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Blake Pontchartrain: The history of Riecke Cabinet Works

The New Orleans N.O. It All on the 20th-century woodworking company


Hey Blake,

What can you tell me about the history of Riecke Cabinet Works, which operated for many years behind the Mid-City Bowling Lanes on South Carrollton Avenue? The company was renowned for being fine craftsmen in fine woods.

Dear reader,

  A native of New Orleans, Henry Riecke Sr. went to work in a woodworking plant when he was 14 years old. At age 18, he began working for a cabinet maker and decided to make that his career. He opened his own shop in 1904 at Magazine and Girod streets. "I didn't solicit any orders," he said in a 1955 article in The Times-Picayune. "I just did my work right and people kept coming in with orders." Before long, the shop outgrew its original location and moved to Tchoupitoulas and Girod streets, and later to an even larger space at Annunciation and Girod streets. The plant you remember at 4102 Tulane Ave. opened in 1924.

  Two of Riecke's four sons, Henry Jr. and Earl, were associated with the family business. Another son ran a related company, the Tulane Hardwood Lumber Company.

  Riecke Cabinet Works specialized in a wide range of woodworking services and products, including desks, shelves, paneling and tables for libraries, schools, banks and offices. The company was particularly proud of its work in churches across the country, including custom-made pews, confessionals and woodcarvings. The Riecke company's works can be seen in St. Louis Cathedral, where craftsmen designed and built the hand-carved mahogany archbishop's cathedra, or chair. Other prominent jobs included the old state Supreme Court building on Loyola Avenue, the Pere Marquette building downtown and Tulane University's Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.

  At the time of its 50th anniversary in 1955, the company prided itself on being "one of the best equipped and largest specialized cabinet shops in the South," employing more than 125 people. The senior Riecke died in 1965 and the company went out of business in 1971.

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