Louisiana Division/City Archives
New Orleans Public Library

Sources for Researching the History of Your House (Or Other Building) in New Orleans

Building Permits

During the early part of the nineteenth century, actual building permits were not required for the erection of either residential, commercial, or institutional structures in New Orleans. The only legal necessity was that the owner have the lines of his lot(s) certified by the Surveyor. Later, after 1856, the law also required that the Surveyor certify that the lot was filled to the proper grade before construction could begin. Ordinance #6022, Administrative Series, passed in 1879, was the first to demand that permits be obtained (from the Board of Health) after the certificate of grade had been gotten from the Surveyor. It was not until 1884 (ordinance #733, Council Series) that the city put the permit process in the hands of the Surveyor, requiring that the property owner present a detailed statement in writing of his intentions, value of the work, name of owner(s) and builder, and street location.

The City Archives has copies of New Orleans building permit applications for the period 1927-ca. 1988 (although permits are not extant for 1964-1976). These documents are arranged by permit number but are unindexed. In most cases they provide little information other than a date and some brief description of the foundations, walls, etc. Some do have attached copies of plans or other drawings. If you have the permit number for your building, or a very close approximation of its date of construction, (from the Sewerage and Water Board house connections mentioned above, for example), it may be worthwhile to check for the permit. Rarely, however, would an extensive search otherwise be advisable.

Also of interest is a group of volumes that record permits issued during the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century:

Record of certificates of inspection of streets, buildings, etc., 1879-1883
This book is arranged in chronological order. It generally records the date of the permit, the name of the owner and/or builder, and the location, building material, style, and roof type of each structure. In some cases the estimated value of each project is also given. The notations at the very beginning of this volume are actually for the grading of lots and reports of builidngs in disrepair, rather than for permits for construction. (Formally cataloged as record of the Department of Police. We have retained the old call number, for convenience's sake.)
(TB650i 1879-1883)
This volume has been digitized and can be accessed in full HERE

New Orleans (La.) Surveyor's Office. Record of building permits, 1883-1887
This volume is a continuation of the one above, with the addition of a reference to the municipal district of the project. Values are given consistently in this book and in some cases miscellaneous remarks are also included.
(KG670b 1883-1887)

New Orleans (La.) Dept. of Police and Public Buildings. Record of permits for building and repairs, 1893-1895
In this book the permits are arranged in numerical order by permit number. Each record gives the owner's name, the person doing the work, the nature of the work, and the cost of the job.
(TA670 1893-1895)

New Orleans (La.) Dept. of Police and Public Buildings. Building permits, 1896-1902
Only permits for the first municipal district are recorded in this volume. They are arranged by date, and show the name of the owner, the street location, the type of work applied for, the square number for the property, the cost of the work, and the cost of the permit.
(TA671 1896-1902)

New Orleans (La.) City Engineer. Record of building permits, 1911-1917 (5 vols)
These five volumes are arranged by permit number and provide the names of the owner and builder, a description of the building or repairs, and the location of the work.
(KJ670 1911-1917)

Should the approximate date of construction of your building fall into the period 1879- 1917, these permits may prove to be of considerable value to your search.

"Brick & Mortar" column, Daily/Times-Picayune
An alternative to the actual permits from the issuing offices is the annual report of building permits published in the newspaper. Usually listed in the Picayune on or about September 1 of each year, under the heading "Brick and Mortar", these reports varied from year to year, sometimes listing permits over a set value, such as $4000, and sometimes listing only new construction, leaving out those issued for alterations and additions. But these newspaper reports are invaluable for the years for which no official registers of permits have survived. The listings, of course, do not begin until permits were required and kept by municipal officials, around 1880. They extend up to about 1920.


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