The 1920s Set the Pace

By: Bob Monie
Keeping pace with the “Roaring Twenties,” Delgado Central Trades School offered more than the carpentry, machinist, and metalworking courses it is often remembered for today.  Students learned the intricacies of typesetting on the linotype machines then essential to the printing trade, and the Delgado Print Shop provided services to writers such as Louisiana state superintendent of education Thomas H. Harris, who paid students to print copies of his recently-completed LSU thesis, The Story of Public Education in Louisiana, for free distribution  to friends and libraries. Chef John Henry Breland's interns in the stewardship commercial cooking program fried, fricasseed, roasted, steamed, and stewed their way to employment. They baked bread and whipped up cakes, both “with and without fat,” – the latter a concession to the need of young “sheiks” to keep a slim waist and fleet foot on the dance floor in the Jazz Age. Chef Breland ran the school cafeteria, dubbed “Breland's Beanery” by students, where he charged 25 cents a meal and threw in a biscuit or two as lagniappe.  He remained at Delgado for decades, eventually writing a total of eight nationally-distributed, well-received cookbooks, the last of which, Chef's Guide to Quantity Cookery, was published in 1947. 
T. H. Harris Acknowledges that his book was printed by students of the printing department of Delgado Trades School
Cover photo of Chef J. H. Breland on his Eighth cookbook
Students in the short-lived tailoring program designed and sewed their own three-piece suits and enjoyed posing in them.  Electrical students built motors, wired circuits, spliced cables for apartment houses, set up railroad signal lights, and met during free hours in a radio club. Mechanical drafting students worked with designer Robert Brydon, Jr., often admired as much for his ability to play a “mean” clarinet as for his prowess on the drawing board. Brydon counseled  students in their choice of a career and, like Chef Breland, remained with Delgado for many years, finally publishing a book, Fundamentals of Aircraft Drafting, In 1941.  Fresco and sign painting students enameled, gilded, stippled, and stenciled, shaping their signs and murals into attractive commercial products.  In architectural drafting, students took advantage of the ample space in the carpentry lab to build the rooms and small houses they had drawn as blueprints.  One adept student, August Perez, boasted that he would improve upon the past traditions of architecture, which he found flawed and inadequate. Though more than one generation of August Perezes were needed to make good this claim, by the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, the Perez family architectural firm was ignoring the local New Orleans preference for traditional buildings and turning heads with its sleekly modernist ventures (see Figure 12, Arthur Perez ready to graduate in 1924).  Around 1928, William Gill, another architectural drafting major, graduated from Delgado , transferred to Tulane University, and went on to work for the R.W. Naef architecture and engineering company in Jackson, Mississippi and later Favrot and Reed in New Orleans. Like Perez and his family, Gill favored modernist designs in two states that often preferred columned plantations and shotgun houses. 
Mechanical drafting students of the class of '24 with instructor Robert Brydon
Electrical students of the class of '24
Tailoring students in bottom row displaying two-piece suits they designed and sewed
Other trades programs offered during the first decade at Delgado were pattern making for cabinet and furniture design, plumbing, metalworking, machinist, and welding.  Students carried plumbers' wrenches, heavy tool chests, T-squares, and painters' palettes, and published a newsletter called The Tool Kit.  Some of the 75 students who attended during the fall 1921 session were teens, barely old enough to qualify for admission—14 was the minimum age for most trades – but many of the older students, especially those attending night classes,  were veterans of World War I, “sweethearts on parade.” according to a popular song of the day, who had willingly marched  into the fray, only to be shell-shocked, mustard-gassed, and limb-shorn. They were the survivors  of the “war to end all wars” that didn't.  They came to Delgado on government assistance, looking for a trade and, for the most part, found one.  Delgado helped them exchange the screeching hell of war for the soothing hum of spinning lathes and singing saws, the madness of war for the normalcy of peace—a change few regretted.  The trades programs offered in the first decade set the pattern for courses during the next.  Bryon Armstrong's aviation program in the 1930s would be the major addition to the original selection of programs. The format for the diploma or certificate, established in this first decade of the school's operation remained the same from 1921 to the 1950s.

