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Blake Pontchartrain: Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

From a post office to McDonogh 35, a brief history of the court on Camp Street


Hey Blake,

While walking through Lafayette Square, I admired the Court of Appeals building on Camp Street. I'm intrigued by the sculptures on top of the building. What can you tell me about them?

Dear reader,

  The John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building in the 600 block of Camp Street has been home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit since the building opened in 1915. The court hears federal appeals from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

  Designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style by the New York architectural firm Hale and Rogers, the building originally also housed a U.S. Post Office. According to a history written by the General Services Administration, the post office occupied the entire first floor, while the Federal District Court and Court of Appeals were on the second floor. Executive branch agencies were on the third level.

  The statues you asked about are known as The Ladies. The four identical copper and bronze statues, located on each of the building's corners, feature female figures representing history, agriculture, industry and arts. Each is 12 feet high, weighs one ton and holds an item associated with the concept it represents. History wears a bonnet, while Agriculture holds a cornucopia, Industry holds a tool and Arts holds a flower. Each set of figures is seated around a globe surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. The statues were designed by architect James Gamble Rogers.

  The post office left the Camp Street building in 1961, and the courts left for a couple of years in the 1960s, leaving the building vacant. Following Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the building housed McDonogh 35 High School for several years. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals returned in 1972 after a renovation. In 1994, the building was renamed to honor Judge John Minor Wisdom, a highly respected jurist who served on the Fifth Circuit court from 1957 until his death in 1999. In 1974, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2015 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Identical sculptures of The Ladies (upper left) sit at each corner of the John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building.

Photo by Wally Gobetz/ Creative Commons

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