The old "Raw Furs" building at 527 Conti Street in New Orleans: Its fading signs are works of art
The French Quarter offers visual feasts and fascinations on every block and street corner. So, it may seem odd that out of everything in New Orleans, few things have fascinated me as much as the nondescript "Raw Furs" building.
I've walked past this seemingly unused storefront at 527 Conti in New Orleans many times. The pedestrian-facing "Raw Furs" signs always jump out at me. With their eye-level positioning, and their amazing texture with layers of fading designs, the signs are works of art created by generations of sign painters combined with the hand of time.
I photographed their raw and rustic beauty the very first time I saw them, amazed they had survived without being painted over. Then, on my last visit to NOLA, I saw that the property owner had painted the columns a new color, leaving only the old signs unpainted. While I appreciate that the signs were preserved, they seem especially endangered with new paint right up to their edges.
Raw Furs No. 01, 527 Conti Street in New Orleans, black and white photograph by Keith Dotson. (Buy a fine art print of this photograph)
Raw Furs No. 02. (Buy a fine art print of this photograph)
History of the Building at 527 Conti
My fascination with the old signs fueled my curiosity about the building itself. The three-story building is designed in the Greek Revival style that was popular when it was built, circa 1850. It has granite posts and lintel on the ground floor.* I haven't been able to learn much about the historic use of the building as a dealer in raw furs. When was it a furrier? How many years did that business occupy the space? I don't know. If any readers can offer clues, please comment below or email me.
However, I did learn a little about some of the building's other occupants over the years.
Google street view of 527 Conti Street in New Orleans, with the "Raw Furs" signs visible.
The Historic New Orleans Collection provides an extensive listing of deed transfers for the property dating all the way back to 1728, when it was ascribed to Louis Tisserant. Also fascinating, see their tab "Citations (Specific to this address)," which quotes a piece from the Louisiana Gazette, dated Thursday, February 28th 1822. The story reports that a hotel on the site, known as the Rising Sun Hotel, suffered significant damage from a fire that killed two people: "The whole of that extensive building was entirely consumed, and the kitchens and other back buildings of adjacent houses were much injured." (1)
First black daily newspaper in America
Author Mark Charles Roudane says the building at 527 Conti Street was constructed in the 1850s and was the original office of The Tribune newspaper, America's first black daily newspaper, founded in 1864, and published in French and English. (2)
1880: A tutor for minor children
The chain of title on the property indicates that the property transferred in 1880 to "Joaquin Viosca, Jr. acting as tutor for minor children." However, it appears that Mr. Viosca didn't use the property himself, but rather leased it to others. (1)
The Century Sugar Apparatus Company
In the The Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, Volume 28, 1902, we find a reference that associates businessman W.P. Kirchoff and The Century Sugar Apparatus Company at the 527 Conti address. (3)
And from this 1899 letter in the published legal proceedings for The United States against The American Sugar Refining Company, we see another reference to Mr. Kirchoff and his company at the Conti Street address. (4)
Magic Bus Records and CDs
Sometime in the early 2000s a popular music store operated at 527 Conti Street. It was mentioned in New Orleans guidebooks in 2003, and still has a Yelp listing, which confirms it is no longer in business. Based on the dates of the reviews, it must have shuttered sometime between 2009 and 2011.
That's about all the light I can shed on this building at the moment. Do you have information about the history of 527 Conti Street? Please share.
Thanks for reading!
- Property details courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection (hnoc.org).
- The New Orleans Tribune: An Introduction to America’s First Black Daily Newspaper, Mark Charles Roudané (roudanez.com/the-new-orleans-tribune)
- The Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, Volume 28, 1902 (Link)
- United States of America, Petitioner, Against the American Sugar Refining Company, Et Al., Defendants: Petitioner's Testimony, Volume 8 (Link)