Blakeview: The Rivergate_lowres

The Rivergate Exhibition Hall, known for its sweeping modern design, was torn down to make way for a gambling casino.

Fifty years ago this week, on Dec. 4, 1964, New Orleans leaders broke ground on The Rivergate, an ultra-modern exhibition hall that was expected to lead the city into a new era of tourism economy. Originally called the International Exhibition Facility, the building sat on land owned by the Dock Board at the spot where Canal Street meets the Mississippi River. It was conceived at a time the city was beginning to grow its hospitality industry.

  Remember, younger readers, this was well before the Superdome and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center were built, and the city lacked a modern facility to host trade shows, conventions or even Carnival events. The Krewe of Bacchus held its Rendezvous after-party there for two decades.

  The building was designed in the Expressionist architectural style by the firm of Nathaniel "Buster" Curtis Jr. and Arthur Q. Davis, the men behind the Superdome and other New Orleans landmarks.

  The Rivergate's most noticeable and memorable design feature was its swooping, curved roof. It's also known for the tunnel built underneath, which was to become a link to the controversial, but never built, Riverfront Expressway. By the time the building opened in September 1968, it had been rebranded The Rivergate and racked up a $25 million price tag. There were enough amenities inside to draw attention, but equally memorable was the statue of Joan of Arc that greeted visitors who entered from what now is Convention Center Boulevard.

  In the 1990s, The Rivergate site was targeted in the push to legalize land-based casino gambling. Despite efforts to convert it into the casino and preserve its architecture, the building was demolished in 1995 to make way for Harrah's New Orleans. The Joan of Arc statue later was restored and relocated to the French Market.