Blake Pontchartrain: What happened to the Sugar Exchange?_lowres

The Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange building in 1963, shortly before it was demolished.

Hey Blake,

  Could you please give the history of the reddish brick building on North Front and Bienville streets near the Mississippi River between Jax Brewery and Canal Place? It's an old building in the midst of a renovated area and now it looks like work is being done on it. I'm very curious.


Dear Madeline,

  New life is coming to that old building, but before we get to that, let's focus — as we do best in this space — on the history surrounding that spot. While today it is mostly a sea of asphalt parking lots, the area near Bienville and North Front streets once was the center of commerce for an important industry for this city: sugar. It became particularly prominent following the Civil War, when the area was home to sugar warehouses, as well as several sugar refineries. The surrounding neighborhood truly was a "Sugar District," as geographer and historian Richard Campanella describes it in his book Time and Place In New Orleans.

  In 1883, the district had a new headquarters — a beautiful Beaux Arts building called the Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange near Bienville and North Front streets. It was designed by architect James Freret, and for more than three decades it was the hub of Louisiana's sugar and molasses industry. A 1960 story in The Times-Picayune described the building's most notable feature: "a skylighted, column-bedecked hall measuring 60 x 110 feet." Inside, buyers would taste-test sugar samples for trading and purchasing. Later, rice was handled in a similar fashion. As both industries evolved into the 20th century, the building's use changed and it became a labor union hall. It was demolished in 1963, at which point it had become blighted and decayed.

  There still are a few surviving vestiges of the former Sugar District, including the building you noticed. It's believed to be a circa 1900 addition to what was called the Old Filter House, adjacent to the Sugar Exchange site. The building is being converted into a condominium complex with a rooftop penthouse and plans for retail space on the ground floor.