Columns » Blake Pontchartrain: New Orleans Trivia

What’s the giant clarinet on the side of the building in downtown New Orleans?

Blake Pontchartrain explains the origin of the 150-foot clarinet on the Holiday Inn Downtown-Superdome

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Hey Blake,

The Howard Johnson's downtown painted a huge clarinet on the side of its building in 1979 or 1980. Can you tell us more about that?

Bryan Palmisano

Dear Bryan,

  The clarinet mural you describe is pretty hard to miss and stands as a landmark tribute to New Orleans' jazz history in a neighborhood that played a key role in the genre's development. The mural, which towers 16 stories and is 150 feet tall, was painted a little later than you remember — in 1995. By that time, the hotel in the 300 block of Loyola Avenue (across from City Hall between Gravier and Perdido streets) had been renamed the Holiday Inn Downtown-Superdome.

  For nearly 25 years, from 1968 until 1989, the hotel carried the Howard Johnson's name and was etched into New Orleans history as the site of sniper Mark Essex's murderous attack on New Orleans police officers in 1973. (See Blake Pontchartrain, Feb. 10.) In 1995, as part of a $1 million remodeling project, the new owners — developer Tom Winingder and his wife Dian — commissioned mural artist Robert Dafford of Lafayette to paint the giant musical instrument on the building's facade.

  The mural depicts a black Albert system clarinet, which was popular in the 1920s. The artwork was completed in May 1996, and a second line helped dedicate it. The ceremony featured a huge clarinet jam session, with a mix of professional and amateur musicians and students, headlined by Dr. Michael White. White and jazz historian Don Marquis advised the hotel and Dafford during the remodeling project, which also included the creation of indoor jazz history murals.

  "In my estimation, this is the area where jazz was born, and by 1895, the original sounds were in the air," Marquis told The Times-Picayune. At the turn of the century, the hotel site was part of a stretch of saloons, music halls, corner grocery stores and pawn shops that nurtured the growth of jazz. If you're interested in learning more about Dafford's work, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press released a book last year titled The Public Art of Robert Dafford, with photographs and text by Philip Gould.

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