MARKET STREET POWER PLANT

The abandoned power plant that turned New Orleans on for 68 years.

Market Street Power Plant | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Did you ever wonder what it was like to be Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when she was climbing around inside the old, abandoned Star Destroyer that had crashed into the sands of Jakku and been left to rot at the mercy of time and scrappers? Well, exploring the abandoned Market Street Power Plant in New Orleans is a lot like that. Walking down hallways lined with knobs and gauges and between the massive supports that once held the machinery that lit up the city reminded me of the inside of an ill-fated Imperial flagship - and the stifling late spring heat definitely reminded me of being in the deserts of Jakku.

Also operating under the names New Orleans Public Service Power Plant, New Orleans Railway and Light Company, and Market Street Generating Station, this steampunk-esque ode to early 20th century architecture and innovation sits alongside the Mississippi River in the Lower Garden District.

View of downtown New Orleans from the rooftop of the power plant | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The Market Street Power Plant was constructed at the turn of the century in 1905 and began producing power for the city of New Orleans that same year. The 5-story factory made of glass and steel was built during a time when the early modern architectural style was dominant in America and it reflects that design with its clean lines, symmetry, and the towering twin smokestacks that can be seen from miles around.

Market Street Power Plant | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Despite the "form follows function" mantra that was the backbone of this early modernism style and a strong preference for no-frills design, the decaying utilitarian aesthetic boasts its own sort of beauty. Walking through the rusting ruins is almost like being in the guts of a great mechanical beast - alive, but sleeping.

In 1922, the New Orleans Public Service Incorporated (NOPSI) was founded and deemed that all power to the city of New Orleans would be produced by the Market Street Power Plant. The facility generated electricity for the growing city by burning coal. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the nearby Mississippi River were pumped through the factory every day to cool the machinery.

The power plant provided the city of New Orleans with electricity for 68 years straight before finally closing its doors in 1973 when it was part of the New Orleans Public Service, Inc. The rising waters of the Mississippi River didn't seem to get the memo though and continue to flood the lower floors of the power plant to this day.

In early 2007, Entergy New Orleans sold the now-abandoned power plant and the surrounding property to Market Street Properties LLC for $10 million. After the proposed development of a residential, retail,

and entertainment center on the site never moved forward, the property was sold in foreclosure to real estate developer Joe Jaeger.

 

Various plans for the area have been thrown around including condos, retail, a movie production site, and even a Bass Pro Shop, but none have come to fruition. Jaeger is currently focused on developing the nearby Trade District, a nearly 47-acre area between the convention center and the power plant. He plans to later incorporate the power plant into this Trade District development but there is currently no clear start/stop date and no immediate plans for the Market Street Power Plant.

Market Street Power Plant | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

And so it sits on the banks of the Mississippi - and occasionally in the Mississippi thanks to the rising water. Inside the old power plant, you traverse a steampunk wonderland of old, rusted machinery and thin wooden catwalks over wide, gaping pits full of cloudy water. Looking over the rusty railings into the water-filled drop of indefinite depth below, the memory of every single survival horror game you've ever played immediately returns to the forefront of your mind and you find yourself half expecting a set of tentacles to reach out and grab you. The water used to be higher, I was told, before a body was discovered floating in the murky cesspool in 2017 and it was drained.

The graffiti on the windows creates an effect reminiscent of stained glass as the light filters through. Metal staircases gone rusty with age - some of which are no longer attached to the floor - lead you throughout the plant and eventually to the rooftop where, from over 70 feet in the air, you can sit in the shadow of the smokestacks and listen to the music from the ever-present parades in the French Quarter floating through the air. I know that beauty was considered overrated and aesthetics were an afterthought to early-modern architects, but this goliath of glass and steel certainly manages to achieve its own brand of beauty even - or perhaps especially - in abandonment.

Market Street Power Plant | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

© 2018 by NIESA LENOX. Layout created with Wix.com