The Legend of the St. James Hotel New Orleans
The historic and elegant Saint James hotel was originally built by a New Orleans architect, Charles Zimpel, for Thomas Banks. As built in 1833, the building was intended to be a meeting place for local merchants and tradesmen to conduct business and support the neighborhoods above Canal Street. The Magazine Street side of the structure was at one time occupied by stores and behind it a glass pedestrian arcade extended through the block. A restaurant was onsite at one time and a coffee room that boasted the ability to accommodate up to 500 people at one time.
In 1843 the Arcade was purchased by Joseph Danforth Weaver. The next resident of the Banks Arcade was J. Aron & Company, Inc. J. Aron and Company was a coffee import firm that provided hundreds of small coffee roasters around the country at a time when communication with coffee producing countries and customers was unreliable and slow. Today the hotel maintains the historical charm of a day gone by and pays homage to the romance, colors and legends of the British West Indies.
No historical reminiscence would be complete without a bit of folklore and legend and there is no shortage of that in the famed New Orleans/Crescent City. It is rumored that one such local legend lives on in a merchant named Che, who arrived in New Orleans during the influx of immigrants from the Caribbean during the 19th century.
Che leased a shop on Magazine Street in the Banks Arcade and became notorious for having insider information on the French merchants. One night in 1851, French merchants set fire to Che's store. After the flames were out, Che was never found. The news of his death led the highest voodoo priestesses to conduct rituals that would deliver his spirit home to the Caribbean, but this procession was abruptly interrupted.
Eight years after Che's disappearance, in 1859, the Banks Arcade was renovated and the original St. James Hotel was built. It was a fine hotel but the grandeur was short-lived.
From 1861 to 1865, during the Civil War, the hotel became a Union hospital. In their last moments, soldiers described visions of island heavens so beautiful that it seemed they were drawn into death willingly. It is believed that the passage Voodoo priests opened for Che's spirit remained open and became a port through which spirits of soldiers traveled into the next life.
Today the St. James Hotel is located only blocks from its original location - which is now the Board of Trade Plaza. Its British West Indies theme honors Che, so his legend can live on in the beauty of the island heavens.