Western Civilization has been fascinated with Greek culture and architecture for millennia. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, interest in the Greek style of architecture in Europe and the United States was widespread. Since New Orleans was a French and Spanish city (rather than having British roots) Continental influences were strong, and by the 1820s, many buildings and homes were built in the “Greek Revival” style.
Larger Buildings First
The goal of those building in the Greek Revival style was to recreate the glory of Greece’s great temples, such as the Parthenon. Americans building in New Orleans didn’t want temples to gods, so they built temples to the arts, and to democracy.
Columns are the most visible aspect of the style, so it’s logical that architects and builders constructed larger structures in the Greek Revival style first. Designed by James Gallier, Sr., Gallier Hall located on St. Charles Avenue is an iconic example of the style. Its massive columns and portico that spans the entire front of the building make it an icon in the city. Construction on the building began in 1845, and was in use by city government by 1853. Gallier Hall is still the ceremonial seat of city government. Since it is on St. Charles Avenue, the Mayor and other dignitaries regularly greet the various monarchs of Carnival as they parade past each winter.
Around the corner from Gallier Hall, on Carondelet Street, is the Scottish Rite Temple, another fine example of the Greek Revival style. Originally a church, the First United Methodist Church congregation of New Orleans began construction on the building in 1850, and it was completed in 1853. It served as a church until 1905, when it was sold by First UMC to the New Orleans Valley of the Scottish Rite (Southern Juristiction) of Freemasonry. The Masons added the massive stained-glass window in the front shortly after the purchase. The design of the building is so much like a Greek temple that many assume it was purpose-built for the Scottish Rite.