Isaac Delgado Hall...A Symbol of Delgado for 90 Years (and Counting...)

by: Tyler Scheuermann
Each day, the doors are unlocked and the lights are turned on, and its halls and classrooms are populated. Students have filed through its doors to seek their education and generations of teachers have taught in its classrooms. For 90 years, Isaac Delgado Hall has been at the center of Delgado’s mission and its founder’s legacy.

When Isaac Delgado passed away in 1912, he left behind a sizable fortune and a dream. Delgado, a Jamaican immigrant and philanthropist, had already left his mark on New Orleans with numerous civic engagements, including a new hospital and a new art museum.

Issac Delgado, Delgado's founder and benefactor and the namesake of its signature building
On numerous occasions and conversations with his friend and confidante Elleonora Moss, Isaac had expressed a desire to leave something of value behind to the youth of New Orleans. While browsing the newspaper one day, Elleonora happened across an article advertising summer trade courses at a local public school. When she brought the idea of a trade school to Delgado, Isaac is quoted as saying, “Yes, I would love to give a boy a trade.”

Provisions were made and upon his death, approximately $800,000, a sizable portion of his estate, was set aside for the establishment of a trade school for boys, under the auspices of the City of New Orleans.

Almost immediately, city officials began scouring the city for a suitable location for the school, the first of its kind in the southern United States. The City of New Orleans chose its resident architect, E.A. Christy, to prepare suitable sites and drawings. A study and recommendation (similar to today’s feasibility studies) directed that the architect consider several important factors when designing the school:
E.A. Christy, architect for city of New Orleans and Delgado Central Trade School
  • It should be an enduring memorial to the good will of its founder.
  • Buildings should be designed for easy floor plan modification and repurposing.
  • Design should be distinctive in character but simple in décor.
  • Site should allow for future expansion, past 900 students.
  • Building should be fireproof (an Isaac Delgado trademark).
  • Building should be a three-story building with vaulted ceilings for easy ventilation.
City Park Campus expansions through the years

A great overhead shot of Isaac Delgado Hall and adjacent City Park, less than a mile from the Delgado Museum of Art

City Park Avenue sign

When the time came to choose a site, the planning committee recommended a site easily accessible from multiple surrounding areas, a site free from noise, dust, or “bad air,” a site removed from immoral surroundings, a site easily accessible by carriage and/or “horseless carriages,” and a site of moderate land value to allow for large acreages to be purchased. It was suggested to explore the area in and around City Park, where a previous Delgado gift, the Museum of Art, was already situated and blossoming.

Early auditorium

Early Delgado students work to finish construction near the present day drama hall

Building 1 during the final stages of its construction

A land trade between the City and City Park allowed for a 57-acre campus, now known as Delgado’s City Park Campus. The site was chosen because it met all of the requirements and was “one of the most charming and convenient of all of the schools.” It was also centrally located, which allowed for future population shifts and was easily accessible by a new streetcar line that connected downtown and City Park, passing just in front of the front doors of the school.

Just as plans were on paper and financing was secured, World War I interrupted the start of construction. Once the city allowed construction to commence, a contract of $638,500 was accepted from John Chisolm and Company and construction began. The final costs of the building, its furniture, and equipment was estimated at $1 million…a lot of money in those days.

An early photo of the facade of Building 1, complete with its signature palm trees

Isaac Delgado Hall's history spans nine decades, including the dawn of the automobile as the transportation method of choice

Building 1 and the first class of students and faculty on opening day 1921

Lantern and historical marker
As a cost saving measure, it was decided that interior finishes would be left as part of the curriculum for the students to construct and complete.

Isaac Delgado Hall was formally dedicated on November 23, 1921 (Isaac’s birthday), less than two months after classes formally began at the site. Capacity crowds swamped the building and its state-of-the-art auditorium, a marvel of engineering and functionality in its day.

The exterior of the building remains almost intact from when constructed. The three-story, tan brick structure was rather ornate for its day. The façade’s defining features were and still are a large ornamental window (to allow natural light into the auditorium), two cast iron lanterns near the main entrance, and an eagle overlooking the main entrance. The eagle is probably a remnant of the patriotic fever that swept the nation following its victory in the Great War.

The inside of the building has been modified through the years to accommodate classrooms and offices as opposed to the shops and workshops present at its opening. A major renovation in the 1980s modernized and expanded the building by closing in its central courtyard and adding an annex on each side on the rear. Continuous upgrades and renovations keep the building operational and modernized to keep with its hectic and constant schedule.

In 2006, Isaac Delgado Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its distinctive style of architecture and its place in the history of the City of New Orleans.

Early faculty

From its days of hosting heavy machinery and airplane construction, today’s math, English, and business classes, Isaac Delgado Hall has stood the test of time, adapting to the school’s changes in mission and hosting hundreds of thousands in its hallways and classrooms. From its humble beginnings with several hundred students, the building is now the central icon of a multi-campus college that boasts the second largest enrollment in the state of Louisiana. Appropriately, the building is now often called “Building One”, which seems to say it all.

Isaac Delgado Hall represents Delgado Community College…nine decades of stability, with a stronger foundation for the future.

Building 1 today


Isaac Delgado: A study on his impact to the State of Louisiana

Vocational Survey for the Isaac Delgado Central Trades School

The American School Board Journal, August 1921

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