Known to most New Orleanians simply as Gallier Hall, the imposing building at 545 St. Charles Ave. figures prominently in Mardi Gras history. In 2014, some 33 parades are scheduled to roll past the magnificent structure, completed in 1850 by New Orleans’s most noted architect, James Gallier Sr. The Greek Revival masterpiece served as the Second Municipality Hall before becoming City Hall for all of New Orleans in 1853.
Beginning with the first Comus parade in 1857, royalty from every parade that marched through downtown New Orleans for the next hundred years toasted the mayor and other dignitaries at City Hall.
Notable visitors from around the world have been entertained at Gallier Hall, none more celebrated than the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, who reviewed the first Rex parade in 1872. The royal Russian was so impressed with Mardi Gras’ first-ever daytime parade that he returned to Gallier Hall that evening to take in the Comus pageant, as well.
From 1874 until 1917, Rex arrived on the river on Lundi Gras and participated in a military-style parade that paused at Gallier Hall, where keys to the city were presented.
In 1958, city government was moved to the new Civic Center on Loyola Avenue, and it stood to reason that the modern complex should become New Orleans’ new hub for parade-reviewing and monarch-toasting. To get there, the parades still had to roll past a then-darkened but still breathtaking Gallier Hall.
It took just four years for city officials to permanently reinstate Gallier Hall as the Carnival season’s official reviewing stand.
The building continues to serve the Mardi Gras community today. Many krewes use Gallier Hall for their courts to watch the parades from special seats erected in front of the building. The mayor’s annual Twelfth Night Carnival kick-off party is presented in the front parlor, before a wall-size Carnival mural by local artist George Dureau. Other ceremonial uses for the building include the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball, a tradition since the 1980s.