300 Iberia Street
Every Building Has a Story
Dominance is a word that can describe the intimidating stature of the large white Art-Deco style courthouse building that sits between Iberia and Providence streets. The city of New Iberia, Louisiana was founded in 1779 and incorporated in 1839; however, it did not have its own parish until 1868, after many attempts by separatists led by Neuville DeClouet who favored the breaking away of rural areas from both St Martin and St. Mary parishes in order to simplify travel to handle legal matters. This is also why there was no courthouse in New Iberia until then. The first courthouse was leased by Police Jury President Daniel D. Avery; it was a brick and frame structure whose owner was Louis Miguez. It cost him $800 per year. However, in June of 1870, it was destroyed by a large fire that engulfed the entire northern section of Main Street. Eventually another unnamed building was used on Main Street as the courthouse which lasted from March of 1875 until July of 1876. The Seat of the Justice had to be relocated for that time. Much effort was needed to decide where this impermanent residence would be. The Veazey building on Main Street was intended to serve as that place; however, it was initially rejected due to bad leakage. Fortunately, Jasper Gall purchased and repaired the unfit building and soon housed the temporary courthouse. Unfortunately, the Police Jury remained unhappy.
On December 2, 1882, the President of the Police Jury Dominique Ulgar Broussard announced that a lot from the firm of Taylor and Devalcourt was purchased for $4000, and parish authorized construction of a three-story courthouse building would begin in 1883. The building was completed in 1884 and was once remodeled in 1922. The present courthouse in New Iberia today is not the same as the one built in 1883. This one was designed by A. Hays Town and was built by the Gravier and Harper Firm in 1939. This building is a wonderful example of federally funded Art Deco style architecture during the Great Depression. The Public Works Association and Federal Works Agency was head of this construction. The first occupants of the present Iberia Parish Courthouse Building arrived in 1940, but the official dedication was on Armistice Day of 1941. The building’s wings were added to in 1976, and from 1985 to 1986, a massive addition was constructed to the rear of the original building.
An African American school owned by Peter and Jerome Howe once stood on the lot where the courthouse now sits. The Howe brothers purchased this plot of land that is surrounded by Iberia Street, Pershing Street, Providence Street, and Washington Street in 1887 for a mere $100 and occupied the area for approximately fifty years. In 1938, Iberia Parish bought the property from the Howe brothers for $14000. Construction of the current courthouse followed this purchase soon after.
If Walls and Windows Could Talk
This building is a wonderful example of federally funded Art Deco style architecture during the Great Depression. This three story, white, cement-stucco structure is considered the most modern of the courthouses in Louisiana. The windows are hardly indented into the walls and have sills and moldings with little detail. The classically symmetrical building contains pilasters near its entrance which is abstracted much more than most works funded by the PWA, making it an unusually modern statement. Between each of these pilasters is an aluminum framed window. This large building conveys the message intended to be sent by the members of the PWA during the Great Depression through this excessive amount of detail in certain areas and overall lack of detail in others.
A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words
The Struggle of Man. This fresco, located in the original courtroom of the Iberia Parish Court Building, was executed by artist Conrad Albrizio in 1940 using PWA funds. This was the last mural Albrizio painted under the direction of the federal government. (Photo taken by Johnny Holbrook in 1941)
This facsimile of a letter written by artist Conrad Albrizio gives an explanation of the fresco for the main courtroom of the Iberia Parish Court Building. (Letter located in Iberia Parish Clerk of Court’s Office)
Voices from the Past and Present
The following questions are from an interview conducted with former thirty-year employee of the Iberia Parish Court Building, Charlene Viator Guillot.
Question-What are some stories about previous occupants of the building?
Answer- “At one time the parish jail was located in the area above the second floor of the courthouse. Many days when we arrived for work at the courthouse, there would be food and other items strewn on the porch area at the front door of the building. It was a form of protesting by the inmates housed in the jail who were throwing their meals through the windows.”
Question-How long did you work in the court building?
Answer-“I worked in the courthouse building for approximately thirty-years in all. First our USDA office was located on the first floor in the area now occupied by the Register of Voters, then we were moved to the Courthouse Annex and then back to the Courthouse in the new third floor, which is now part of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Question-Why did you decide to move to the Iberia Parish Court Building?
Answer-“I was employed with the United States Department of Agriculture serving the farmers of Iberia Parish.”
Question-What were some interior and exterior changes of the building?
Answer-“I recall one year a person doing community service in connection with a jail sentence repainted the interior without ever doing any pre-cleaning. I remember watching in dismay as he covered the light-green baseboards with black paint. I also remember when the paint gradually chipped and fell off. Elevator went from being manned by an individual to ‘self-serve.’ A third and fourth floor were opened in the courthouse.”
Question-How has the neighborhood around the courthouse changed?
Answer-“Most of the businesses located around the courthouse are gone giving way to parking lots. At one time Breaux CPA, Jacquemond Funeral Home, Marse Electric, and the Social Security Office were all located across from the courthouse.”
Question-What do you like about the building?
Answer-“…the huge mural on the courtroom wall behind the judge’s bench and the statue in front of the building. I was told she represents justice.”
Question-What are some of your favorite stories about the building?
Answer-“The basement of the courthouse was a gathering place for a group of elderly retired men and also school bus drivers who chose to spend the day at the courthouse, rather than driving to their homes in the country between their bus routes. They would sit and have coffee and chat with each other and everyone who came by. The area was near the concession stand, always operated by a blind person and often these men would help out by telling the blind person what denomination a bill (money) was.”
Belanger, Milton. Iberia Parish Court Building. 2009–2011. Photographs. Private Collection. Milton Belanger.
Conrad, Glen R., and Carl A. Brasseaux. “New Iberia Becomes the Parish Seat.” New Iberia. The University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1986. Print.
Guillot, Charlene V. Personal Interview. 16 May 2011.
Holbrook, Johnny. New Iberia 1939. Photographs. Private Collection. Johnny Holbrook.
Iberia Parish. Conveyance. Book 18, Folio 53, Entry 12736—. 26 Dec. 1887.
Iberia Parish. Conveyance. Book 136, Folio 88, Entry 54790—. 6 Sept. 1938.
Leighninger, Robert D. Building Louisiana: the Legacy of the Public Works Administration. Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2007. Print.
Nelson, Grant. New Iberia 2011. Photographs. Private Collection. Grant Nelson.
Noe, James A. Political Advertisement. The Weekly Iberian 10 Nov. 1939: 5. Print.