The Louisiana State Legislature established the Courthouse Commission in 1902 in response to the persistent need for a new courthouse for the Louisiana Supreme Court and the New Orleans Civil District Court.
Building began in 1908 for a Beaux Arts style courthouse designed by Atlanta architects Frederick and Ten Eyck Brown. The cost of construction was $1,350,000, and the furnishings were valued at $100,000.
The Courthouse features four floors; the first two floors are faced with Georgia marble, and the upper two are faced with terra cotta. The only building in the block, it is about 160,000 square feet, including a basement. The original occupants of the New Orleans Courthouse when it opened in 1910 included:
The Louisiana Supreme Court
Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit
New Orleans Civil District Court
New Orleans City Courts
Louisiana Attorney General's Office
The Law Library of Louisiana
Louisiana Bar Association Library
and several other city and state agencies. In 1958, the Supreme Court moved to more modern quarters in the Central Business District.
By the 1960s, the magnificent courthouse was known for a natural history museum created by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Every year thousands of school children toured a building filled with dozens of pungent, stuffed animals. By 1981, all tenants of the Royal Street building had vacated. The building had been severely damaged because of holes in the roof, vandalism, and neglect. Many proposals about the future of the building were made, including a gambling casino, opera house, shopping arcade, and demolition. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court persisted in plans to renovate the building and restore it to its original use.
In 1991, Pio Lyons was chosen as the architect for the renovation, which was completed in 2004. The Courthouse now houses the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, the Law Library of Louisiana, and the Judicial Administrator's Office. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently celebrated its bicentennial on March 1, 2013.
The first floor features the Louisiana Supreme Court museum, open to the public during normal business hours Monday through Friday. The Museum displays items of interest on the history of the Louisiana Supreme Court and Louisiana law. One exhibit features the Plessy v. Ferguson case, in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of "separate but equal." Portraits of the Chief Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court as well as many highlights pertaining to famous cases are also part of the museum.
Admission to the museum is free, but no photography is allowed. All visitors must pass through security, and the entrance is on the Royal Street side of the building.