Lafayette Square occupies a prominent location in the Faubourg St. Mary just a few steps from the south of acclaimed New Orleans landmark French Quarter. This public space is flanked by civic structures and adorned with a number of statues.
In 1788, the plans for Lafayette Square were created and were supposed to be called Place Gravier in honor of the land owner Bertrand Gravier. Following the acquisition of the state of Louisiana in 1803, it quickly took on the role of being the epicenter of activities of the Anglo-speaking segment of New Orleans. It was also the seat of politics in the city.
In 1824, this public space was officially renamed Lafayette Square to pay homage to Marquis de Lafayette. At the height of the American Revolutionary War, this French noble fought as a general alongside George Washington.
Lafayette Square?s centerpiece is the bronze busts of Henry Clay, a famous statesman who lost the 1845 presidential elections by a very small margin. The statue was made by American artist Joel T. Hart in 1863 and was initially mounted at the junction of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street. The establishment of street car lines and swelling vehicular traffic called for more space at the intersection so the statue was transferred to its present location.
Another sculptural masterpiece that adorns Lafayette Square is the statue of Benjamin Franklin ? one of the highly respected ?founding fathers? of the country ? fronting the Gallier Hall. The statue was carved in 1860 by Hiram Powers who became known for his neoclassical works.
Opposite the location of the Benjamin Franklin statue is another statue made by Attilio Piccirilli in 1898. Piccirilli is a sculptor who was born in Italy and presently popular for his work on the Maine monument found at NYC?s Columbus Circle. The statue shows businessman John McDonogh, who opposed slavery despite having one. The activist entrepreneur donated a huge chunk of his wealth to New Orleans for the establishment of public schools in the city. It is just fitting that the money used in making the statue came from contributions from schoolchildren.
Aside from the magnificent statues that adorn it, Lafayette Square is flanked in all directions by enormous court houses and civic buildings. The most noticeable structure among these is the Gallier Hall. This grand building was constructed from 1845 to 1853 in Greek revival fashion conceptualized by James Gallier Sr. who was an American architect. Up until 1957, Gallier Hall served as the seat of the city government of New Orleans. New Orleans city hall can now be found at Perdido Street.
Another remarkable structure bordering Lafayette Square is the John Minor Wisdom United States Court of Appeals found just across Gallier Hall. The building was finished in 1912 and was conceptualized by the tandem of Hale and Rogers who hail from New York. Their product is an enormous building following the Beaux-Arts aesthetics featuring a front exterior with imposing columns.