceased slaves who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. The Orphans home was moved four years later to a sugar plantation in Baldwin, Louisiana. In 1875, La Teche Seminary opened as a preparatory school for rural blacks on the plantation. The school’s name was changed to Gilbert Academy and Industrial College during the 1880’s to honor William L. Gilbert a farmer and businessman, who contributed $50,000 and an endowment of $40,000 to the school. In 1919 Gilbert Academy was incorporated into New Orleans University, although it remained in Baldwin Louisiana.

New Orleans University was established in 1869 by the Freedman’s Aid Society and the Methodist Episcopal Church for elementary secondary, collegiate and professional education for blacks. New Orleans University was housed in a four story Gothic Revival building dating from 1887 on St. Charles Avenue between Valmont and Leontine Streets.In 1935, New Orleans University merged with Straight College to form Dillard University and relocated to Gentilly Boulevard. Gilbert Academy was then moved to the St. Charles Avenue complex and became a private, independent high school run by the Methodist Episcopal Church. From 1935 until its closing in 1949, Gilbert Academy served as a private co-educational high school for New Orleans blacks and became the first standard four-year high school for blacks to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Graduates of Gilbert Academy went on to become national leaders in the visual arts, music, architecture, literature and government. Distinguished graduates include Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, one of Martin Luther King’s principal lieutenants; Thomas Dent, author of the critically acclaimed civil rights movement retrospective, Southern Journey; jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis; the first black woman to win an Olympic metal, Mickey Patterson; John Louis Wilson, the first black graduate of Columbia University’s School of Architecture and noted New York architect, and Margaret Walker, a Fulbright scholar, lauded poet, novelist and professor of English for over thirty years at Jackson State College in Mississippi.

The building located at 5323 Pitt Street, known as Peck Hall, was erected in 1911 and eventually served as the girl’s dormitory for Gilbert Academy. The main Gothic structure was demolished in 1949 and replaced with the modern educational building that houses De La Salle High School. Peck Hall has remained vacant for quite some time.

The building is typical of early 19th century educational and institutional facilities. The three story blond brick building features wood 1/1 windows, stone sills, and a broad roof overhang with exposed rafters. The exterior of the building retains most of its architectural ornament and integrity. Such a substantial and stable building could be adaptively reused as an educational facility, apartments, faculty housing, etcetera.

Peck Hall is socially significant in terms of its association with Gilbert Academy, its illustrious alumni and the fact that it is the only building remaining from Gilbert Academy’s New Orleans campus. In addition, few landmarks remain celebrating the early educational excellence achieved by New Orleans’ African-American community.

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