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Blake Pontchartrain: Albert Ledner's New Orleans architecture

Ledner designed the Maritime Union building on Tchoupitoulas St.

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Hey Blake,

What is the history of the building at Washington and Tchoupitoulas that looks so much like the original Robert E. Smith Library at the corner of Canal & Harrison in Lakeview?

– J.R.

Dear J.R.,

  There's a good reason the two buildings remind you of each other. Both are the work of modernist architect Albert Ledner. Born in 1924, he graduated from the Tulane University School of Architecture. After serving in World War II and studying the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, he launched a career that earned him international acclaim.

  The building at 2731 Tchoupitoulas St., originally a hiring hall for the National Maritime Union of America, was one of Ledner's early commercial projects. The building, with a pleated copper roof and star-shaped design, opened in 1956. It now is Camp Bow Wow, a dog boarding and grooming facility. Ledner also designed the union's New York headquarters and two other of its buildings.

  About the same time the hiring hall opened, construction was completed on the Robert E. Smith Library in Lakeview. Its modernist design was the work of Ledner and Albert Saputo. The building was razed and renovated in the 1970s, then demolished after flooding from the 2005 federal levee failures. It was rebuilt and reopened in 2012.

  Ledner also is known for homes he designed in Lake Vista and on Bayou St. John's Park Island, including the Ashtray House, which features 1,200 amber glass ashtrays on its facade. Originally built for the Sunkel family, it later was the home of Mayor Ray Nagin. .

  Ledner's career is chronicled in a new film, Designing Life: The Modernist Legacy of Albert C. Ledner, directed by Catherine Ledner, his daughter, and Roy Beeson. Another sweet piece of the Ledner story involves his mother, baker Beulah Ledner, who is credited with creating the New Orleans doberge cake.

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