Primly located in New Orleans’ Central Business District, The Salamander Group’s new hotel, NOPSI, gives a historic building new purpose while honoring its past.
NOPSI, or New Orleans Public Service Incorporated, was officially recognized in the 1920s, but its story starts nearly 100 years prior. Following the success of his theater company, New Orleans resident James Caldwell opened the New Orleans Gas Light Co., which was believed to be the first commercial coal-fueled energy company in the area. Caldwell’s success in the 1820s inspired many to follow suit, and by 1900 there were more than 200 gas, electric and streetcar firms in New Orleans. Competition coupled with poor management led to inefficient use of resources and financial troubles and brought the city’s infrastructure to the brink of collapse. Desperate for a solution, the city formed the “Citizen’s Committee of Forty” made up of respected professionals from nearby neighborhoods. The committee decided that a single organization should oversee all resource coordination and distribution. In 1922, NOPSI was born.
During NOPSI’s first year, it was comprised of six gas companies, 30 transit authorities and at least 18 electric organizations. In 1927, the rapidly expanding organization set its headquarters in a nine-story brick building in the Central Business District. The ambitious project required huge numbers of employees, and locals answered the call. Ellen LeMaire, general manager of the NOPSI Hotel, explains how the large scale of public service operations created jobs for nearly everyone in the community: “NOPSI employed so many people from so many backgrounds. Certainly from an engineering side and utilities side but they also had a whole marketing department as well.”
NOPSI employees did it all, organizing transit, managing bills, providing gas and later electricity to all of New Orleans. They even ran a department store selling the latest gadgets to local homemakers.
NOPSI’s combination of services not only made it one of the city’s largest employers; it became a social hub as well. LeMaire explains how visits to the utilities firm were a favorite pastime. “For locals, they made a day out of it,” she says. “They got dressed up, came in to pay their bills and then decided whether to go shopping, have lunch, or go to the park. For them it was an outing.”
NOPSI also offered appliance demonstrations, cooking classes, and later published their own cookbook and newsletter. “NOPSI was very engaging with the community. Not only that you came in and paid a bill, but there was so much interaction,” says LeMaire.
Now, 90 years later, Salamander hopes to preserve the interaction between NOPSI and the New Orleans community and extend it to visiting guests as well. Part of the preservation meant keeping most of the building’s historic charm during reconstruction.
“There are pieces throughout the hotel—like the transaction table, which is in the original location—the columns, the sconces, that spark the guests’ interest,” LeMaire explains.
The dedication to honoring the site’s history is even integrated into new employee training. “Each of our service professionals is educated on the history of NOPSI, so that they understand what New Orleans Public Service Incorporated was back in the day,” says LeMaire. “They can tell the guests what was there before and what NOPSI did for the community.”
While its history is certainly part of NOPSI’s charm, the hotel’s new additions are an equally enticing draw. “I think it’s interesting for both the locals and the guests to see how we’ve reimagined the space,” says LeMaire. The former office building is now a 217-room luxury hotel with three restaurants and a rooftop pool and bar.
Each space pays homage to New Orleans culture and the building’s heritage with playful nods. Guests can enjoy Gulf Coast- inspired cuisine at the “casual-yet-sophisticated” Public Service. The menu highlights products of New Orleans fisherman and farmers in an open kitchen. Legend has it that the modern cocktail was invented in a New Orleans apothecary. At Undercurrent, guests can celebrate with cocktails as big as the legend, inspired by the Prohibition era, featuring generous pours of gin and special champagne libations. Above the Grid, the hotel’s rooftop bar is multi-functional. During the day, visitors can enjoy a relaxing swim in the pool with a cold drink. By night, its cool vibe and sweeping views of the city make it a hotspot for tourists and locals alike.
NOPSI’s stunning views aren’t the only perk of its location. The hotel is steps away from most of New Orleans’ hip neighborhoods and fun activities. The popular French Quarter is blocks away, as are many interesting museums. The Museum of Death, The Backstreet Cultural Museum and the Audubon Butterfly and Insectarium are just minutes away by foot or cab.
The hotel is also ideally located to experience some of New Orleans’ iconic events. With Mardi Gras and the city’s Tricentennial celebration just around the corner, LeMaire tells me what makes their location so unique: “We like to say we are on the ‘right side’ of all the parade routes.” Being on the edge of the parades gives visitors a front row seat to all the action, but also an accessible exit when they need it. When most of the city roads close, “on our side you have the freedom to walk in and out.” This convenience allows visitors to pick and choose their level of participation in a city known for its parties.
Whatever your preferred party level, from Fat Tuesday debauchery to spa day, NOPSI has a package to accommodate you. Book in time for Valentine’s Day to enjoy their Romance package with breakfast in bed each morning and champagne and chocolate covered strawberries on arrival. Hoping to getaway with friends? The Girlfriend’s getaway includes in-room massages and a shopping experience at Saks. Whatever your reason for visiting The Crescent City, NOPSI will gladly welcome you to the community. ML