1800s lottery drawings put New Orleans theater on the map | Entertainment/Life

It was not the largest theater in New Orleans. It was also not the most modern.

But from 1875 to the 1890s, the remarkable playhouse on St. Charles Avenue between Canal and Poedras streets was the center of the universe for a nation’s cherished dreams.

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It was the Academy of Music at 414 St. Charles Ave., and it was where the Louisiana State Lottery Company—the former, notoriously corrupt corporation known as the “Golden Octopus” for its method of running from coast to coast— goes into the pockets of families. Beach – Create a regular pageant in which winning numbers are drawn.

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“Not many organizations can claim a record for more joy, suffering, happiness, madness, greed or charity than the popular lottery that reflects the lottery’s legacy over its 25 years.” . “Its patrons and patrons extended over the whole continent. Men and women in Montreal and Seattle bought tickets as feverishly as they bought them in every cigar shop on St. Charles Street and in the city of New Orleans, or From vendors peddling their wares on the streets.







11-26 inside-history-academy-and-music.jpg

A photo of the old Academy of Music Theater in St. Charles, as published in 1873 in Jewel Crescent City Illustrated. The old theater, which would later be renamed the Audubon Theater, was the site of a large drawing for the Louisiana State Lottery, a stage show eagerly watched by hopeful ticket-buyers across the country.




A great show

The drawing of the winning numbers was a spectacle that most ticket holders would not witness in person; The theater only had room for 1,800 souls. But still it was an electric bit of stagecraft.

Early in the history of the lottery, in various theaters around the lottery or in the lottery’s three-story office building in St. Charles, on the site of the current United Fruit Building, where lottery organizers would host their The hall was built. Daily rituals of small tasks.

But for the more lucrative “golden” pictures—with top prizes of $100,000 or more—they needed a suitably large stage. For this, they chose a nearby music academy.

It will be a place for years where dreams are made – and broken.

The Times-Picayune wrote: “There will be a roar as all the spectators rush forward, and a gasp when the winner is announced.”







11-26 Inside-History-Academy-and-Music-03.jpg

A sketch published in The Times-Picayune in 1893 shows box seats in the newly renovated Academy of Music Theater on St. Charles Avenue.




Built of brick with Moorish-influenced elements, the three-story theater building was built in 1853 by George C. Larson for theater impresario David Bedwell.

Starting with the circus

In its first season, the Amphitheater, as it was originally known, was largely entrusted to circus man Don Rice, who, in addition to booking traditional acts on the theater’s portable stage, also booked Australian acts. Also hosted.

The next year, Bidwell turned it into a proper exhibition. “The vault was removed and the stage rebuilt, the amphitheater was renamed the Pelican Theater, and the once famous playhouse became a comedy house,” wrote Picayune.

In 1856, to coincide with the acquisition of new partners by Bedwell, it was renamed the Academy of Music, which – in addition to a small second-floor museum of curiosities and natural phenomena – also boasted a new air-conditioning system powered by steam. .

Besides being popular, it was conveniently located almost directly across the street from the lottery building. So, in December 1875, the Lottery brass installed their huge new two-wheeled drawing contraption in the theater for a big Christmas Day drawing. About 2,580 prizes were awarded that day, including a grand prize of $100,000.

1800s style technique

It was Schumann’s steam dream.

Both wheels were hollow and made of glass. The giant, measuring 5 feet across, was filled with 100,000 numbered, discarded slips of paper. The small wheel was filled with additional rolled slips, each with a prize amount written on it.

When it came time to set the numbers, the wheels were spun round and round by a man of imposing size like a band. In an effort to lend it all an air of credibility, two former Confederate generals—PGT Beauregard and Jubal A. Early—were hired to oversee the deal.

Picayune wrote: “The theater would be packed to the brim on these occasions, with the rich and the aristocracy, in splendid costumes, making a festive feast of the occasion.” “Near the roof, there was a throng of poor patrons, clearly showing the troubled suspicions and passions which the social genius had concealed under a veil.”

Then, the wheels of the wheel stop and out come two blind boys from a local orphanage. At a signal, each threw a hand over a wheel and pulled out a slip.

The ticket holder with the same number on the first slip will win the prize shown on the second slip.

The drawing will continue for hours, until the prize wheel is finished, at which point the winning numbers are wired across the country.

As dramatic as it was, the Louisiana version of the lottery was also highly corrupt. When its initial 25-year charter was lifted in 1893, public opinion soured and it was discontinued.







11-26 inside-history-audubon-theatre.jpg

A photograph of the Audubon Theater, formerly the former Academy of Music Theater in St. Charles, as published in 1902 in photographer John N. Theunson’s ‘Photographic Glimpses of New Orleans’. During the old Louisiana State Lottery days, the building hosted exciting drawings for the lottery’s grand prizes.




A brief recap

The Academy of Music building, rebuilt in 1893, would continue to host performances into the new century, even after acquiring new owners and a new name, the Audubon Theater around 1901.

Then, on February 11, 1903, a fire broke out backstage shortly before 7 p.m. The old theater was about to go out with one last show.

“The last curtain of the old Academy of Music came down last night in a great red fire,” Picayune wrote in the next morning’s editions, “and now there are but eaves and brick walls and black shards.”

After sitting empty for two years, the remains of the building – as well as the Phoenix House restaurant next door – have finally been cleared. In their place, in 1905 the German-themed Ritzklaar restaurant opened, which was a popular night spot for years – until it fell victim to Prohibition in 1921.

Today, the site is occupied by the InterContinental New Orleans Hotel.

Sources: The Times-Picayune Archives; “Jewel Crescent City Illustrated;” “History of New Orleans,” by John Kendall.

Know a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at [email protected]

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