March 1, 1999
A new exhibit in Howard-Tilton Memorial Library's special collections gallery highlights the New Orleans mayor who steered the Crescent City through the turbulent 1960s, turned Poydras Street from an avenue of tiny buildings into a corridor of skyscrapers and proposed the construction of the Louisiana Superdome.
Even with all these accomplishments, Victor Schiro, mayor of the city from 1961 to 1970, rarely receives the attention he deserves from historians, says Bill Meneray, assistant university librarian for special collections. The exhibit, "Victor Schiro: New Orleanian," highlights Schiro's achievements during his time in office.
"If you take his predecessor, Chep Morrison, who left office to run for governor, and his successor, Moon Landrieu, who received a presidential appointment after his term, Schiro is often overlooked," Meneray says.
The exhibit's curator, Kevin Fontenot, history graduate student and library assistant, agrees. "I don't like to rank people," says Fontenot, "but with his record in office, I would have to say Schiro is one of the top five New Orleans mayors of this century."
The exhibit contains personal papers and memorabilia donated to Tulane by the estate of his wife, Margaret May Gibbes Schiro. Jack B. McGuire, executor of the estate and past president of the Friends of the Library group, was also a major contributor.
The exhibit, along with the Victor H. and Margaret G. Schiro Reading Room (dedicated in 1997), serves as a memorial to Schiro in accordance with the wishes of the estate, says Meneray. Among the many notable achievements of Schiro's time in office is the leadership he provided to promote peaceful school integration in 1961 in a style vastly different from that of Morrison, Meneray says.
"While not as forceful as Morrison or as volatile as Landrieu, Schiro, with his low-key demeanor, was able to get things done smoothly," Meneray says.
Another highlight of Schiro's career was the development of trade and tourism in New Orleans. Schiro strengthened trade relations with Latin America by visiting several countries and hosting various foreign leaders visiting the city. Included in the exhibit are newspaper photographs documenting a visit to Tulane and Loyola by Nicaraguan president and dictator Anastasio Somoza.
Meneray says the photo caption, from a Managuan newspaper, "claims that protesters greeting Somoza were paid Communist agitators, when in fact they were merely local students." Known as "Ribbon-Cutting Vic" during his years in office, Schiro believed that public displays of progress were good for the city, says Meneray.
A copy of a 1965 Schiro campaign speech documents the first public proposal for constructing the Louisiana Superdome. Also contained in the exhibit are photographs, reports and financial statements that chronicle the widening and development of Poydras Street under Schiro's administration.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as other regional festivals also were started during Schiro's time in office. His relationships with President Lyndon Johnson and Congressman Hale Boggs enabled Schiro to attain a special relief fund for the city after Hurricane Betsy (1965), the first of its kind, says Fontenot.
Included in the exhibit are copies of the bill introduced in Congress by Boggs. Although New Orleanians may not give due attention to Schiro's administration, Fontenot says Schiro, who died in 1992, was a positive force in New Orleans. Certainly, the Crescent City was a positive force on both Schiro and his wife. The exhibit also documents the years of service to the community performed by Mrs. Schiro.
"While they had no children of their own, Mayor and Mrs. Schiro considered New Orleans to be their family," says Fontenot. "Mayor Schiro even kept little 'keys to the city' in his desk to give to visitors in an effort to show that everyone was valuable to the city." The special collections gallery on the second floor of Jones Hall will display the exhibit throughout the spring.
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