Architectural drafting student August Perez in 1924
Delgado faculty in 1924, including Director H. G. Martin, Assistant Director O. E. Davieson, Chef J. H. Breland, Mechanical Drafting instructor Robery Brydon, and Board Secretary Louis A. Dodge
Roaring twenties students could join informal sports teams on campus and play against local high schools like Warren Easton. The Delgado baseball team in the 1924-1925 season was called “The Traders” – just right for a trades school. Actors, singers, and dancers signed up for the drama club to perform free minstrel shows at Charity Hospital. For personal recreation, students often walked six blocks up City Park Avenue to watch the barges float by on the New Basin Canal or, if they were old enough, to stop at the Halfway House next to the canal, listen to the Abbie Brunies Jazz Band, and dance a little Charleston two-step or fox trot (see Figure 15, Halfway House Band). Some older students had enough money to afford their own “tin lizzy” or “fliver” rattletrap cars. Delgado Trades School was tuition-free, just as Isaac Delgado had intended. The bills were paid by the State of Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, the Smith-Hughes Fund, the George-Deen Fund, and the Federal Government. In this delirious decade, few suspected that the financial wolf known as the Great Depression was lurking just beyond the curtain of the future, ready to strike.

Delgado diploma used from 1921 to 1950s
Five students on front steps of Isaac Delgado Hall in 1922 - each carrying the tools of his trade
Abbie Brunies and the Halfway House Jazz Band regularly performed in the 1920s just six blocks from Delgado

Works Consulted

Announcement of Trades Courses 1921-1922.  New Orleans: Delgado, 1921.

Brocato, Ron.  “What Ever Happened to . . . New Orleans Schools of Old?”   Sports Blogs-
        Prep School. Tuesday, 30 March 2010. http://www.sportsnola.com/sports/sports-blogs/george-

“Delgado School \Opens to Classes: Marks an Important Era in the Development of the
       South.”  The Times-Picayune 8 Nov. 1920: Sec. 3, p. 1.

“Delgado School to Open on Namesake's Birthday.”  The Times-Picayune  9 Nov. 1921: p. 14. 

“Delgado School to Start Jun 1: Million Dollar Trade Institution Will Have Summer
      Term.”  The Times-Picayune 27 Feb. 1921: Sec. 5, p. 7.

“Delgado School to Teach Trades Now in Operation: Seventy-Five Pupils to Be Increased
      as Equipment Is Installed.”  The Times-Picayune 4 Sept. 1921: Sec. 4, p. 1.

Dodge, Louis A. “Isaac Delgado Central Trades School.”  The American School Board
        Journal 63 (1921): 51-52.

Dodge, Louis A.  The Isaac Delgado Central Trades School and Its Founder. New Orleans:
        Delgado, 1928. 

“Electrical Department/”  The Tool Kit July 1924: 12. 

Harris, T.H. The Story of Public Education in Louisiana.  New Orleans: Delgado, 1924.

Hill, David Spence.  Vocational Survey for the Isaac Delgado Central Trades School. New Orleans:
        The Commission Council, 1914.

Kendall, John S.  History of New Orleans. New Orleans: Lewis Press, 1922.

Malvaney, E. L. “Cool Mid-Century Modern for Sale  in Funky Fondren.”  Preservation in
         Mississippi 6 May 2009.  Blog. 

“New Orleans, LA: The Dedication Exercises of the Isaac Delgado Central Trades School.” 
    American Printer and Lithographer 20 Dec. 1921: Vol 73, p. 596.

Patureau, Stephen I.  A History of Delgado Central Trades School.  M.A. Thesis.  Tulane U, 1939. 

“Painting and Decorating Class Features Finest Trades School.”  National Painters Magazine 48
          (May 1921): 16. 

“Printing.” The Tool Kit July 1924: 31-32.

Thames, Marvin E. Sr. History of the Isaac Delgado Central Trades School.  Diss. LSU, 1957.

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