The original Touro almshouse was built with money left by philanthropist Judah Touro, who, in addition to funding many other public projects in New Orleans, left $80,000 in his will to build and operate it. Touro was a famed Rhode Island-born merchant who moved to New Orleans and made a large fortune through shipping and real estate. The concept of a facility to care for the “indigent homeless” came from a dying wish of Touro. The main focus was on social welfare while providing care for approximately 300 indigent persons.
A year after his death in 1854, the city acquired land on Chartres Street in the Bywater neighborhood on which to locate Touro’s building. By 1862, amist the Civil War, work was completed on the three-story castlelike Gothic structure, designed by William Alfred Freret Jr. Crowned with four parapets and two four-story towers and constructed mostly of stone, it was built to last, ironically, that would not be the case. Within months of its completion, the Union Army occupied New Orleans, and Touro’s almshouse became its headquarters. In September 1865, with federal troops still occupying the building, a fire broke out in the makeshift Army kitchen. The building was destroyed.
The city was determined to rebuild. It took a few years, but by 1895, then-Mayor Joseph Shakspeare combined proceeds from a gambling tax with interest earned by Touro’s original bequest to help build its successor, also constructed in the Gothic style. The new building was constructed out in the “country” of Uptown, at 5701 Daneel Street. In exchange for his efforts, Shakspeare’s name was added to Touro’s name of the new building. That iteration lasted for about 30 years. By 1937, with the population of Uptown growing, the Daneel Street building was set to be demolished. The property on which it stood was subdivided, and it was all sold off. Bricks and other materials from the building were used to repair various public buildings. The iron fence surrounding it was sold and now adorns the picturesque Orleans Club grounds at 5005 St. Charles Avenue.
The Touro-Shakspeare Home was moved to General Meyer Avenue in Algiers along the west bank of the Mississippi River. The city-owned nursing home was designed by local architect William R. Burk and combines elements of both the Neo-Classical Revival and Jacobean Revival styles. The Algiers property was completed in October 1933 but a contractual dispute with the architect over his compensation kept the building unoccupied until October 1934. The total cost of the facility was $228,000 or about $4.5 million in 2021 money. The three-story building would feature four prominent columns at its main entrance, with diamond-patterned brickwork adorning its 194-foot facade. The almshouse was big enough to house 200 residents, with the men living in one wing and women in the other, and with each wing boasting its own enclosed courtyard. Between the two wings was a nondenominational chapel, featuring a 20-foot domed ceiling, and a kitchen. The facility also featured a number of common rooms as well as spacious, well-manicured grounds. The building served as a city-operated nursing home for over 70 years before it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The property has been abandoned and left deteriorating ever since. After years of neglect, the chapel pews were stolen and stained glass windows removed. The courtyard outside now resembles more of a jungle with its overgrown trees and brush.