Isaac Delgado’s Museum and School Become Reality (1909-1921)

By: Bob Monie
By 1909, Delgado suffered from cataracts, and his general health was declining. Aware that he might not have many more years to live, he decided to boost the assets of New Orleans in a lasting  and significant way, by endowing a “fireproof temple of art” or museum that would be open to the public.  In consultation with his friend Pierre Lelong, a City Park administrator, Delgado selected the site for the museum on the southeast end of the park, near Bayou St. John, the Pitot House, and Esplanade Ave. He directed the museum board to hold an open competition for the most suitable museum building and they ultimately chose the “subtropical Greek design” submitted by the little-known but talented 24-year-old Chicago architect, Samuel A. Marx, thus starting young Marx on a long, successful career. Helping young men to begin careers in management and the trades gave Delgado great pleasure; some years earlier, Delgado had hired another young man in his twenties, Mr. Allain, to manage the Albania Plantation, which he did with great flair and productivity for many years, even after Delgado's death.

The Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, now called the New Orleans Museum of Art, originally funded by Isaac Delgado
This interest in getting young men off to a good start led Delgado to support a suggestion offered by his close friend Ellenora Moss that he provide for the construction and operation of a trades school for boys.  Characteristically, he said only, “Yes, I would like to give a boy a trade,” and almost immediately added a codicil to his will to have this wish come true.  He specified with his usual clarity and directness that the school would be “called the Isaac Delgado School,” and “the fund donated by me [would] be used entirely in the establishment of the above-mentioned school and its permanent equipment.” Delgado's habit of patiently accumulating wealth only to turn it into philanthropic projects to benefit the rich and poor alike differs markedly from the sharp practices of the robber-barons and scheming tycoons satirized in a play that he enjoyed in 1910, called Get-Rich-Quick-Wallingford, by George Randolph Chester.  The dishonest protagonist of this melodrama, J. Rufus Wallingford, forever devising unsound investment ventures and looking for “knotholes” to squeeze through to avoid arrest, seemed to Delgado the laughable antithesis of everything a business person ought to be.
1909 Codicil to Delgado's Will
The book version of the play Get-Rich-Quick-Wallingford, which amused Delgado
After Delgado's death in 1912, the City of New Orleans, perhaps recalling his fondness for the City Park area, secured property at the lower west end of the park, between the Orleans Avenue Canal and the Holt Cemetery, for the future Delgado Trades School building--now called Building One or Isaac Delgado Hall—at  615 City Park Ave.  Delgado's wishes helped advance the career of city architect E. A. Christy, who designed the building along neoclassical lines, as a complement to the Beaux-Arts design of the Delgado Museum of Art building near the east end of the park.  Though Christy quickly drew up plans for the new trades school building, World War I intervened, and it could not be completed until the second year of the Roaring Twenties. According to the first Announcement of Trade School Classes 1921-1922, Isaac Delgado Central Trades School finally opened for business on July 16, 1921.

Works Consulted

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

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

Dunbar, Prescott.  The New Orleans Museum of Art: The First Seventy-Five Years.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

Garthwaite, Elloyse and Tom Ireland.  Isaac Delgado: His Life and Impact on New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. New Orleans: Delgado, 1980.

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.  Chicago: Lewis Press, 1922.

O'Brien.  Liz.  Ultramodern Samuel Marx: Architect, Designer, Art Collector.  New York: Pointed Leaf Press, 2007.

Patureau, Stephen I.  “A History of Issac Delgado Central Trades School.” M.A. Thesis.  Tulane University, 1939.

Reeves, Sally E. and William D. Reeves. History of City Park New Orleans,  New Orleans: City Park Improvement Association, 2000.

Thames, Marvin Sr.  “History of the Issac Delgado Central Trades School.”  Diss. Louisiana State University, 1957.   

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