Gretna City Hall
The Gretna City Hall building is conventional in its Beaux-Arts forms, but, squeezed onto its narrow site, it is a compact composition with a vertical emphasis.
Parish boundary changes and inadequate facilities have given the Jefferson Parish seat of justice a peripatetic history. In Gretna, the former William Tell Fire Hall (c. 1875), a two-story wooden structure (Newton and Third streets), served as the courthouse from 1884 to 1907. The site for this three-story brick structure, a narrow site in the center of Huey P. Long Avenue at Second Street, was selected in 1905. City Hall’s earlier homes included two in what is now New Orleans: an Egyptian Revival structure (2251 Rousseau Street, much altered and used as a storage facility) and the Greek Revival courthouse designed by Henry Howard in Carrollton (now occupied by a school).
The courthouse is conventional in its Beaux-Arts forms, but, squeezed onto its narrow site, it is a compact composition with a vertical emphasis. Its central projecting portico has a triple-arched entrance on the first floor, four Corinthian columns in front of the second and third stories, and a pediment. The end and side walls are marked by Corinthian pilasters between closely spaced rectangular windows. The building is finished with a projecting cornice lined with modillions and lentils and a parapet. At the center of each of the side elevations, the second and third stories together form a single projecting curved bay, which correspond to the concave-curved walls of the courtroom’s interior. A columned loggia fronting the second story of the bay further articulates the exterior. The courthouse is painted in a lively color scheme: beige walls, white columns, gray windowsills, and a burnt-orange cornice. In 1929, a plain three-story boxlike annex was added to the rear of the building.
When a new and larger courthouse was constructed in 1958, the interior was remodeled to meet the needs of a city hall, but, fortunately, the round arches dividing rooms and areas on the principal floor were retained. The building reopened as Gretna’s city hall in 1964. The courthouse of 1958, a nine-story green glass skyscraper (Dolhonde and Third streets) designed by Claude Hooton, was touted as the first large all-glass building in the South, but it was not energy efficient and proved to be costly to operate and maintain. It was demolished in 2008 and replaced by a new parish government complex at First, Third, Dolhonde, and Derbigny streets.
Adapted from Karen Kingsley’s Buildings of Louisiana, part of the Buildings of the United States series commissioned by the Society of Architectural Historians (www.sah.org), published by Oxford University Press.